Waterproof

Dean Monti
25 min readAug 10, 2022

© 2022 by Dean Monti

Hettinger had taken Tina to his parent’s cabin at Blue Lake that summer for the specific purpose of having sex on a boat with her. It was something that had been formulating in his brain for some time. It wasn’t just the words that peppered both the language of the sea and the language of sex, words like undulating, climbing aboard and mast, although these certainly added to the romanticism of Hettinger’s idea.

The notion was born one summer earlier when Hettinger had seen two people having sex out in the middle of Blue Lake. He’d gone to his parent’s cabin to be alone for a few days while he worked on a paper for college. But that plan was forsaken the afternoon he gazed upon the lake and noticed the sleek brown motorboat and its busy naked occupants. He couldn’t see the couple clearly from his shoreline vantage point, but Hettinger could tell that they were young, shiny, and naked. And he could tell from the positions of their bodies that something special was going on between them. The repetitive motions, the juxtaposition of arms and legs, it was recognizable and awe-inspiring, even from afar.

It excited Hettinger to know that sex actually happened, as he’d been led to believe by watching certain films, in the middle of one’s daily existence. It was this middle thing that particularly obsessed Hettinger. There they were, he thought, in the middle of the lake, in the middle of summer, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day, in the middle of having sex. And at week’s end, Hettinger’s restlessness and agitation sprang not from the fact that he hadn’t completed his college paper, but that something was missing from this middle part of his youthful daily existence.

There were only two things that prevented Hettinger from having sex on a boat that very summer — he didn’t have a boat and he didn’t know any women. At twenty-two, Hettinger was too shy and self-effacing to approach the kinds of women who would have sex on sleek brown motorboats. Owning that sort of boat might have attracted that sort of woman, Hettinger thought, but there were no such boats in his modestly-financed world.

By the following summer, however, Hettinger’s parents had acquired a 24-foot pontoon boat. Not a sleek brown motorboat by any means, more like something Hettinger had seen retired people use to cruise around the lake in the late afternoon. But it was a boat, at least, a vessel that could be used to achieve his dream of middle-of-the-lake sex. And it was not long after his parents got the pontoon boat that Hettinger met Tina.

Exotic, long legged, red-headed Tina sat just a few short desks ahead of Hettinger in a Tuesday evening junior college course called: A Survey of Early U.S. History. Hettinger actually enjoyed listening to the long-winded lectures that accompanied each class, because they all played out on the landscape of Tina’s body. The Chicago Fire of her hair, the first transatlantic flight across her breasts, the Great Depression in the curve of her back, Babe Ruth hitting sixty home runs the length of her legs. Still shy, but with a 24-foot pontoon boat in his pocket, Hettinger asked Tina out on the last night of class.

As it happened, Tina was very receptive to Hettinger’s idea of a drink after the last class and knew of several bars near campus. Those long legs of Tina’s that he had admired from afar turned out to be hollow, or so it seemed to Hettinger, for she drank like a fish and rarely showed outward signs of inebriation. Hettinger was less poised drunk, but alcohol was the lubrication that greased the wheels of his bolder, more reckless personality.

They danced to a mediocre bar band that played mostly cover versions of up tempo rock songs from the seventies, but as Hettinger drank, he managed to interpret every song as a slow dance so that he could press himself upon her. And, fortuitously, Tina was receptive to Hettinger’s pressing. She pressed back, and with more urgency.

That night Tina convinced Hettinger, though it took little convincing on his part, that he must relinquish his inhibitions regarding sex. She told him that he must not be afraid to tell her what he wanted to do, or when, no matter how unusual it might be. She enjoyed the adventure of sex. Hettinger was confident he’d found in Tina just the kind of woman who would have uninhibited sex on a boat in the middle of the day.

Timing nearly derailed his plans. Tina was working week-days as a hostess at a Holiday Inn to help defray the costs of repairing the wheezing exhaust system on her Pacer. And Hettinger’s parents were always there on the week-ends. The first opportunity he would have to get Tina alone at Blue Lake in the middle of the week was early September. Far off, he thought, but still warm enough to get naked on a boat.

For a while it didn’t seem to matter so much to Hettinger because Tina kept him busy all summer on dry land, consistently finding new ways of doing things and new places to do new things. It was good for a while, nearly all he’d ever hoped for, in fact. And had Hettinger never seen two people having sex on a boat, he might have felt fulfilled.

