Oct/Nov 2005  •   Fiction

No One Can Swim to the Moon

by Miriam N. Kotzin

Late May can get hot here, and when it does, we go to the beach at the lake. We lie out on the sand like eggs left to hatch. We strip off our tops, lie face down, then flip. We don't much care who sees us, but no one else is there to see, so it's no big deal.

There's a raft tied not too far from the shore. When it's hot and the beach is full, that's where we hang out and drink and smoke. It's hard to keep the weed dry, and each year there's at least one screw up, when the bag's not sealed right, and then we spread it out to dry on the wood. When it's dry, you can't tell it's been in the lake, and it's still a good smoke, a nice, clean high.

When I was ten, I'd look at the big kids out on the raft and know I'd go there, too, in a few years. I could have reached the raft all right when I was ten, and no rule book said how old you had to be to hang out there. But the raft was for teens. Now and then some old man would swim there, grab the edge like he was on his way up to get some sun, and then he'd catch the eye of one of the boys or girls and let go. He'd make a splash, and then he'd push off the raft and swim back to the beach. No. There was no rule book, but we might as well have had one.

This is the last year I'll be up on the raft. The group of us, who've hung out all through high school, should be in class, but we cut to come here. No big thing, just a day off. We'll be done with school for good in two weeks. A few hours fewer there—that's all—and a few more hours here. At least that's how we see it.

Plan is we grab some rays, then cook some dogs, have some beer, stay on the beach, play some tunes, you know, smoke, dance on the sand. Hang. In a few weeks it's job time, and some of us will have to leave town to find good work. We set this up last week, with no rain date.

We all leave our shoes in a big heap. The lake bed near shore is all mud, new pale grass and reeds. Brad and I go to the lake edge to wade, and the mud squishes through our toes. We bend to look for the small, green frogs. In a month they'll be big and splash and plop and croak. Now they're just cute. I hate the big frogs. When I was a kid, I touched one so the boys would leave me be and not tease me.

Brad and I hold hands. We used to date, but now we're friends. Not just friends, you know, but real friends, the kind you can count on. At least I'd like to think so. All of us here are friends, but I know in ten years I might not know where they are. It's weird to be so close now and know some day we won't be.

Mike and Bill are in charge of the fire. They light it when the sun starts to go down. The sun sets right on the lake and the lake lights up all red and pink and the sky's streaked with clouds. It's worth the trip just for that, but of course we're here for more. The food gets burned, but it tastes good like that—you know, it's cooked with real fire, not a stove. We've smoked some, and the food is like the best thing we've had in years, though of course we kind of know it's not, but I don't know what we would say if we had to swear.

Did I say there's a full moon? Brad points to where it will hang, where it will rise through the woods. The moon looks so big when it's low in the sky. I used to know why. It was the one thing I learned I thought was cool, and now I don't know it. It makes me sad, to have lost that one cool fact.

Brad starts to throw stones. The guys bet they can skip the stones more times than the girls, and we get in teams. I try to find the best stones, the flat ones. I used to do this for hours, but that was when I was a kid. I'm still good at it, and I bring up the girls' score so we pull a tie. The boys want to go one more time, to break the tie, but the girls won't do it. We don't want to lose, but we don't want to win. We like the tie. The guys don't leave it, and keep at us for one more round, and it's not worth the fight. I'm the one who skips for our team, and I go up—with Brad for the guys. I do my best and it's a tie. Brad and I kiss, and it starts as not much, but then it's a real kiss like the ones from the old days, but this one's more, and I don't want the kiss to end, but it does.

They all want to swim out to the raft. It's still warm though the sun is down. I'm not sure. To swim we have to walk through the mud, which was bad in the light. The moon is bright, but not so bright as to let me see what my toes are in. I don't want to stay here on the beach if they're all out on the raft.

We put our clothes with the shoes. We don't fold, we just drop them and run as fast as we can to the lake. Brad and I hold hands while we run and while we splash through the part of the lake where we have to wade. But we can't hold hands and swim at the same time, so I drop his hand, or he drops mine, and we're in the lake, and all of us swim and splash our way to the raft.

We sit there on the raft, the old wood worn smooth. There's a chill in the air and a breeze seeming to come from the pine woods. The night air smells like pine and the lake. Jen brought a bag of weed clamped in her teeth, and it's dry and good, and we pass the j. I think it's too bad we don't have a beer can to use as a bong, but I don't say so. What's the point? Let it seem like the best night we'll have in our lives. I'm scared it may be, that no night for the rest of my life will be this good. I'm scared I won't have friends I love this much, and scared I won't feel this much when I'm old.

The moon spills a path of gold on the lake. I want to slip off the raft and swim and swim. I want to swim in the gold lake on the gold path til I reach the moon or I drown. I get goose bumps, and I don't know if I'm cold or if it's that I know no one can swim to the moon. So I hug Sue and Meg and Jen and all the guys, too, hug them all while I still can, while we're out here on the raft, all of us safe. I have tears in my eyes, and I tell them what I know to be true, that the moon is just a big old stone in the sky.