Summer Short Fiction #1 – Skinny Dipper

    The blue-brown water crept up the swimmer’s legs and mud oozed between her toes as she shoved into the lake.  It reached her waist and then her shoulders. When she could no longer touch the muddy bottom, she began to swim, holding her head up out of the water like a water snake as she moved her arms and legs the way her grandmother had taught her to do. 
    She wanted to see where she was going, to avoid the submerged tree branches, remnants of last year’s tornado. The lake was also home to turtles and  fish, ducks and snakes, but it was the waterlogged limbs of the trees that frightened her. Those limbs could catch her legs. Those limbs were the danger.
    She peered ahead, seeking the profile of the island. It was many swim strokes away from the lake shore,  visited by the occasional boater seeking a picnic site. It was not ideal for picnicking; the beach was rocky. 
    Now the island was bathed in the early morning light. Mist rose through the oaks and willows that huddled on the rocky shores. Her eyes caught a movement in the thicket. Deer? She had seen them there before, seeking the sweet willow leaves and supple branches.
    The swimmer scissored her legs in the water, spreading her toes so that the coolness tickled sensitive skin.
    She looked over her shoulder and saw her shirt, a bright flag of red, flapping in the same breeze that rippled the water. Her bra hung on a limb next to it, her shorts and panties on a limb just below. She hoped that the breeze wouldn’t strengthen, wouldn’t cause her clothes to fall to the ground. Ants might crawl in, and spiders and other biting creatures. She hoped that the clothes would stay in the tree until she returned.
    The lake caressed her body. 
    The rocky bit of beach where she had left her clothes was just below the derelict cabins. The company had determined that these cabins were unrentable, but still in good enough shape to house the summer staff. She, like most of the others, had seen the state of the once-rentable lakeside cabins and agreed that as long as they were clean, had beds and refrigerators, and were relatively free of critters, simple things like the ability to lock the door, or a cracked window or missing shingles didn’t really matter.
    She flipped over onto her back and fluttered her arms in her favorite swim stroke, letting the water lap over her breasts and up her cheeks. After a few strokes, she stopped and let her body sink a bit before she twisted to look once again toward the island. 
    The island didn’t seem to be getting any closer. And the sun was brightening the sky.
    Something nibbled on her toes, and she jerked her feet, then laughed. The little fish were not parahnas. She’d encountered them often enough whenever she swam in the lake. The tiny minnows nibbled at dead skin on her toes and on the bottoms of her feet. They weren’t a concern.
    She turned her focus on the island, forging ahead in the water, feeling just a twinge of tiredness in her back; her heart beat faster. 
    She wished she had worn the life preserver. 
    How could she have forgotten the true distance to the island? They’d always come here in the little motorboat, or maybe on the jet ski. It wasn’t too far to swim, was it?
    She swam on, counting the strokes of her arms, the kicks of her legs. At fifty, she stopped and looked toward the island.  It was nearer, wasn’t it? 
    She tred water, let her heart slow and her breathing deepen. She could do it. Another fifty strokes, and then another, and surely she would reach the island.
    By the end of the fifth set of fifty, she could no long deny that her legs ached. How was it that she had gotten so out of shape? She was busy, working every day, playing volleyball with the kids, taking them on hikes, teaching them how to kayak and shoot a bow and arrow. That was exercise, wasn’t it? 
    It wasn’t like this – wasn’t like swimming a mile – surely she hadn’t known it was THAT far – to a stupid island in the middle of a lake. She looked back toward the rocky beach below her cabin. The red flag of her shirt was just a distant speck. And the low cloud behind – the one that had been pink when she started her swim – had turned white. 
    The swimmer turned back to the island and struck out again, pulling through the water with her arms, kicking with her legs. 
    She was into it before she realized, a branch, floating underwater, a branch that was too heavy, with too many long limbs to bob to the surface. 
    Her arms caught, her legs caught. 
    She couldn’t pull her head back above water.
    She flailed. 
    Bubbles rose around her. 
    The blue-brown lake water lashed at her struggling body.
    And then, something was in the water with her, something dark, something swimming as frantically as she was. It pulled at the black branches, tugging them this way and that, until finally, finally, the one that held her beneath the water’s surface snapped.
    The swimmer shot to the surface, her head full of stars and swirling black as the last bit of her oxygen disappeared.
    She gulped for air, and then, the dark form was beside her, nudging her. She grabbed a wooly coat and let the form pull her to the shore of the island, closer, closer, until her feet touched the muddy bottom and she fell to her knees, gulping air, the muscles of her arms and legs quivering. 
    The dog stayed with her, long tail wagging, nosing her as she crawled up the beach, then laid half submerged on the rocky shore, chest heaving, looking up at the blue daylight sky.
    A boat motor roared nearby. A bass fisherman.     
    She hoped he had a towel, and was willing to give her a ride. She reached up and stroked the black water spaniel’s curly coat.

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