The Last Swim
Marcelle Heath

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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