I go outside again and wander around the house for the millionth time. There is almost no wind now, and it’s comfortably warm. D is nowhere to be seen.
I could go down to the lake. Maybe even go for a swim – I kind of want to do it alone when I do it for the first time since November 2012, and this seems like a good opportunity.
I find the beginning of the narrow forest path, follow it until I lose it somewhere in the middle, search for a bit, and then just make my own path across the mossy forest floor. It’s not like I’ll get lost – I know what direction to go in, and it’s not that far.
The shore is not the way it was last year: there are new chairs on the wooden platform, and the jetty is gone, only poles remaining. There is a new, narrow beach, though: the waterline is lower than last time, and some of the sandy lake floor is exposed now.
I hesitate. Am I really going to do this? It’s not that warm, especially not in the shadow of the trees behind me. And I didn’t bring my swimming trunks or a towel – I’d have to swim in my underwear (which should serve me just as well as trunks with nobody to see me) and drip-dry.
I cautiously survey my surroundings and listen as hard as I can. Nobody around as far as I can tell. My only witnesses are reeds.
Would I regret turning around now? Probably.
I slip off my sandals and put them neatly side-by-side, strip out of my pants and my t-shirt and put them over the deck chair, and then make my way off the platform to the water. The wet sand feels nice beneath and between my toes.
I dip them into the water and then add the rest of my feet, encouraged by the temperature – it’s cool, but nowhere near as cold as I expected. I wade deeper into the lake, waves splashing up my legs. The water is shallow, here: even though I’m walking quite fast, the water climbs up my body slowly, teasing, inviting. It wets my underwear: no way back now, or rather, none that really pays off. I hold my breath as it reaches my belly, my arms held out to my sides and still dry, pause for a moment and then step further, watching my belly button get distorted beneath the surface.
Then the sound of a motorboat drawing closer alarms me. I wade in farther as fast as I can, there’s too much of me still outside the water to be comfortable seen, but the gentle incline now works against me. The tip of the boat rounds the reeds. I panic (just a little) and throw myself into the water to swim anyway, even though I can barely avoid my knees scraping the bottom and swimming doesn’t actually get me away any faster.
I alternate between swimming and waddling awkwardly while keeping myself submerged up to my head as the boat fully rounds the reeds… and turns towards the very spot I came from.
A sound escapes me that can only be described as a giggle, (hopefully) too quiet for the man in the boat to hear. The waves left in the boats wake splash against my face and I sputter and wrinkle my nose at the smell of gas while I keep swimming and laughing helplessly. The one angle of attack I didn’t even consider in my careful look around!
I’ve finally reached deeper water now, the ground dropping off quite suddenly a few steps back, and I can’t even touch the ground with my toes if I try. It’s alright, I suppose – I’ll just keep swimming for a while. Apparently I still remember how: breathing and keeping my mouth and nose clear of the water are harder than I remembered, and the feeling of weightlessness is less intense, but the play of water on sunlight on my green-tinged hands is familiar, and I feel safe.
I swim farther out for a while, occasionally turning around to check if the coast is clear yet. The man busies himself with his boat. I squint against the sunlight reflected by the waves and turn left to escape it, keeping parallel to the coast for a time before turning around so I don’t stray too far from my docking point.
My arms are not exhausted yet, but my hands start feeling slightly cramped, and my neck aches from keeping my head over the water. I think about swimming on my back for a while, but I don’t want to get my ears beneath the water or look up right into the sun, so I don’t. When the word hypothermia starts floating up in my brain, along with stories of swimmers getting leg cramps, I start turning around more often. Drowning this close to the shore just because there’s a stranger there sounds so much like me it’s amusing, although I’m not really worried about the possibility – I’m pretty sure I still have a while left until then.
Eventually, I swim back close enough to be able to get ground beneath my feet again so I can rest my hands and neck for a bit. It helps, but now that I’m not moving constantly the cold is getting to me quickly. I raise my shoulders above the water to catch some sunlight, but they just grow goosebumps, and the idea of sinking back into the water sounds less appealing by the second. At the shore, the guy is still fiddling around.
Fuck this, I decide and start to make my way back to the shore slowly but steadily. Possible scenarios for what could happen grow in my mind.
“Isn’t it a bit too cold to swim?”
“Yes. Yes it is.”
I get lucky: either he has finally finished whatever he was doing or he’s just as averse to meeting me as the other way round, or maybe he’s tactfully retreating to give me space. In any case, he’s leaving. I climb up to the platform, shivering, my jaw tense to keep my teeth from chattering, and shake as much water off my limbs as possible before I get back into my clothes. (Unfortunately, there’s no way to save my pants from getting wet, since my underwear is. Next time I’ll bring proper bathing stuff.)
I get lost in the forest between the house and the lake again, following the wrong path for a while before I realize it takes me past the house. Insects buzz around me, apparently very interested in the beads of water still stuck to my skin, and I quickly learn to keep my arms up so I don’t walk face-first into the strands of spider silk woven between the trees.
I’m also still shaking from the cold, so when I turn around, I break into a run, my wet hair whipping my neck while I race back along the path, giddy from my swimming adventure. I never find the right one – I walk back the way I came instead, pathless, relying on my sense of direction to take me back.
There’s still sunlight at the house, and dry clothes, and my phone mysteriously offers me internet for an hour before losing it again just as inexplicably. It feels almost magical, except for the horribly itchy rash I get all over my body half an hour later, which drives me crazy well into the night. Can’t have everything, I guess.