Summer fog rolled down from East of Mt.Gilgal, resting on the lake for the morning time. Later it would be carried up and out by the heat and whirlwinded to god knows where. Only one man would carve the waterfront before eight’o clock, when the first batch of swimmers crashed in for lessons. Eli’s backstroke pushed a gentle and rhythmic wake to where John was kneeling. Everyone wondered what John was praying for when he sat down those mornings. If you asked he’d say something about waiting on the sun. As he’d finish his meditation he’d lift his eyes, and face toward the east before writing something in his blue notebook. When John got up that morning he walked over to the dock where Eli swam.
“What’s on the docket today boss?” Eli asked. He reached his hand from out the lake for John to raise him up. John leaned over and stretched his hands, tugging Eli on out. It was hard work and they both quavered on the docks edge before they were sure and stable out of the blue dip. John dried his hands off on his shirt before pulling his notebook out. He opened it and skimmed for a moment before he relayed “I’m headed out today. There’s a few errands Simon wants me to run. Gotta pick up some cups for the kitchen at Jerry & co and drop off donations at Bethel’s.”
John’s voice was gruff and smokey. He was always working to lose it.
“Not a chance you'll need someone to get outta camp with?”
“Not a chance. Simon needs ya here. You’re the only one he’s sure can manage this ol’ Waterfront.”
“Man, you know you can talk Simon into letting someone else take over today. Plenty of fellas would be stoked to cover swim lessons.”
“Eli, If anyone aside from you understood how stubborn your brother is it’d be me. Not a chance he’ll let you off the docks for anything less than an emergency. Your a killer swimmer anyway-”
“You’re only saying that cause you taught me.”
“My method ain’t failed me yet. You follow in my footsteps and master the water, then they’ll let you drive on the land too like me.” John smirked at his charm.
“Oh yeah, cuz that’s all I want, your life repeated in mine.”
“Thats right, you wait and watch me as I go. You'll get just what you’ve asked for. But only if you’re watching.”
John nodded his head in his impression of wisdom. Eli dried off his arms. They were lithe and long and made for water.
“How long ya think you'll be out?”
“Not all too long, I’ll catch ya some time after dark.”
Eli walked like a peacock, his bare feet mistrusting, anticipating the harsh gravel as they walked along Lake Road.
The fog grew thicker that morning before the sun had scraped over the crests and when revelry played you could not see more than some 22 feet in front of you. The campers came out in the hoodies and sweat pants their mothers packed tight in their trunks. Eli was straightening out the life jackets by the docks. John was posted at his desk when Simon interrupted him.
“Hey man, have you got time to drop off the goods at Bethel’s today?”
Simon’s shoulders were drawn back like a bow. John tapped his pen to the book open on his desk and sent Simon a steady nod. Simon grinned, knowing how sacramental John’s little blue bound book could be. Something written in there might as well be the word of God himself for how steady John listened to it. In his book he scrawled down everything he needed to not forget, and you’d be hard pressed to find him without it. If you asked him he’d tell you on cue, “It does all the remembering for me so I can go on forgetting as usual.”
John set down his pen, closed the book and tucked them both snug in his back pocket. He clipped his radio to his belt. Standing up he walked to the administrative desk to sign out a vehicle for his errands. He took the keys marked by their little yellow tile and walked through the front office of the Lakelodge. John walked to the dining hall crowded by campers. No place at camp gets quite as loud as the dining hall at meal time. The log building was wide and resounding, and all the energy pent up over a night of rest was released by the sugary meal and close quarters.
“Blue Whale! Blue Whale” Caedmon approached John. His eyes harbored some newfound fascination. “Blue Whale, is it true that you…” his nine year old voice was halted with nervousness.
“…that you have a glass eye?”
John worked to maintain a serious air. He knelt down to the boy. Feigning suspicion he asked quietly and tersely. “Who told you a secret like that?” Caedmon laughed and gestured for John to lean in for a whisper
John gasped. Caedmon’s eyes widened.
“Look for yourself.” John said solemnly.
Caedmon’s green eyes peered deep into John’s blue eyes; Leaning in, searching for whatever it was that distinguished a glass eye from a real eye. It was Caedmon’s turn to gasp.
“It’s true! I can see it shine!”
Then, remembering how what he has found was secret, he tightened impressively over his own excitement. John stood back up, making himself look mysterious to the boy. Caedmon asked, “What’s it like- having just one eye?”
“Oh, my good eye probably see’s nearly as well as you do, but my left eye…”
John leaned in close and waited just long enough for Caedmon’s world to go entirely silent save the two.
“My left eye sees nothing you see; shapes and forms and visions and colors that move in strange ways like they’re from another world.”
Caedmon stepped back. “Like what?”
“Oh the doctors say that their just my brain tying to make something out of nothing. But I'm never quite convinced” John gazed far off, to mesmerizing effect.
“How did it happen?”