But for Hettinger, sex on a boat, in another state, began to represent more than just a another thrill. Somewhere during that torrid sexual summer, Hettinger had come to enjoy Tina’s upright, speaking personality as well as her prone, non-speaking one. He’d begun to develop feelings for Tina, feelings that had nothing to do with sex; feelings he thought might have something more to do with what he understood at the time might be love. He began to fantasize that they might emerge on the other side of this boat sex thing as adults, wanting a regular relationship, regular jobs and someday even regular children.

Hettinger didn’t know how Tina felt about this business of being in love and didn’t ask her about it. Bringing up the subject with her would, he thought, somehow violate their unspoken pact of living-for-the-moment hedonism. Tina seemed to be enjoying herself and was spending all her free time with him, so perhaps, Hettinger reasoned, she was feeling something like love, too. Hettinger attempted to elicit these feelings from Tina by telling her the story of how he’d almost been killed by his parent’s pontoon boat one week before their trip to Wisconsin.

Tina had been working the entire Labor Day weekend at the Holiday Inn and Hettinger had gone to Blue Lake with his parents. His father taken Hettinger and his mother for a lazy cruise around the lake on the pontoon boat and eventually dropped anchor in a mustard-colored area of water that indicated a sand bar. Stretching back in the captain’s chair, his father had torn open a bag of cheese crackers and was reading the Sunday comics. His mother was stretched out on a lawn chair near the stern of the boat, burning her gorgonzola thighs in a hot afternoon sun.

Sitting on the deck of the pontoon boat, garbed only in swimming trunks, it was not safe for Hettinger to formulate ideas about what he might do with Tina the following week. So he’d lowered his body into the lake, quietly, so as not to disturb the calm élan that had enveloped the boat and silently moved around in the chest-high water, where he could free-associate about Tina more freely. He imagined her standing at the prow of the boat, sun overhead, wind in her long red hair, clad in a revealing black bathing suit, anointing her body with Sea and Ski. He imagined himself helping her reach those hard to reach places and those places that were not so hard to reach but which she preferred Hettinger to reach for her.

Though it startled him from his reverie, Hettinger was not immediately apprehensive when he heard the anchor go up and the boat’s engine roar to life. Sure, he was still in the water and yes, there was a live engine in the water with him, its sharp blue propellers sending buckets of foam to the surface. But Hettinger was pretty sure his father realized he was still in the water. And, after all, a boat with its motor running was not, Hettinger reasoned, a dangerous thing by itself. It wasn’t as though the boat was moving. Then an instant later, the boat began to move and it began to move towards Hettinger.

Had Hettinger chosen to swim away in the same direction as his father was blindly steering, the boat it would have surely rammed him in the back of the head, putting him into an undesirable, vegetative state that would render him unable to return the following week and do what he intended to do with Tina.

Another option might have been for him to duck down under the boat. This, Hettinger realized later was by far, the stupidest choice. He was in shallow water and would have been unable to submerge low enough to avoid the hull which would have knocked him unconscious, or the propellers, which would have made his unconscious state merely academic.

What Hettinger actually did was go nowhere at all. The boat had not yet picked up much speed and it had a long flat prow rather than a pointy one. The boat hit him in the chest like several sheets of plywood, knocking the wind out of him but causing him no serious harm. His father, cued by the frantic screams of Hettinger’s mother, cut the engine and the boat drifted to a stop, of sorts.

Back aboard the boat, as he toweled himself off, Hettinger had tried to break the tension and calm his visibly shaken parents by making a sick joke. He slapped the dead, steaming motor with a wet palm, then ran his index finger along the red welt the boat had tattooed across his chest, saying, “This was no boating accident.”

Neither of Hettinger’s parents laughed.

When he told the story to Tina on the drive up to Blue Lake the following Monday, she didn’t laugh either. Moving closer to Hettinger, as close as the gear shift in his VW allowed, she stroked the side of his face with soft, manicured fingers.

“You need to be more careful,” she told Hettinger. “I want you around for a while.”

The remark intrigued and elated Hettinger, who was tempted to ask how long a while might be, but he satisfied himself with her show of concern and her stroking fingers.

A gorgeous red sun was setting on Blue Lake as Hettinger pulled up the gravel driveway of his parent’s cabin. It might have been a good time for a sunset cruise and boat sex, Hettinger thought, but they’d just been in the car for two and a half hours and darkness would descend on them before he figured out how to untie the boat, put it into gear, and get it out on the lake.

