Not knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, while you’re doing it: isn’t that madness? Holding on to a slime-covered rock at the bottom of a lake, pondering the balance between the weight of sodden corduroy and cotton and the buoyancy of your lungs and the water sliding under your belly to wedge you up, under your chest, telling you this is silly, that it’s a little thing, they’re your friends, let go. Come back up. Float back up to the surface. Put your shoes back on. Everything will be forgiven. It’s just a ring stamped out of nickel and chrome. They’ve got dozens. Hundreds. The secretary keeps the extras in a cardboard box in a desk drawer behind a lock you could pick with a bent paper clip. Let go.
“I’ll get it.” Ian forced a laugh, a shrug. As if it was nothing. And wasn’t it? More silence, more crying. Dave shook his head slowly, his lips pulled tight into a line.
“Look.” He pulled off a Topsider, hopping backward on one foot while he tugged on a sock. “I’m getting it. I’ll get it.” He reached down to the bottom button on his shirt, still hopping. He glanced at Jennifer. It’s nothing they don’t see when you’re swimming, he told himself. But he hadn’t been swimming with Jen since they were kids, and that was a lifetime ago.
Then somewhere between the shirt button and the other shoe she was coming at him. He couldn’t understand what she was screaming. It started with “You!” and disintegrated from there. He couldn’t run, holding his left foot in two hands and jumping around on his bare right one. Wouldn’t have, moreover. He wanted her on him, pounding on his bony chest with her fists.
But she only got far enough to push him onto his ass and swing a wild slap that didn’t connect. Dave ran in and stopped her midway, picked her up off her feet from behind. Ian tried to laugh but the fall had knocked the wind out of him. When his tailbone hit the ground he’d felt it in his molars. And now he was crying too. He rolled over and started crawling toward the lake, then launched himself into a sprint. He tried to remember where he’d thrown it, diving in, picturing an Olympic dive that sliced through the water gracefully, but feeling a clumsy bellyflop, and clothes that were suddenly like a packing blanket around him.
“Come on, let’s see it.”
Jen was smiling, dangling the ring on a thin gold chain. “You see with your eyes, not with your hands,” she taunted him, but she was already reaching around for the clasp. Ian caught Dave’s eye and he nodded. And then it started and it was like they were playing from a script. Keep away. Monkey in the middle. She was angry but not really angry. Everyone was laughing.
A losing entry in the 4th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.