I'll Try to Smile
Emma was wrong. A strong sun shone. The ice melted, the wind blew, and the cold hit us. But the group looked resilient.
I saw canoes, rowboats, sailboats, kayaks and one motor boat, each full of Club Deaders. Brink and Carrie stood next to each other, wrapped in mufflers and wool hats. Emig looked capable in a kayak. Dawn and her sleepy boyfriend settles oars into the rowboat’s oarlocks. Fretwell, Bayless, Tallie, Tuttle and many others - the entire crew - had made it.
Frank had distinguished himself.
I felt like crap.
The theater good-feeling hangover didn’t last one darn day. I mean, being on stage and the potency of it all was real. But it was over.
I had a new fear: that I required something dangerous to spark me to life. Constantly. Watching everyone approach chaos before the curtain went up stimulated me, shook me out of the crumby state I had been in for too long. I felt a shot of adrenalin when we saw Wraithe near Brink with a knife, but that ecstasy dissipated quickly once Screen had things in hand.
Emma might have been right. My response to the aftermath of Uncle Grant’s death might have been feigned. What no one knew was what I felt when I found him and tried to help him. And no one ever would.
I may have been wired in a way that was not normal. Nor healthy. I would try to smile and make people feel I had recovered.
I sat next to Frank in the middle of a small sailboat. I saw Carrie and Brink get into a two-person kayak. Brink appeared to know what she was doing. Carrie, stolid, beautiful, remote, peered over the horizon. I could not stand Frank’s generosity. Weird me, for I wanted some. Probably would have gotten none of that from Carrie. Or maybe she’d offer the right amount. Brink paddled away. Another desire transformed into a memory.
Tuttle stood at the stern with Screen, who controlled the rudder while holding onto a rope connected to the boom. He sailed straight, then circled around to arrive at his favored position, facing the center of the island. He performed this move repeatedly as the other vessels maneuvered into place.
The flotilla created a semi-circle around the island. Screen raised a megaphone. He secured the rudder handle between his legs while still holding onto the boom line. I learned more about Screen every time I saw him. I knew he was a wreck but he came off as capable. He looked for something in the distance.
Frank held my hand. He remained sweet and patient. He should berate and not tolerate me. I deserved a smack.
“Thank you everyone for being apart of this memorial…”
Screened spoke. He he had everyone’s attention. Screen wasn’t well known among Club Deaders, but he had a stature, call it gravitas, that the kids admired. That he was completely coherent and not crying about the death of his mom impressed them, too.
“When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead?”
“What’s he reading?”
“Catcher in the Rye.”
“That’s a good book. And I don’t like reading.”
“Is he going to stop reading?”
“I think he’s killing time,” I said.
“He wants a scene.”
“Doesn’t this count as a scene?”
“He wants the police. He wants to be arrested.”
I got on my phone and dialed 911. Someone said they’d be right there.
Screen read more.
When a boat with a flashing light appeared to be headed our way, Screen slid the book into his backpack.
“…and now we will spread the ashes.”
Seventy-seven vials were held into the air. Actually seventy-eight.
“Why do you have two vials?” I asked Tuttle.
“How did you get Jimmy Swindle’s ashes?”
“His mother is in that red kayak.”
Sure enough, a lone woman at the end of the semi-circle, with a mourning veil, steadied her boat against the mild wake.
And then chaos.
A bullhorn screamed. Seagulls scattered. Sentence fragments reached us.
“…stop...intend...the law…cease or you will be….this is your final….ing…”
I tossed Uncle Grant’s ashes up. They formed a small cloud, which flew directly into my face.
More dust settled on me. Some Jimmy Swindle and Screen’s mom. Specks of ash flicked into my eyes. I tried to open them, but they closed right up. The boat wobbled.
Frank told me later that the boat with the police – a recreational yacht not, standard police equipment – flew passed our sailboat, nearly clipping us, and created a wake that upset Screen’s focus.
I didn’t see the boom. I felt it hit me in the side of my head. The rest of what happened, Frank told me.
“You must have been knocked unconscious. You were close to the side and you fell overboard. Then you sank.”
“I was conscious.”
“But you were sinking. Somebody conscious would try to get to the surface. You sank.”
“I’m telling you, I was aware when I was down there.”
I didn’t want to argue with Frank. He did, after all, save me. But I may have been knocked out and I may have been sinking, but somewhere inside of me I was fully alive. I swear I saw tree roots.
“Screen said you were under water for more than three minutes. And you were an unsettling shade of blue when we got you onto the boat. You may have died.”
“And you brought me back to life.”
“Is something wrong?”
“No Frank, I’m perfectly happy to be alive. I’m just thinking what that means, that I may have died.”
“Did you see anything, like a light?”
“I was under water.”
“I’ve heard people who die and come back to life, they see a tunnel of light, like it’s some - ”
“You’re talking new age-y.”
“It’s what I’ve heard.”
I was laying on the couch at home engulfed in mounds of blankets and an occasional hot water bottle. A touch of hypothermia added to the dementia I displayed after being revived on the boat. Screen hovered. His sense of responsibility has bred an enormous bulk of guilt. I preferred the captain-like confident version of Screen.
Emma dished me up vegetable soup.
“Frank jumped overboard and somehow located you.”
“As I sank? That’s sounds unlikely.”
“He was quick,” Screen said.
“And Lake Haloke has low turbidity. I earned my scuba certification in that water. I see well underwater. It’s not that usual that I found you,” Frank said.
“And after you got me?”
“We hauled you onto the boat,” Screen said, “and Brink administered CPR. It was very dramatic. Do you know she just became certified?”
“You looked dead. And Brink is massaging your heart, punching you when you didn’t react. I mean, she was practically jumping on you.”
“I do ache.”
“Oh, it was bona fide madness. Club Deaders are swarming around our boat, wanting to help, and the police are trying to arrest people, who are totally ignoring them.”
“Were you arrested?” I asked Screen.
“Good for you. Your mom must be happy,” I said.
Screen looked at Emma sheepishly. They made a sweet couple.
“Then what?” I was enjoying the story.
“Brink cries over you - “Don’t die to you stupid Stark!” - and gives you one more whack…”
“While claiming that you’re a stupid idiot.”
“That sounds like the Brink I know.”
“For getting blind-sided by a boom?”
“And you start to gasp and throw up all over yourself and Brink.”
“So Brink brought me back to life? I should contact her.”
“She’s hugging you, crying, we’re all trying to hold you. It was very touching.”
“Screen sailed the boat to shore. There was an ambulance to take you to the hospital, then Screen went with the police. Club Dead was vocal about that.”
“Screen is defiant, Frank is a hero, and you have been reborn,” Emma said.
“I don’t feel different. I’m still feel like the sad-sack you ragged on yesterday.”
“You should use the symbolism.”
“For what? You said being a metaphor was meaningless.”
“That’s a hard act to follow, coming back from the dead.”
“Try. Just do not let it go to your head.”
Emma went and refilled my empty bowl.
I didn’t know if it was coming back from death or Emma’s soup but considering everything, I felt okay. I thought I felt good on the stage, but after gulping death, I know what feeling good means.
I wondered how I could exploit this.
I closed my eyes and pulled the blanket up to my neck.
Images of cold and dark returned. Down there. Nothing. No sounds, thoughts, words, expectations – in that moment – those minutes – I had nothing human to do. Not speak, react, fulfill. A free ride. No fear. No reason to cry. No Monday to wake up to and work.
Brink’s ministrations should have worked more quickly. She encountered resistance. Tomorrow was Monday. I would be expected back to work. Hi-ho.