Caedmon’s brow tightened in part wonder and part fear. John shifted character; slipping one hand in his pocket, and spinning the truck keys cooly with the other.
“Car accident. dangerous stuff. 7 years ago. You’ll have to ask Simon. He was there. I had head trauma so I don’t remember near as well as he does.”
Caedmon sprung off. He now had a new hole to the story he needed to fill. John chuckled to himself at his storytelling, in his years of being a camp driver he had mastered the art of inspiring all sorts of wonder from campers. Once he told them that he was training to be among the first to go to mars. Another summer, he told them all that he had been obese as a child, hence the nickname Blue Whale. Today is new myth. The secret was to stack it with truths like the car accident, and then half truths like the shapes. As few untruths as possible makes for the best stories, but as it usually goes we probably have to put up with at least one full fledged untruth before its all over. John watched Caedmon get lost in the throngs of other campers before grabbing himself a tray for breakfast. It’s Waffle day, and John was generous with his syrup.
There was a muffled shutting sound, then the drone of an old engine. The 2001 Mitsubishi Chariot had seen its day, and would be better off gone sooner than later. Simon and him always joked about the car.
“It looks like its about to give birth.”
John sat silently. He breathed in. He breathed out. The corners of His mouth were chapped. He breathed out while his eye’s raised and he pulled out his blue bound book to read through his itinerary. There was a knock on the window that might’ve startled him. He rolled down the window “Thought you'd sneak off did ya?” It was Eli.
“You trying to tell me Simon let you off?”
“Ha. Not a chance. Like you said, he’s a stubborn one.”
“Figures. Well, see ya on the other side.”
“You in a rush?”
“The sooner I go, the sooner I’ll be back.”
“You can wait just one minute, before you are off on your errands” Eli grabbed the blue note book, opened to bank page and scrawled before saying.
“There ya go, I’ll let you on out then.”
He folded the book and rumbled over to the back of the Lakelodge. From there he unloaded trash bag upon trash bag of old clothing. The lost and found from the first half of summer, all left unclaimed and unlabeled, piled up in the back of the small red multi-purpose vehicle. As John exited camp he read the farewell sign that he passed under whenever he leaves. I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
John rotated the wheel to steer the car to the freeway. He’ll have to stop in Suwannee first so his truck was fixed west. The sun had lifted and looked on him from behind, clearing fog from freeway, blazing him away.
• • •
I look up to you.
Eli’s was nervous about the note he left in John’s book. He worried it was too direct to take seriously. But it held true, he looked up to John.
Eli taught three sessions of swimming, 50 minutes each. Eli taught a tried and true method of swimming. You simply have to take your arm, roll it up, and strike the water and the wake divided. This method fared pretty well unless you were afraid of the water. If you were afraid the water wouldn't move no matter how hard you struck. Therefore Most of Eli’s time was spent addressing this fear. Caedmon was afraid of the water. His mother had signed him up for swimming in a kind of frantic hope that the lake would be a less frightening leap than a pool. But Caedmon knew and felt what fear could be. To Caedmon the ripples might as well be mountains. It was a blue dark and even as the sun lit, and the sun warmed the waterfront there was no telling what lay beneath the surface.
“I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t!” Caedmon’s screams caught him writhing in the arms of Eli. Eli let go of the boy and tried to talk calm to him.
“Hey Caedmon, Im not going to force you into the water, I only want you to come sit at this edge with me.”
“No. You want me in the water. I don't like it. ”
“I get that, I really do. This ledge right here is where I learned how to swim. I was just as afraid and just a bit older than you when Blue Whale-”
“Blue Whale taught you how to swim?” Caedmon’s fear was distracted and Eli realized his way in. He tried another association.
“Yes, John was best friends with my brother.” This did the trick and Caedmon’s eyes gave away a trusting curiosity. He scouted up to the edge as Eli continued. “So Simon, my brother, had tried his hardest to teach me to swim, but I refused to let him. Thats how brothers are sometimes, we have a real hard time trusting each other, because we've had too much fun at the cost of lying to each other. Caedmon, Have you got a brother?” Caedmon nodded “So you know all about that right?” He nodded again. “I thought Blue Whale was the absolute coolest. so when he asked if I wanted to hang out and try swimming with him I couldn't do anything but try it out: even if I was oh, so afraid of water. But John was good about it. He sat me down at the edge of this lake and figured out how to get my full trust, and told me a real good story and while he was telling me the story and I wasn't thinking about how scary the water was he had lead me right waist deep in the water and then he asked me the same questions I'm about to ask you”
“What question is that?” Said Caedmon waist deep in water
“Are you still afraid to go in it?”
“Would you let me lead you in?”
Eli immersed Caedmon into the dark lake, and drew him, spluttering, out again, back into the light.
“How was it?”
Caedmon was overjoyed and overwhelmed and started splashing because he was not afraid for the first time.
He looked at Eli and asked with a laugh “Did Blue Whale teach you to swim before or after he had a glass eye?”
“What glass eye?”
