by Esmé DeVries
“I’m waiting for Davis.” He says this, in his quiet, perceptive voice, so slowly and with such deliberation. Davis told me it’s because he’s from up north, where they have all the good colleges.
“Why?” I ask irritably, studying the cracks in the railing and picking at the flaking paint. The sun burns the back of my neck.
“He’s my friend.” On these words, Danny’s voice tilts up a little bit, almost like a question or an uneasy defense.
“He’s mean,” I grumble, still poking at the wood. Davis always made me feel worthless, the way his eyes always glanced over me like I wasn’t there, leaving a cold trace of not belonging behind.
“He’s your brother,” Danny points out. He waits a moment before saying quietly, “He loves you.” The words float from his lips, not accusatory in the way they could be, but still poking at a flaw, a chink in my armor. They try to tell me I don’t know what I’m saying.
“No, he doesn’t.”
“Yes, he does. Ask him yourself.”
I look back out over the marsh. The tide is very nearly at its highest. I can’t see the oyster beds freckling the bottom of the mushy sand through the murky water. The water looks cool, better than having the hot sun pounding down on my neck. I look over at Danny, who is still looking up at the morbid little house, his brow furrowed against the sun.
"Let’s go swimming,” I declare decisively, successfully dragging his attention away from Davis.
“What?” He turns to look at me quickly, suddenly seeming very alarmed.
“Sure.” I shimmy a little bit off the railing, preparing to lunge into the water.
“We can’t go swimming,” Danny protests, as if I’m the ridiculous one here.
“You’re in your clothes and I’m waiting for Davis! Get back over here!” Danny grabs the back of my shirt like he’s worried I’m gonna shoot off into space. “Do you even know how to swim?” His low, soft voice has become higher and more afraid, though I don’t know why.
“Yes!” I insist, irritated that he’s being so unreasonable. I thrash in his grip, trying to shake free of his grasp. Wriggling violently, I let go of the railing and plunge unexpectedly into the marsh.
The water is as nice as I thought it would be: refreshing, cool, and welcoming. I can taste the salt as I sink deeper and deeper. I kick at the water, pushing for the surface. But I can’t find it. The water, once seeming so gentle and encouraging, is taking me hostage. I stay still, feeling the suddenly aggressive tide pull me farther out into open waters, then push me back under the dock. And a quiet little voice in my mind, a whisper, a peaceful murmur, not unlike the soft rushing of Danny’s voice, informs me that I may die.
I’ve seen Davis swim plenty of times. I’ve watched the Summer Olympics. I didn’t expect swimming to be this hard. I can’t see and I don’t know which way is up, but I feel oddly at peace. Danny is on shore. He’ll save me. My feet brush the oyster bed.
I hear a disturbance in the water, a muffled splash, then something grabs hold of my shirt, not unlike Danny did back on the dock. I’m being pulled, slowly, through the water. Surely, this is where it ends. Something, some monstrous fish of some sort has grabbed me and is dragging me to a watery grave. I go limp and let it happen, not having the skills to fight and not knowing which way to run.
And then the sun is on my face again. My eyes are squeezed tight, but I can feel I’m in the air. Weird. A bird must’ve taken me. But then I feel the heat of the dark wood of the dock and open my eyes. I’m laying down, gazing into the clear blue sky. Danny is standing over me, looking down with a strange look in his eyes. Part of it concern, the other part something I can’t quite identify. Fear or nausea maybe, though that doesn’t make sense.
Then there’s a sloshing sound and a grunting noise and for some reason I can’t be bothered to turn my head and find the source of these noises. The cause is soon revealed however when Danny’s face is obscured by Davis’s. His hair hangs wet over his eyes, which are wild.
“Ross, what were you thinking?” Davis asks immediately, panting as though he’s just had a long run.
“What?” I say, baffled. The sun and the swim have both made me very tired, so following Davis’s logic is very difficult.
“Swimming! You can’t swim!”
“Everybody can swim!” I counter. “Why are you so wet?”
Davis sighs and sits back on his heels. He runs a hand through his soaked hair, then starts laughing. It’s an evil laugh, the one you hear in cartoons. I look to Danny, who has reappeared behind Davis. Danny looks about as frightened as I feel.
“I had to jump in to save you!” Davis yells at last.
I don’t understand. I thought Danny would save me at the very least. Never Davis. I sit up and curl my arms around my knees. Suddenly, even with the sun shining and drying me off, I feel very cold. Something from the deadness of the water has soaked my bones and is sticking in there. One look at Danny tells me he feels the same way. But Davis has a warm light in his eyes and is gazing at me intentionally, really seeing me. His stare thaws my chill and I feel an unexpected fondness.
Davis stands up with a grunt worthy of an old man. “Alright, c’mon kid.” He lifts me up like I’m nothing and I fit snuggly into his chest. He smells like salt and sulfur, proof of his rescue mission. I shut my eyes, happy to sleep. “I’ll have to see you tomorrow, Danny,” Davis calls over his shoulder.
“Sure,” Danny says from the dock as Davis and I approach the house. Danny’s voice doesn’t sound to me like it did before. It sounds younger, a little more like mine, not as wise as I once thought it to be.
Davis, when we enter the house, says, “Let’s get you into some dry clothes.” These words ride on his voice like a cowboy rides a horse, wild and free, yet loving and deliberate. It occurs to me to ask Davis if he loves me like Danny said he did. I don’t ask. I don’t need to.
About the Writer...
Esmé DeVries is a sophomore in Creative Writing at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. She has been previously published in Élan.