Tina suggested they drive another hour north to Lake Geneva for dinner. Hettinger wasn’t exactly keen on getting back in the car and driving to another lake, all lakes seemed the same to him, but he deferred to Tina’s wishes. Perhaps he could use this extra Wisconsin drive-time to get to know Tina’s upright speaking personality better.

Once they arrived at Lake Geneva, however, they could not reach an ethnic accord for dinner. Hettinger had been set on Italian food, but Tina kept pointing to Mexican restaurants. She seemed to be trying to make the case that since there were so many Mexican restaurants, more, she claimed, than Italian, that it stood to reason that the food in Mexican restaurants would be better.

Lake Geneva was Little Mexico, Tina reasoned, not Little Italy. Hettinger wasn’t sure where Tina had gotten this idea about Lake Geneva being little Mexico. Lake Geneva, he agreed, was not Little Italy, but nor was it Little Mexico. As far as Hettinger knew, Lake Geneva was not Little anything.

But Hettinger wasn’t so concerned about Tina forcing the title of Little Mexico onto Lake Geneva. He was more worried about this unexpected rift on the eve of what he expected would be the most important day in his adult life, the day of boat sex in the middle of the lake in the middle of the day.

He reasoned that it was all the driving and their ever-increasing hunger pangs that had brought on the unpleasantness. What was needed, Hettinger decided, was a compromise, a neutral cuisine. An accord of sorts was reached when Hettinger spotted a flashing neon hamburger over a small place called Geneva’s Lake Geneva Grill. He suggested they give it a try and Tina, swooning from hunger, rubbed her stomach and nodded. They spent several minutes driving around, looking for a parking space on the crowded streets. When they’d found one, it took them some time to figure out again, on foot, where the neon hamburger had disappeared to.

Geneva’s Lake Geneva Grill was supposed to offer a view of Lake Geneva, but it was so crowded in the restaurant that Hettinger was never sure if the view being offered was that of Lake Geneva the lake, as he’d imagined, or of the town itself. They were stuck inside a booth that had no view, which is to say it had a view of the people who had a view of Lake Geneva.

When the waitress arrived they waved off menus and ordered immediately, describing food they’d seen on other people’s plates — char-broiled burgers, cheese fries and drinks. Hettinger downed several beers and a scotch and water and Tina matched him drink for drink with Bacardi and Coke. But because the restaurant was busy or perhaps unhurried, their food order did not come out for another forty minutes. By the time the steaming plates were placed before them, they were both slumped in their booth, quite drunk, staring into each other’s unseeing eyes.

Hettinger mauled his food, barely tasting it, throwing proper eating habits and table etiquette out the door. Once the hamburger was buried safely in his stomach, he was able to slow his pace and pick at his French fries with momentarily renewed strength.

“I love you,” Hettinger said tenderly, brandishing a French fry in Tina’s direction.

It meant a lot of things: I’m sorry, I’m glad our food is finally here and, I love you. Tina said nothing but smiled at Hettinger as she drowned her French fries with ketchup.

The meal did little to absorb the brunt of their happy hour. When the bill came, Hettinger put his money under the check, grossly overpaying or undertipping, he’ll never know which. Then he staggered out the door with Tina out onto the wavering streets of Lake Geneva, trying to remember where he’d parked the VW.

Tina was distracted by the lights on Lake Geneva. Small sailing crafts, reflected moonlight and stars.

“It’s so…beautiful,” Tina said, her mouth gaping open like a broken gate.

He hugged her from behind, in part merely to steady himself. It felt to Hettinger like one of those moments when it would be appropriate to say something special. He’d just said I love you over dinner and it seemed too soon to say it again, especially when Tina hadn’t said it at all yet.

Short of saying I love you again, Hettinger would have liked to have uttered something profound , or perhaps made some clever or poetic remark about the lake, the moon, or the stars. Quote someone perhaps, which Hettinger often did when he ran out of his own ideas. But the liquor had dulled his wit considerably.

“Yeah,” Hettinger said. “Beautiful.”

Together they discovered the VW looking odd and forgotten, parallel parked between two empty spaces. They climbed in and groped with each other over the gearshift. Hettinger, anticipating his first night of wild sex in another state, gunned the engine and found the highway.

Although he was not in an ideal condition to drive, he was only 22 and still felt recklessly immortal at certain times. Anticipating returning to the cabin with Tina was one of these times. Hettinger shook his head like a wet dog, shaking the blurriness from his head, and took the wheel.

