Friday, August 7, 2009

fresh water fish

The lake was still like a perfect glass mirror reflecting its bordering mountains in the moonlight of a hot August night. So still in fact, you could make out silhouettes of pine from the top of Blue Mountain on the surface of the water. As motionless as it seemed there was yet a lapping of water against the supports of the dock below where Tracey lay.

Spread on the old wooden slats still warm from a long hot day Tracey debated a swim while pondering an overwhelming night sky. The stars were so much more alive here than they were at home and it seemed that there could be green mountains one after the other forever, never a city in sight.

Before she could decide on the all night refreshment of a well timed swim her solitude was broken as Ella pounced onto the dock gingerly removing clothing. "Got marshmallow all over me Trace so Mom said to jump in a bit, you coming in?" At Ella's question Tracey could only ask another, "How come you aren't afraid of the dark water El?"

"What about dark water?" Ella asked. Tracey was sent up from the Bronx to Ella's family to get out of the city for the summer, a "Fresh Air Kid." The first time she ever swam in a lake was the day before and the love was instantaneous and life changing.

"Don't you worry when you can't see to the bottom like in the day? What if there are fish?" asked Tracey.

"There are always fish, and I don't worry cause dad says they're more afraid of me than I am of them" With this Ella dove into Blue Mountain Lake naked. Tracey realized she was about to do the very same thing. "I didn't know fish got scared" added Tracey. She piled her clothes slightly less askew than Ella's and climbed down the ladder into the water as her bottom lip started to shiver.

Ella laughed and yelled "You gotta just jump in and get your hair wet, then its always warmer!"
"I know, I'm gonna, did you bring down the towels?" Ella laughed at Tracey's question and answered in a tone of pure obviousness. "The towels are on the line we can grab some on our way back to the cottage."

"I have never been outside without a stitch on, where's Sam?" Ella wasted no time in answering, "He's embarrassed to get in the water with our 'fresh water fish'."

"What?" demanded Tracey.

"Dad said you swim fast as a fish, and when you served Sam today you totally blew his mind." Ella was glowing like the moon with happiness at this.

"We race the lanes at the pool on my block all day long, I wish they kept the pool open this late. I really love this." As Tracey spoke she floated on her back to see mountains on the periphery and stars everywhere.

Ella started making demands, "You gotta teach me to swim like that Trace, Sam's always beating me, always." "Teach me to swim so straight and fast like you, how do you do it?"

Tracey looked around and swam over to the dock. She called over to Ella, "come over here and we'll swim next to the dock."

Tracey remembered all of the things she learned from her classes at her pool. She made Ella kick while holding the dock and taught her how to throw her arms and when to breath. After a long lesson in the moonlight Ella's mom called down the hill for them and Tracey and Ella ran for the towels on the line leaving their clothes in piles by the dock.

In the morning Ella told her father about the lesson in strict confidence from Sam, who was awkwardly carrying firewood to and from out of ear shot. "Fresh Water Fish Swim Club, eh?" he said. "I want to see you girls practicing like true fish! Tracey, if you go back to that pool after swimming in an open lake you'll really kill them."

That was all the inspiration they needed, training had begun. Each night the girls would leave the camp fire and swim laps along the dock. After a couple weeks Ella could swim a straight line and breath without choking on water and Tracey totally lost interest in worrying about fish.

Returning to the cottage after a truly intense practice with hearty laughter incorporated, Tracey asked her upstate dad if she could swim across Blue Mountain Lake. She had wanted to for days and the courage to ask surfaced just then. She was sure the answer was no, but she just wanted to see what the explanation would be with the denial, maybe the lake wasn't so safe after all.

To her shock the answer was simply, "Only if you promise to climb into the boat if you are tired." "I do" Said Tracey.

Ella's dad, Ted Evans, owned a small row boat for his half-hazard love of a day trying to fish. The best use for the thing he could think of was this event. He, for the first time all summer, set his alarm. Unnecessarily, for Tracey and Ella rose at dawn. They both ate like Olympians and began stretching and diving in preparation at the dock.

Ted headed to the boat with camera and coffee in hand. He had looked at this lake every summer for over thirty years but this morning he looked to its morning stillness through different eyes and a camera lens. It had been a very long time since he bothered to take a single shot from this dock, the scenery that had grown static to him now woke. Tracey's excitement was infectious.

As he climbed in the row boat Ted let out a slight chuckle, as people do when remembering an inside joke. At that moment he thought of the first time he swam across the lake, to impress the woman presently seated in an Adirondack chair on the hill above. He looked up at her and waved, Marsha smiled and winked from under a straw hat then resumed her attempt at being perfectly calm.

Sam sat at the end of the dock and kept the dog still, "I'll say go, are you ready?" he asked. "Hold On!" cried Tracey as Ella and Ted pushed off the beach into the lake. Tracey ran up on the beach and stood looking straight at Sam and said, "From here to there, ground to ground, I'm ready."

"Tracey," Ted was trying to get her attention in his best Mr. Evans voice, "I will head in the straightest and shortest path I can so follow me, and remember even the slightest cramp, in the boat! But I doubt this lake has met a fish like you and I know you can do this."

Tracey smiled, and waved the boat and passengers forward with a distinct "shoo."

The dog stirred on the dock and Sam yelled, "Go!"

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