The Woman who Slipped Below

“Help!” they cried, running toward my tower chair, stumbling over little sand dunes on their way. An older man and woman, and a middle aged man.

“She’s drowning!”

I stand and scan the lake where they are pointing. The surface is glassy. Unperturbed. I grab my red rescue tube and slide down the ladder. I run toward the three.

“Where?” I shout.

“Just there!” they say, they all point to the same place in the lake.

“I don’t see anyone!”

“She’s flailing, man!” Says the older woman in the tankini. I scan the lake and the beach again. The half-dozen other beach goers are looking at me.

“Go!” she says.

I run. My chest hits the cold water and I inhale involuntarily. I kick off the muddy bottom and swim toward the spot. Stroke. Drowning victims rarely flail. Stroke. Usually, you see their heads bobbing calmly, lips below the surface. Stroke. Frightened, lost eyes above. Stroke. Until they slip under. Stroke.

I reach the spot.

“Grab her!” Cry the three.

But there’s no one.  I plunge my head below and look around. The water is murky with sediment. Amber light shafts dance down, but I can’t see the bottom.

I breach the surface again. The three cry and point. The few other beachgoers have gathered around the three, but only the three are pointing. I wheel around in the water. I can’t find her. Can’t find her.

On the shore, the two men sink to their knees. The woman clasps her hand over her mouth and turns away from the lake.

“Where!?” I call.

The small crowd on the shore offers no answer.

—–

It’s night now. The other onlookers long ago dispersed. I’m sitting in the back of one open van. The three are in a second van, taking cups of hot tea with shaking hands. Telling are re-telling what they saw.

I’ve told and re-told what I did not see.

The three didn’t know the woman. The older couple doesn’t even know the middle aged man. No one at the beach today reported anyone missing. The team that’s dredging the lake has found nothing. No one.

The three look at me occasionally from their van. Contempt. Disbelief. But I swore and will swear still, I never saw the woman who slipped below.

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