December 10, 2014KR OnlineNonfiction

The Lake

We are going to the lake. I am with my cousins. It is July. I am fifteen. This morning France blew up an island in the Pacific, to test a bomb. That must have been a whopper of a bomb or a zit of an island, says my cousin Dennis, who will eventually become a plumber. He is sixteen. The lake is long and narrow. There is a small beach at one end. My cousins have brought their friends. Their friends are girls. I feel like an island in a sea of girlness. One of the girls is seventeen. She is the oldest beautiful girl I have ever met. I try to say something witty to her but instead I make a sound like an owl swallowing a horse. The sand is icy and the water is worse. I dive in to show the girls how dashing I am and my reproductive parts retreat into my body as far as my esophagus. America will also drop a lot of bombs this month but all our bombs are on deserts or factories or jungle trails or ammunition dumps or supply roads or airstrips or truck depots or people. You don’t see us blowing up a defenseless island, says my cousin Dennis. Good old France, beating up the only thing it can. Also this month England and Argentina agree to stop shooting each other in an argument about other islands. What is it about islands, anyway, says my other cousin. She is also a girl but she is only thirteen so no one answers her with even a cutting or witty remark. I wade back to the small beach and because I am suave and dashing I do not dry off with a towel but instead sit there tousled and windblown and freezing and I wonder if my reproductive parts will ever return to their original position or if I am sentenced to life as a Eunice as my youngest brother says. There is a speck of an island in the lake and my cousin announces airily that he and I will swim to it because we are such great swimmers and I look at him astonished because we are terrible swimmers and the island is as far away as Venus and he says ready? and I say you bet! and we dive in and this time I believe my reproductive parts detach themselves altogether in understandable dismay and sink to the bottom of the lake where fish from the Pleistocene era huddle remembering the good old days when they could catch unwary baby mammoths along the shore rather than pick off pale spindly sputtering teenagers thrashing feebly at the surface. Later this month two men from America will land on the moon. The moon is also an island, if you think about it. When we are about halfway to the tiny island in the lake my cousin says I see you are struggling so we better go back although it seems to me that he is the one struggling rather desperately. He keeps struggling for years. Years later I realize he is an island and no one swims to his island and rather than find a way to swim to his island I gave up years ago. I wish I was a better man and was able to find a way to keep swimming with him and we would make it all the way back to the beach again and stagger as we stood up out of the frigid lake trying to look suave and dashing after our manly exertions and we would hold each other up gently laughing seemingly lighthearted but actually shakingly gaspingly relieved that we didn’t drown and we would sit down and warm up bit by bit with the shining girls in the fitful sun making lighthearted witty jokes and wry observations and being cool guys. I wish like hell that would happen but we are terrible swimmers and the water is so cold.

Brian Doyle is the muddled maundering mumbling muttering shuffling shambling humming editor of Portland Magazine, in Oregon. He is the author of many books of essays and fiction, among them the sprawling Oegon novel Mink River. His new "whopping sea novel" The Plover will be published in April 2014 by St Martin's Press.