The roads were murderously curvy, but his alcohol-soaked brain was not thinking in straight lines anyway. So he did his best to keep the left front tire hugging against, but not over, the double yellow line as they twisted their way back to the cabin.

In attempt to keep sharp, Hettinger blasted the car radio, whirling the dial relentlessly, looking for the best, loudest song he could find. When he found one, as he did in Angie by the Rolling Stones, Hettinger semi-serenaded Tina in sudden, loud, crackling warbles that would jerk Tina’s lolling head up out of her lap.

He happened across a weather report at one point but quickly tuned it out, feeling the cool night breeze whistling through the car and fearing the worst. Tina didn’t seem to notice, in fact she occasionally stuck her head out the window like a drunken collie and sniffed and snorted at the country air.

Somehow, the same stupid luck that had saved Hettinger from a fatal boating accident the week before delivered him safely to the gravel driveway of his parent’s cabin. Tina rolled out of the passenger side and began to wander off towards the woods. Hettinger collected her in the curve of his right arm. Between four wobbly legs they managed to find two that worked well enough to navigate them safely up the front porch steps and into the cabin.

Tina immediately headed for the bed, pitching her clothes in all directions as she went. Hettinger followed in close pursuit, still struggling with the first button of his shirt. Soon she was nude, sprawled across the bed, hugging a pillow against her swollen head, moonlight stroking the curve of her back,

Hettinger tore at his clothes but it was already too late. Before Hettinger could remove his pants, or indeed figure out where he might find the article of clothing known as pants on his body, Tina was asleep, her nose emitting a sound not unlike the exhaust system of her Pacer. Hettinger collapsed in a half-dressed heap beside her.

Early Tuesday morning, around 5:00, Hettinger got up to shut out a blast of cold air coming in through the bedroom window. He saw a bank of low-hanging clouds over the lake but didn’t give it too much thought. It was still far too early to be concerned.

When Hettinger got up at ten, however, there was no sign of withdrawal from the bank of clouds and the temperature, if anything, had dropped a few degrees. Wisconsin weather seemed to have changed dramatically from the week before, from late summer to early autumn.

He knew Tina had been looking forward to a fun-in-the-sun day. She’d talked about how she was looking forward to a day of sunning, swimming, boating and sex and so far all they’d done was eat, drink, drive, and sleep. Hettinger, in an act of pure optimism, put his swimsuit on, but ended up donning a pair of khaki trousers over his trunks. He made coffee and kept a vigil by the window, alternately watching the sky and the sleeping Tina.

Tina finally got up around eleven. She stretched her nude body and squinted small, sleepy eyes around the dim, gray bedroom.

“What time does the sun come up around here?” she asked Hettinger, and he wondered if, like mistaking Lake Geneva for Little Mexico, Tina had now mistaken Wisconsin for some Nordic country that experienced only a few weeks of daylight each year.

“I think the sky may break up,” he said, stretching the truth, but acknowledging the cloud cover. “Whatever it is, I think it will push off to the south.” He had no real idea what he was talking about, merely reciting word-for-word, a more promising forecast he’d heard somewhere before.

The real forecast that pounded in Hettinger’s brain contained words like “overcast” and “chilly,” words he refrained from using with Tina. But when he saw Tina slip into her revealing black two-piece swimsuit he felt compelled to tell her that a morning dip was probably out of the question.

“A little early for that,” Hettinger said. “I think you probably want to wear something over your suit. For now.”

Tina shrugged and pulled one of Hettinger’s t-shirt over her head. “Can we take the boat out after lunch?”

“Of course,” Hettinger said, smiling, his mind racing ahead to the middle of the lake. Then, looking again out the window at the sky, he added, “Let’s make it a quick lunch.”

Hettinger was not an experienced sailor, but his father had taught him the basics the week before, going over them again and again in detail, with particular emphasis on how to cut the engine. He untied the ropes from the dock, and eased the boat out into the water. There was no one out on Blue Lake. Not only were there no water crafts, something he’d expected on a post-Labor Day Tuesday, but Hettinger also noticed the absence of water fowl. Ducks, geese and their kin had high-tailed it to the shore rather than dip their webbed feet into what Hettinger supposed must be chilly September waters.

