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January 6, 2023

Kiss of Breath

It got pretty slow around the lake in winter. The boat rentals closed up. In early December, ice started to form. It eventually reached along the shore, and out to the middle, and eventually it consumed the last patch of open water. 


Julie and I liked to wander down to the lake when our thirds were eating lunch, carrying our identical brown bags, assembled by her as I sipped coffee at the kitchen table, before we headed off to school. We would sit on the upturned boats, and think about all the tourists who flocked north from Chicago in the summer. Back before we were us. 


Most of the tourists were OK. Some were nuts. Where was that fat guy who cut down a lodgepole pine at the picnic site on the 4th of July? The chainsaw started up. Then I heard the tree fall on his daughter.


“Why did you stand there?” he yelled.


Her crying got louder. 


“If I have to hit you again, I’m gonna spank you.” 


I didn’t know what to do, so I went for a swim. The two feet of water near the surface of the lake were pleasantly warm. I swam out toward the float dock where girls sat in bikinis, waiting for boys. Julie was there with two girls I didn’t recognize. Her top was pink and either too small or she was too big. Her bottom had a little skirt around it. Her long brown hair was gathered into a ponytail. It was hard to keep my head down and swimming. All I wanted to do was look at her. I wanted to say a million things to her, but I didn’t know what to say first, so I knew I would turn back toward shore before reaching the float dock. 


For some reason, as I got close to the dock, I jackknifed and plunged toward the bottom. I wanted to see it. Then I left the warm water and entered water as cold as winter ice. It shocked me. I gasped, and that’s when I inhaled the water and coughed once and blacked out. 


I came to, a shadowy shape bent over me, looking me close in the eyes, shaking me. At first, I didn’t know where I was. Then I realized I was on the dock, and Julie was leaning so close her wet hair tickled my nose. She smelled like fresh air and sunshine and tanning lotion and shampoo. I tasted peaches. For a brief second, I felt like I would feel later when I first sipped a shot of bourbon. 

“Don’t you ever do that again, or I’ll die,” she said. 

I lifted my hand up to shade my eyes, so I could see better. That’s when I saw that Julie was all wet, but mostly her eyes. At first, what she said didn’t make sense. Why would she die? Had she almost drowned? 

Later, it all came clear. I’ve never almost drowned again. Peaches.


© the author

by Stuart Watson

Stuart Watson wrote for newspapers in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland. His writing is in yolk.literary, Barzakh, Two Hawks Quarterly, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Bloom, Fewer than 500, Mystery Tribune, Bending Genres (Best Microfictions nominee), 433, Flash Boulevard, Revolution John, Montana Mouthful, Sledgehammer Lit, Five South, Shotgun Honey, The Writing Disorder, Grey Sparrow Journal, Reckon Review and Pulp Modern Flash, among others. He lives in Oregon, with his wife and their amazing dog.

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