Nightswimming

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This short story is basically the first real thing I ever tried to write around 1987. I turned it in to some school journal and wasn’t chosen to be in it. I’m mostly Chris, but my friend Dave is in there too. My friend Doug is Doug, and the reason I’m bald today is probably because of the abuse I gave him about it back in the day.

Note that I still haven’t learned a goddamn thing, but marvel at my incredible run on sentences and the fact that I refuse under any penalty to identify the speaker of any quoted dialog.

We’re on the school’s beach about five hours after it closed and twelve hours before it reopens. There are about twenty people here despite the fact that any friendly police officer could easily remind the whole beach forcefully about use only during approved hours. Chris is upset about something and for all the time I’ve known him the only thing I could every figure out was that it could be anything. For all I could tell someone might have died or Christ, he might be upset that he doesn’t look like Elvis Presley circa 1956. To tell you the truth, I could never tell the difference, which only tended to infuriate him even more. All of his heroes seem to have screwed up somewhere and it burns him inside out when he has to sort out their lives for anyone he can get to listen.

Anyway, I’m standing by the edge of the water, looking for police, trying to figure out just why the hell I’m her watching him flail about, but despite the fact that I knew that I didn’t want to go with him, and he knew that I didn’t want to go with him, we’d been through this enough times that it was painfully obvious that I was coming.

Like I said, you can tell he’s disturbed. His whole body is taut as a wire, and his eyes are on fire. Much as he likes to think that he’s an enigma, he never could hide his emotions for a second, and he tries more than any person I know.

He’s got the whole beach watching him, which is in a way surprising, when you consider that he’s been doing the same thing for fifteen minutes now. Everything is a ritual. He’ll write something or someone off in a second looking like the most arbitrary bastard in the world, but he’s consistent as hell.

Each time it’s the same. One second he’s walking to the edge of the beach, the next he’s charging like a wild animal into the water. He takes maybe three, four steps before the water starts getting deeper, and he starts to flail forward aching for each step as if his life depended on it, gradually falling like a once powerful champion snared by a hunter’s forgotten trap, which makes sense if you’re a once powerful champion felled in your prime, but even more disturbed than before he gets up walks slowly back to the exact same starting point and despite the fact that his lungs are about to burst and his once proud legs are about to give way, he takes off again twice as hard, twice as possessed, getting maybe half as far, and three times more upset, as if he’s trying to prove something to himself and failing miserably. Meanwhile, everyone’s watching him waiting for him to fall apart, and I’m thoroughly convinced that I’m the only one more insane than he is, because I’m standing here watching him.

“For Christ sakes Doug, how old are you?”

“You know how old I am”

“Do I? I mean I know I’m twenty, but I’m not sure how old you are.”

“Give me a break; I’m a month older than you are.”

”There’s no way!
He takes off again as usual resting only enough to abuse me. Why the hell am I here?

“You know how old Eddie Cochran was when he died, Doug? Twenty-one, Doug, twenty-one!”

I’m tired of it. “Great, who’s Eddie Cochran?”

“God, you’re a jerk! Will you look at yourself, your hair is gone, you go to sleep at 10:30, you’re gonna wind up the most incredibly boring thing in the whole world. Christ, you’re only twenty, who cares about classical music?”

This is news to me because he had already dubbed me the most boring thing in the world three years ago. So I guess it’s not inevitable anymore. Why do I put up with this?

“Why are we friends?”

“You love me!”

“Yeah, well you’d better hope you pass out near the beach, because I’m not going out there to get you.”

“You’re right it’d be damn inconsiderate of me to drag you out to the lake and expect you to come into the water. What the hell did you even put a suit on for?”

“Why are you picking on me? You’re the one beating up Lake Michigan.”

Which I realize one second too late is exactly the reason he’s bitching at me, and for a while, I’m about to run out there with him. No problem, I’ll go out there, mark off my spot, run out a few feet, struggle for each foot of stability, crash into the water, pick myself up, full myself with anger at anyone over twenty-one after which all cool people are dead, storm back until I’m three feet from the shore and do it again until I pass out and wake up for work in six hours, sick as a dog.

What the hell, we’re friends. He’d do it for me and I’m about to do it when I realize this happens about once a week, and I’m always the one who gets sick, beat up, or nearly arrested. And I’ve been through this at least a hundred times so the felling pases pretty quickly, besides I think he granted me an exception on patriotically following him into idiotic situations.

“Well, what would you have me do?”

“I don’t know”

“Well, what are you gonna do?”

“Don’t know”

“What do you want to do?”

“Are you coming in?”

“No”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“Don’t know”

So he takes off again same as before, and we both know that he’ll tire out sooner or later. If there’s nothing to believe in, and no one to blame that’s fine too. He’ll bang his head against the wall, and I’ll watch.
 

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