Still, Hettinger liked having the lake to himself. Standing at the helm, he felt confident, powerful. He pushed the pontoon boat up to maximum speed, around forty miles per hour and felt a cold, bracing spray dot his forehead. It might have been rain, Hettinger thought, but he preferred to think of it as a cold, bracing spray.

Tina had sat down on one of the bench seats near the Hettinger. He stared at her sexy, though slightly blue lips and then down the length of her body to her sexy, though slightly blue legs.

“This is great isn’t it?” he yelled over the roar of the oil-sputtering, Evinrude engine.

Tina conceded with small shrug and a pained smile. She searched under her seat and got out a canvas blanket which she draped over her bare legs. She looked around as if to say where is that wind coming from? The answer, Hettinger knew, was that the wind was coming from everywhere. There were no doors to shut, no windows to close. The only way to reduce the wind was to cut the engine. So, as soon as Hettinger felt confident he was somewhere near the middle of the lake, about a mile or so out from shore, he cut the engine and dropped anchor.

The wind persisted, though its intensity was somewhat abated. Hettinger got up out of the captain’s chair and strode purposely towards Tina. By now the canvas blanket had crept up, to Tina’s shoulders, like an overzealous lap dog.

“A little cool today,” Hettinger admitted. “Maybe you should let me join you under there.”

Tina opened the blanket and Hettinger crawled inside. It might have felt nice, close together with her under the covers, but the blanket was too small. Where one person could easily wrap themselves up in it, between the two of them it protected only parts of them, leaving their faces and legs at the mercy of a steely wind.

Hettinger was still confident, however, that he could overcome this lack of heat by combining his own body warmth with Tina’s. But while his loins were definitely afire, the rest of his body remained moist, clammy, from the cold, bracing spray or perhaps the rain, which Hettinger still refused to acknowledge. Tina, likewise, was not generating any heat, not from her body and certainly not from her loins.

In the past, Hettinger had found Tina’s nether region to be a veritable polygraph of desire. Just the mention of sex would make her needle jump and her thighs would turn red, hot to the touch. But that afternoon Tina wasn’t registering anything — her thighs were cool, blue and unyielding.

Hettinger had not been with a lot of women but he was experienced enough to know this was a clear sign to pull up anchor and head for shore. But he couldn’t see another opportunity for the boat sex thing anywhere in the offing. They’d have to leave that afternoon, both of them would have to go back to work and soon the boat would soon be stored in dry dock for the fall. It was desperate thoughts such as these and the lingering memory of a younger more free-spirited Tina, a Tina from July or August, that made Hettinger push his luck.

His hand made a beeline for the intersection of her thighs. Tina recoiled, expelling Hettinger’s hand quickly, as if a dead fish had suddenly landed in her lap.

“Let’s head back,” she said, her small voice pushing through her tightly drawn blue lips. Hettinger was taken aback by her rebuff but crawled out of the blanket, pulled up the anchor and started the engine. He pointed the boat towards the cabin and opened the throttle.

They didn’t get far, and with the wind against them they perhaps they got nowhere at all before the engine sputtered and died. As the motor gasped its last, Hettinger was already picturing the cause, visualizing the last precious drops of gasoline evaporating in the tank. But he spent another moment or two in denial as he checked, unfortunately for the first time that day, the boat’s gas gauge. At first Hettinger couldn’t see the needle at all. Then he spotted it, a thin black arrow pointing somewhere well past E, pointing, in fact, straight to the bottom of the lake and more precisely, Hettinger thought, pointing to hell.

Still, he attempted to revive the lifeless outboard, pulling the cord again and again, imagining some imaginary fuel in an imaginary reserve tank. And as long as he kept beating the dead horsepower, Hettinger could avoid looking into Tina’s eyes, which he imagined were not looking upon him fondly. Sure enough, when he stole a furtive glance in her direction, he saw that she’d wrapped herself up again beneath the canvas blanket, a cocoon of impatience and boredom. Hettinger looked out at the surrounding water. His joyful observation that there was no one on the lake suddenly changed into the sobering realization that there was no one on the lake. He didn’t know the distress signal code, but laid on the horn anyway, hoping that laying on the horn would sound like someone distressed.

“Are there life jackets?” Tina asked Hettinger.

“Yes,” Hettinger replied. He assured her that they were in no danger of sinking, but if she felt safer with one on, it was okay by him. He pulled the lifejackets out from under the bench seats and handed one to her.

She shrugged it off and looked off into the distance, across the expanse of water, toward the direction of the cabin. She never actually told Hettinger what she expected him to do, but it seemed clear she wanted him overboard. In the lake.

