“Of course I knew,” I say knowing full well that neither of us really knows. You stare at me. At first you’re not sure if I’m joking. The glint in my eye gives me away. I knew not to glint and yet I couldn’t stop myself. If you’re not in on the joke, then what good is any joke?
We sit outside and the night is cool. The water laps up against the small sandy beach at the park. We rest on a bench that overlooks the edge of the lake. Oversized concrete steps lead into the water. We’ve swam in the water many summers over the past forty years. Most times I swam with you and held you back. You would never say as much but I always knew. When I didn’t swim in the water, I watched you from this very bench, and you swam past the swimmer’s platform and around the edge of the lake, before returning to the bench. I would pull you up out of the water and wrap you in the oversized towel.
There was a time we both swam past the swimmer’s platform to where the boats lowered anchor. The water was heavier than seawater, and I struggled when we returned. You swam in front and kept turning back. You told me about the dolphins, and how they circled me when I swam, and how they wouldn’t let me fall into the depths of the lake. I swam and felt the dolphins cool bodies pass near my legs and arrived at the platform where I leaned my tired arms over the deck and rested my head on the sun-warmed wood. Children screamed on the platform, and it rocked gently each time a child jumped into the lake. You treaded water near the platform and I stared past the liquid stars that filled my vision and saw you smiling back at me. I waved at the departing dolphins and thanked them for their help. It didn’t matter that no dolphins lived in the lake. I swam and made it because of the dolphins and retold this story many times, each time swimming further beyond the swimmer’s platform until it was only us and the boats and the dolphins as far as the eye could see.
You grab my hand as if you see my thoughts like oversized bubbles hovering above my head. You don’t know what I think but you’re content that my thoughts are about us. You consider the moment and love how peaceful and quiet it is. How perfect the night arrived. The afternoon rains left a strong ozone smell that settled across the wet grass. The evening cool sat on top of the rains. You rub at the goose bumps that suddenly form along your forearms. I pull your arm gently and bring you in close, wrapping my arm around your shoulder to ward off the cold.
We watch two couples walk past our bench. I try to overhear their conversations and you snort in mock disapproval. You remember my explanations: conversations distract me, and since I’m distracted I might as well listen closely to catch their words. I cannot stop eavesdropping anymore than your twilight years can steal your beauty. The couples whisper too quietly for me to catch more than passing words. I lean my head into yours and we watch the tiny white waves tickle the beach.
It grows late and the stars peak from behind the clouds. The wind rustles the trees and their branches shake their newly budding leaves. Spring is ending by dragging summer through the park. You close your eyes as I crane my neck to find the constellations that kept me company over the long years. I learned of a few as a boy, and I locate them like old friends in a crowd. I never bothered to learn the rest, the same way I never made efforts to meet the strangers that skimmed through my life. You loved to watch me tell stories about the stars to our children. They finger painted stars like connect-the-dot puzzles and described to me what they drew. From there I winded the tales of heroes and villains, modulating my voice with the intensity of moments and the anticipation of overdue outcomes.
You always told me to write what I said, and I explained that my stories like lightning bugs lost their light when placed in a jar. You didn’t believe me and pestered me until I recorded some words, and pestered me until those words became stories, and pestered me until I shared those stories. You knew that was always what I wanted even if I hid from the truth under thick blankets and firm pillows.