The Last Swim
In the morning we drove to see the manatees. Our guide, Captain Jim,
regaled us with tales about Mabel and Hank, the two oldest residents of
Port Isle. Mabel was affectionate, once resting her head on deck to be
petted. Hank was a comic, and liked to do flips for the crowds. As we
watched the barnacled creatures emerge for air like elephantine sloths,
we began to suspect Captain Jim was full of it and weren't surprised
when the famous couple was a no-show. We saw a dead alligator floating
on its back, and Captain Jim told us he'd never seen anything like it.
We learned he was raising four boys on his own after his wife ran off
two years ago, and at the end of the tour we gave him a big tip.
On the drive back we spotted alligators and osprey and heron. We
remembered the year the kids saw a cougar by the airport and the year
the Muscovy duck made her nest under the condo's stairwell. We stopped
for lunch at a local place and ordered Bloody Mary's that were watery
and chicken salad that was amazing. One of the men at the bar ran
fishing boats to Thousand Islands and we told him about the dead
alligator, describing how we didn't know what it was at first because
we couldn't see its head or tail, just its white belly drifting in the
marsh. He said he'd never heard of such a thing. When he polished off
his third Michelob, we began to talk in earnest, fearful of the silence
that would ensue if he left us. The truth was we were a little afraid
of one another now that our daughter was in college and our son was a
senior. We talked and talked until he gave us his card, as if to shut
us up, which it did.
At the condo, we put on our swimsuits. All week we had been diligent
with our sunscreen, hats, and T-shirts, and we had the golden skin to
prove it. But today, we didn't bother with any of it, grabbing our
towels and magazines and bottled water before heading to the pool.
Maybe because we were tipsy from the Bloody Mary's but suddenly, it
felt like a heavy load had been lifted. We talked about how beautiful
the weather had been and whether the alligator had become sick and
laughed about Mabel and Hank, imagining them as circus clowns and
Captain Jim as the ring leader. The Magnificent Mabel on a unicycle!
Heroic Hank jumping a ring of fire! As we headed downstairs, the image
of the circus stuck, and we were like trapeze artists. One of us was
trying to catch the other, and the other was like a dancing bear. The
day was hot. Under the stairwell, the duck nest was blocked off so that
she wouldn't come back. The residents had stolen her eggs when she shat
in the pool. We helped them put up a net. The next day, she came back
and got stuck. Before we could figure out what to do, she escaped. She
came back one more day, waddling from one end to the other, then flew
away for good.
We dozed in the sun and woke up with heat rash. We decided to go for a
swim. Some days we had gone in all at once, jumping into the deep end.
Today, we walked in slow. The water was cold, and when it reached our
waists we wondered if maybe this was enough. We were leaving tomorrow,
and our minds were elsewhere. We wanted to go back. One of the
full-timers from Ohio called out from his lanai. How's the water?
Freezing! we joked. But it wasn't freezing anymore; our bodies had
acclimated to the temperature. We took another step and another, the
water pooling around our chests, our shoulders, our necks, until we
were all the way in.
Marcelle Heath has work in or coming from PANK, Necessary Fiction, matchbook, The Northville Review and others.
She's an Assistant Editor at Luna Park.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of David Robson.
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