Still, Hettinger wasn’t exactly sure what she had in mind. Did she expect him to swim across the lake to the cabin and then swim back again like some aquatic St. Bernard, a can of gasoline strapped under his neck? Still smarting from his unsuccessful attempt at boat sex, Hettinger didn’t dare risk further emasculation by pointing out that the water was too cold, too choppy, the wind too strong, his swimming skills too inadequate.

He stripped down to his trunks, feeling a chill along his spine, and rifled through the pile of lifejackets. None of them seemed seaworthy or lakeworthy to him, all suffering from the same amount of raggedness caused by age and mildew. He inspected each one, hoping to find a tag that might indicate an expiration date, like those found on dairy products. Finding no such helpful information, he finally picked one at random, staring hard at the deep green water of Blue Lake as he tied the stays across his chest.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Hettinger said, with no idea in the world what he was going to do. Tina offered him no words of encouragement, no bracing hug or last minute reconsideration of sex. She merely receded further inside the folds of the blanket.

Expecting to plop onto the surface of the water like a Styrofoam ring, Hettinger was surprised when he jumped in and his body plunged deep below the waves into darkness. The lifejacket acted appropriately, ascending to the surface, but Hettinger felt his body slipping down through it. He pictured himself sinking to the bottom of the lake like a stone. Then, a moment later, he bobbed to the surface, gasping for breath.

He hadn’t properly fastened the stays of the lifejacket across his chest and they’d loosened considerably the moment he hit the water. Now the jacket was kind of holding Hettinger up by his ears, keeping his face out of the water, but just barely. As waves rolled over him his head would dip below the surface and come back up again. Again and again Hettinger submerged and came up, in a kind of never-ending baptism, devoid of any blessings.

After adjusting to the shock of the cold water and the weight of his body, he tried to get a sense of direction. He saw the boat looming behind him and felt a momentary panic of recall, remembering how he’d recently seen the boat from this angle, watched it roar murderously towards him. Now, inert in the water, the boat was causing him just as much trouble. A useless gray hulk, the word Paradise mocked him in a splash of red letters on the hull.

Hettinger turned his body away from the boat. Looking out towards houses dotting the shore, which looked impossibly small and distant, he began to flail his arms and legs. He suspected however, even with all the exertion he was putting forth, that he was not so much swimming as being swept along with the current.

His limbs grew leaden much faster than he’d anticipated, his arms and legs feeling as thought they’d been smacked with rubber hoses. Under him was probably the deepest part of the lake, about thirty feet of water. It didn’t matter really, for he could drown in anything over six feet if he couldn’t keep his head up.

This dangerous, ill-defined rescue plan was not panning out, Hettinger decided. He angled his head back towards the boat and then again towards the shore. He seemed to have gone some distance, but the boat was still closer. It was time, Hettinger thought, to swallow his pride, forget his male ego and save his life. He had wanted just to yell, but even then, facing the prospect of a watery grave, Hettinger felt the need to explain himself.

“I can’t make it,” he shouted, sputtering water out his mouth and nose. “It’s too far. I’m going to drown.”

Hettinger watched as Tina appeared at the side of the boat, her head looking small in the canvas blanket. She would save him somehow, Hettinger was sure of it. She would throw him a line although he didn’t even know if there was a line onboard.

What Tina actually did was to cup her hands on either side of her mouth.

“Just swim!” she yelled, clearly and articulately. Then she re-wrapped herself inside the canvas blanket and disappeared, probably to the bench seat on the other side of the boat.

Angry now that he was going to die, particularly when he’d finally made it to the middle of the lake and never had sex, Hettinger decided he would not go quietly to his death. He would go down kicking and screaming. He didn’t scream but he did start kicking his legs again and flailing his arms some more. He swallowed mouthfuls of lake and spat them out. He cursed the lake that was doing to him what he’d hoped to do to Tina.

Somehow, he had no idea how much later, Hettinger found himself far from the boat, far from the cabin as well, but definitely nearer to shore. Encouraged, he kept kicking and splashing and was amazed when he finally felt his toes touch the sandy rocks at the bottom of the lake. He stood up, slowly slogged his soggy body out of the water and collapsed on the black-pebbled beach.

If this had been Hettinger’s only mission, to reach shore, then he might have felt a sense of achievement. But Tina was still out in the middle of the lake. He had no idea how much time had gone by since he’d jumped into the water, but it felt like a long time. He needed to keep moving. To get back to the cabin and get help.