The laugh was gone. Caedmon's nostrils flared. Eli saw the fear strike back and did not understand. The boy was screaming again. “Get me out! Get me out! Get me out! Get me out! Get me out! Get me out! Get me out!”
Eli lifted him back up and placed him back on the ridge. Caedmon was crying, and quickly becoming unintelligible through welling tears. Eli could not console him, and had to give up when the lesson ended. Caedmon ran off and left Eli to puzzle and prepare for free swim.
When the bugle for free swim sounded there was 15 minutes of madness that distracted Eli from Caedmon’s relapse. He had to reassign someone to man the buddy board, all the harnesses for the zipline were tangled up, and some canoe found its way out of the lake all twisted in bramble and rhododendron. when everything was back in place and the first buddy check had run smoothly he watched from the top of the guard tower. He decided to attempt the cleanest swan dive any one witnessing would ever see. He stood at the top of the tower, took stance, and soared out over the lake.
• • •
The sun fell quickly behind John, about to crash into the mountains out of sight behind his steady gaze. John turns on the radio, having had his fill of silence. Some Appalachian preacher was foretelling doomsday again.
“There's this sense in the world that things are changing and God is trying to communicate with us in a supernatural way. I had a two week dream, a two week vision. I saw the, I saw the diseases. I realized the diseases, the diseases from the animals. And I saw this, looked like a big fumbling crane. And for two weeks I was in a dream and I would get up and I would go back to sleep and the dream would start again. And the bible says ‘And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse’ so all y'all better listen when I tell unless you want whats commin…”
There was a crackling from John’s hip. His left hand turned the volume down on the radio as the televangelist says something ridiculous about the Jewish calendar. His right hand reached to his radio and turned the volume up. The radio clipped and buzzed mostly static. Through the fuzzy shudders of the walkie a moment of vocal clarity cut through.
John couldn’t do anything about it. Not while he was still on the highway. His breath tightened in his chest. The pound of a heart in his ears. Who’s heart? The word immediately was reserved exclusively for emergencies at camp.
“Get the defibrillator to the dock immediately.”
His heart. Who’s heart stopped? He couldn't do anything. His knuckles were stark white on the steering wheel.
• • •
As Eli splayed out over the lake he had far too long to think. In his left eye he saw the sun moments away from slipping below the quavering blue ridge and into night. In mid air, Eli became afraid. As few untruths as possible make for the best stories, but as it usually goes we probably have to put up with at least one full fledged untruth. Today is new myth. He might follow that the sun, if he was watching it, and slip behind that blue dark ridge.
Then everything was dark and everything and cold. And doubt, it opened his mouth and invaded his lungs. He managed to break his eyes open. He manage to see the blue and the dark. He looked around trying to make heads or tails of what was up and what was down. He needed to breath. He needed to breath. He needed to breath and with out asking his lungs swallowed whatever they could. He shrieked but could hear no sound and began to feel himself slip deeper.
He looked up and saw a glowing red shape. It was quivering and it was quavering gentle and rhythmic through the thick dark space between him and that glowing beam. It had to be the sun, There was nothing else for it to be. Eli reached and everything was too thick to swim through. Thicker than any he’d swum through before. He reached and the blue and the dark would not surrender. He focused on that red shape, but now it looked less like the sun though it glowed like a coal in the blue and the dark.
He was looking up to it, deciding to fly instead of swim. Even when his arms grew numb, and his heart grew tight, and his lungs were empty of that good clean air. He would learn to breath or he would learn to drown. He did not lose sight of the warm red shape drawing him past the ridge to god knows where.
• • •
His lungs took a loud, shallow and sharp jab of good air. His foot pressure increased on the gas. The speedometer hit 60mph.
“This is reception.”
“Call an ambulance for Eli immediately.”
The speedometer hit 67mph.
“Hey, I need someone in the Lakelodge to blow the bugle to end free swim”
John had to get to Eli. His brows furrowed. Two minutes passed in silence. The speedometer hit 91mph. His eyes locked onto the horizon. The walkie crackled a few more times. Eli could hear nothing else. He was deaf to the surging laborious groan his the old car gave out. But nothing on his radio was intelligible now. John’s steering wheel weaved him through the highway traffic, and without notice, his chariot passed the exit for Suwannee. A F250 cut him off, careening to his left defensively . John’s arm’s reacted on impulse throwing the full weight of his car into the right lane from where a semi slammed its breaks and the Truck driver shouted some obscenity. The 250 Swerved left again to avoid some motor bike driving along the right. The bike broke hard, sending the semi leftward right where John was still, eyes lifted again in prayer. The chariot soared up in fire and blaze carrying John above the blue, east bound to god knows where.
• • •
When Eli hit the water many people would go on to say that it was as if he hit marble and the sound his body made was nearly as indescribable as it was unforgettable. But a few will contest that the dive was perfect, and a modest sound was made as the lake took him in one last time. They will all agree that there was no splash.