We had to ride our bikes about fifteen minutes to get there, our towels hung about our necks. The summer after ninth grade I started to go almost every night. Sometimes Peter would tag along with a few of his friends, but Charlie, who was now working at Franklin's bank, seemed to have outgrown the place. Casey MacDonnell, who was in my class and lived just down the road, was always there with his older sister Claire who always asked me about Charlie. I really liked Casey, and since Jane didn't like to swim, or since Aunt Mary didn't like her coming to the lake after dark, we spent a lot of time together. Casey's family had a dairy farm, but Casey wanted to be a scientist. He'd saved up his money to get a chemistry set, which he had set up in a corner of the barn (a much too flammable one, I thought), and we would go there and make liquids in test tubes turn from green to pink to clear and back again. Now, I was saving money to buy a microscope so we could see if anything was living in the test tubes. Casey wanted to be a scientist - but I still hadn't considered wanting to "be" anything, although I entertained thoughts of becoming a gypsy or a stowaway on a pirate ship. I loved The Swiss Family Robinson, and two summers ago Charlie had helped Casey and I build a treehouse.
One night I met Casey at the end of our drive. I was happy to see Claire wasn't with him, but Eddie Livinski was. Eddie was an awkward kid, a weakling who wore thick glasses and tended to whine a little. Still, when you got to know him he was really smart, and very funny - he told stories weirder than on Twilight Zone. I was embarrassed for him sometimes, but I liked him. He had a telescope. "Hi Casey," I said. I had brought Cass and she bounded past Casey after Eddie, wagging her tail. "Hi Eddie."
"Hello Sylvia." Eddie pet Cass gingerly with the back of his hands and sneezed. "Is your dog going to come to the lake?" We started off down the dirt road, then turned onto Havisham Street, the quiet conformimg neighborhoods with matching front yards and doors still draped with the flag from the Fourth of July. Dogs barked as we rode past, at us, but mostly at Cass, who didn't stray to acknowledge them. She was a good dog.
"Hey, wait up!" Eddie had been riding last, and we stopped and turned to see him off his bike, rubbing his knees. "The chain's off again." I walked back to him and flipped his bike upside down, holding it while Casey righted the chain.
"Are you ok?" Eddie got up and started to get back on his bike. There was a little bloodied spot on one of his knees. I noticed Casey petting Cass vigorously. "Don't wipe the grease off on my dog!" I warned him indignantly.
He laughed. "Aw, she don't care, she's a good dog! It won't show on her anyway." He buried his face in her fur once more and trotted back to his bike. "Ok can we go?" So we did. It was a glorious night, the season's best. The wind was warm in our faces, fragrant with foliage and barbecue. When we left Havisham and got on Indian Field Road the sound of the crickets and grasshoppers seemed deafening. The road wasn't lit, of course, but we could see perfectly well by the near-full moon. A raccoon scurried off the road in fron of us and Cass barked after it. I laughed out loud.
We reached the lake. There were a few cars at the beach area, full of older kids, chattering and laughing and smoking. There was a small fire lit, and I saw Claire in one of the cars. We slipped past them unnoticed and went down past them, past the rope swing, to the little dock where a few little boats were tied. This was my favorite spot, and I was excited. I kicked off my sneakers at the end of the dock, and shed my t-shirt and shorts hurriedly. Standing still on the dock in my bathing suit, the air felt a little chilly and I shivered. I sat at the end of the dock. The moon was over the water, lighting a path on its surface like a red carpet on marble stairs. Casey shouted and ran to the end of the dock and jumped in, splashing me. Chet and Richie Baker, twins who were also in our class, had been hanging around the older kids and met up with Casey and soon followed him dramatically into the water. "Comin' in, Syl?" Casey called, spraying me with water.
"I will," I said, teeth chattering from where the drops had landed on my arms and legs. I let my feet fall into the water. It felt warm around them. Eddie came and sat beside me, shirt and glasses still on. "Aren't you going in?"
"Actually, I don't know...." His ribs showed through his t-shirt.
"It feels really warm, you should," I said, and watched as Casey and the Bakers drifted away, laughiing and splashing each other. I looked away from them, the breeze coming gently off the water dried the drops from my skin and lifted my hair. I tilted my head back, looking above the moon where the stars grew darker. Taking a deep breath I tasted the summer-heavy air. I heard Cass moving in the brush on the shore and Eddie sneezed self-consciously beside me. Slowly, I put one foot on the ladder and let the water climb up my leg then to my waist. Then I stood in the shoulder-high water, it was warm and welcoming, and bending forward I dove slowly beneath its surface. I swam inside the dark water as long as I could and brought my head up. I could no longer stand. Kicking I swam in the moon's reflection, floating on my back with just my face above the water. I saw the sky, and I could hear the boys laughing and splashing, and farther away the radio of the older kids at the fire, and the lapping of the waves against the shore. I spun in the water, feeling it wrap around me. I was alive, a part of the living world. I felt like an Indian mystic, like those I imaginined must have bathed in the moonlight and felt as I did. Abruptly I heard somone coming toward me, and then recognized Cass's panting. "Hello, Cassie!" I called. "Good dog!" I put my arms around her and she struggled to lick my face and stay afloat at once. Then we swam in little circles around each other, me splashing her, and she started to head back towards the shore. She came back when I didn't follow. But then I felt a bit of weed brush my foot. That always made me nervous at night, so I followed the black dog in the moon path back towards the dock.
"Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset--earth of the mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!e