Hettinger pulled himself up off the shore and followed a path that led into the woods. He thought it would lead back to the highway but it led, in fact, back to the black-pebbled beach. Legs weary, and with his sense of direction askew, he pushed on. It began to feel to Hettinger as though he were involved in a kind of hopeless, idiot’s decathlon, a race he had no chance of winning but was forced to complete.

Eventually, Hettinger found the highway and followed it, praying that he was headed in the right direction. Half walking, half running, it seemed to Hettinger that he stumbled along for miles before the houses in the area seemed familiar again, leading him to determine he must have drifted quite a ways indeed.

Finally Hettinger reached the cabin and collapsed inside the doorway. He dragged himself to the phone in the living room and found the phone book on the coffee table. He opened the book and began to thumb blindly through the yellow pages. Help, Hettinger kept muttering to himself, trying to focus his brain. Help.

Then Hettinger heard a noise that he recognized as running water. At first he thought it was in his head. He’d noticed, on his long trek back along the highway, that the relentless sound of water rushing around his ears was something, like a bad tune, that he was having trouble getting out of his brain. But this was a steadier, even stream, more like rainfall. More, Hettinger thought, like a shower.

Hettinger followed the noise into the bathroom and entered. He recognized the silhouette through the shower curtain, the long legs and the long hair. Still cautious and unbelieving, he pulled back the curtain. There was Tina, a naked blur of steam and soap.

“How did you get back?” Hettinger asked. “Where’s the boat?”

Tina told Hettinger that a group of thick-sweatered senior citizens, out for a Tuesday afternoon cruise on a pontoon boat, had happened upon her. Sympathetic to her plight, they’d thrown her a line and towed the boat back to the dock.

Hettinger’s head sagged and he wiped an afternoon of grimy sweat off his brow.

“I could use a shower,” he said.

But before Hettinger could remove his life jacket, which was still dangling uselessly around his neck, Tina put a hand to his chest, denying him entry.

“You still need to tie down the boat,” she said. “It’s just lying there.”

Hettinger went outside and found the pontoon pitching and rolling near the shore. Back in the lake once more, he fought against the breeze and the waves and now a definite light rain, as the boat resisted his efforts to tether it to the dock. When this was finally done he put the blanket and lifejackets under the seat and snapped the canvas cover over the boat.

When Hettinger came back into the cabin Tina had already come out of the shower and was wrapping a towel around her body. She picked up a comb and began to run it through her long hair. She was still just as beautiful as ever but now Hettinger felt like a voyeur, like he was looking at her through a peephole. A small peephole on a very thick wall.

He showered, alone, feeling little relief under the warm spray. More water, Hettinger mused. Just more water. When he came out of the shower, Tina was already dressed, still combing her hair. Hettinger put his arms around her and hugged her, hoping one last time to connect with her, make everything okay again.

Tina didn’t return his embrace so much as endure it. She seemed to be waiting for him to finish so that she could continue combing her hair. Hettinger wanted to tell her how sorry he was. How he was sorry that he’d failed to give her a day of fun in the sun, sorry he hadn’t rescued her from the middle of the lake and how he was basically just one sad, sorry human being. But he never got the chance. Tina broke away from him, finished combing her hair and packed her bag, all without another word to Hettinger.

It took about two hours to drive home. Tina leaned her head against the passenger window with her eyes closed the entire time. Occasionally Hettinger glanced over at her, wondering if she was sleeping. But Hettinger knew she wasn’t sleeping. He could tell by the way she was breathing. She was just somewhere else, somewhere far from Blue Lake. Somewhere not with him.

That afternoon, driving home in the rain, Hettinger abandoned the idea of having sex on a boat. It was more complicated than he’d thought. It was something that must, he imagined, take years of dedicated planning and scheming. He realized he’d need to learn a little more about women and a lot more about boats. Both, he decided, were unpredictable, hard to keep tied down, capable of running out of gas. Of the two, Hettinger would eventually decide that women, while more complex, were still worth the trouble. Boats, on the other hand, were just plain evil.

(Originally published in The Eclectic Literary Forum).

The four-panel pictograph, showing where not to swim, is a public education piece from the US Fire Administration.

--

--

Dean Monti

Author of the critically-acclaimed comic novel THE SWEEP OF THE SECOND HAND, published by Penguin.