The lake is green and thick. I reach down to the bottom and pull up clots of muddy sand. Slimy fingers of algae curl around my toes and the cold muscles of a fish brush against my thigh. I squeeze my eyes shut and plunge face first into the murky surface. Shattering it. I go diving in search of pennies or toys that other kids have left behind, colorful batons or sunken rubber ducks. Time stops when I’m under. Blood beats in my ears down there and it’s cool and dark as a cave.
I break back through the surface, tilt my face up to the sky. My cheeks warm in the sunlight. I don’t like my translucent skin, how rashes and burns bloom on it like wildfires. Above my head, a pair of dragonflies mate in the air, their bodies stacked like Jenga blocks.
My lithe, tan friends are leaping off the wooden dock nearby, which tilts back and forth in the lolling water. They’re calling for me to join them. I hear them splashing into the lake, one by one.
Back on the shore, checkered picnic blankets are draped across pale green grass. A man with a handlebar mustache and a wobbly belly plays country western radio on a boombox. Static screeches as he turns the knob and voices pour out of it, slow and thick as honey. The man sticks cans of Budlight, still dripping from the ice cooler, in a koozie with a Confederate flag on it. He wades out into the lake, sipping his beer and humming along to a song about horses and women and whisky.
I look out across the water and see a dense forest on the other side. I imagine it is Middle Earth. I hope hobbits and elves are close by and, if I find a way to get to them, I could go on adventures there too. I make plans. Someday, I’ll steal a boat and cut into the green water. Take a box of Cheerios and my favorite books and paddle in the pink of early morning, before it gets too hot.
My friends keep calling out to me, but I shake my head. I don’t want to join them yet. I keep looking at the forest on the other side. Maybe I could swim across now. When nobody is watching, I could start swimming towards the other side. By the time they notice I’m missing, I’ll already be halfway there.
A fish splashes through the surface, a flash of silver scales and whirring fins, right ahead of me. Then it dives back down again, out of sight, leaving a cluster of bubbles in its wake.
Carly Brown is studying for her Doctorate of Fine Art in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. She's written a children’s picture book, I Love St Andrews, and a short poetry chapbook of ‘slam’ poems, Grown Up Poetry Needs to Leave Me Alone. She's currently working on her first novel. You can find her website: here. And also her poem 'Exactly That' (featured earlier on this issue) can be found: here.