Muted


by Christopher T. Garry

The two boys pedaled their banana seat bicycles down to the life-guarded beach at Greenlake. Seth pumped harder in the heat and pulled ahead of Craig. He liked Craig, had known him for years. But lately Seth was getting to where he liked to leave him in the dust sometimes.

Craig cursed and sped up, passing Seth easily.

Seth's eyes narrowed, and he changed gears. The tire treads emitted a rhythmic thrum as the frame pitched back and forth under Seth's body. Craig must have heard him approach, because he saw him glance down to one side, not quite looking back. Was he smiling? Craig suddenly moved to block him.

Fine, Seth thought. He shifted his weight and arced around his friend, pulling ahead of him. But Seth suddenly had to dodge a storm drain and ended up swinging his rear tire too close to Craig's. Craig yelped in response, causing Seth to turn just in time to see Craig deliberately pitching so that their tires clipped. Incredible.

"Watch it, turd," Craig shouted. "Tryin' to kill me?"

Seth's brows furrowed. Typical liar and drama queen.

They were quiet for a moment, heading downhill past the library, coasting to the lane that wrapped the lake. Seth slowed a little as swimmers came into view. Suddenly, he didn't feel like doing this, but...It was damned hot.

Craig was eyeballing him as they coasted. "Still can't go past the buoys can you?"

Seth knew it was a statement, not a question.

"Maybe..."

"Are you ever going to pass the lifeguard's test?"

Seth ignored his question and let the bike swing back in forth in the lane.

"God, what a pansy... I'll just go without you, I swear."

Seth tried not to sulk. Without the breeze of their impromptu race, the heat settled in close, and slick sweat broke out over each of their red faces.

As the boys chained up their bikes, they saw hundreds of folks either stretched on the sands or swimming or just standing in the shallows, screeching and splashing. Seth stood for a moment. The lake had a characteristic evergreen color in its depths. We won't be able to swim much longer before the algae takes over again, he mused. Just as well.

Craig straightened. He raised an eyebrow. "Stare all you want. You'll never touch real ones," he said, laughing.

"What?" Seth blinked.

"Oh jeez, you didn't even see her, did you," he accused. "Gay."

Gay, stupid? Or gay, gay? Was there a difference for Craig?

Pondering this, Seth fell behind as the two boys went to suit up. He did notice another girl in the far guard tower hollering unintelligibly through her rubber cone. As Seth changed in the restroom, he thought about the lifeguard training classes and wondered if the instructors demonstrated how to yell so that nobody could understand you. He turned to share this wry thought, but Craig was gone. There used to be that thrill of nailing a funny thought, and using it to make someone laugh. That used to be his favorite part of his time with Craig. It didn't happen much anymore.

Outside, Seth found Craig in water up to his waist and joined him. Over Craig's head, he spotted the platform anchored at the outer edge of the lifeguard's jurisdiction, far beyond the buoys. This was The Dock. Seth imagined how great it would be out there. And imagining would be all he would ever do, unless he passed the test one of these days. With its broad surface, and high diving board tossing swimmers into twenty feet of water, The Dock attracted most of the teenagers and some of the hardier middle-school swimmers. They all could recline on the deck, ignoring anything on shore.

Just swimming there would be a hard enough initiation. He wrinkled his nose and guessed he'd be thrown off pretty quick. He'd seen it plenty of times. There wasn't any point. Despite this, Seth still regarded The Dock. It held at least a few kids not much bigger than him. All were laughing, running in circles and falling off occasionally. They would noisily climb back up, rejoining the melee.

"Let's go," Craig nodded toward the fun.

Seth didn't respond. He stared down into the water and swung one arm around letting his body turn all the way around against the resistance.

"You chicken?"

"No."

"You can't do it!"

"I could," Seth said. "There's too many people up there anyway."

"Shit! What difference does that make? Come on, it's not that far. Lifeguard's not even looking."

It wasn't that far. But it was farther than Seth wanted to go. Besides, no way am I dog-paddling in front of all these people, he thought.

Craig started crowing. "Go ahead. Take your test. I'll wait right here, while you dog-paddle and touch bottom seventeen times, and she fails you."

"I told you I don't want to!" Seth yelled, and he tried to push a wave of water toward him.

Craig just taunted again, lunging toward him.

Seth ducked away and dove beneath the water where he could yell out bubbles that no one else could hear. He thrust himself to the bottom, determined to stay there.

He clutched two clumps of the sandy bottom that slowly disintegrated as he floated silently, eyes squeezed shut, listening to all the muted splashing, talking and gurgling. Maybe this place right here could be his dock. His chest burned.

When his head bobbed to the top, Seth drew air through his nose and bubbled it noisily into the water. He spun looking for Craig, half expecting him to leap from some vantage point. Gone.

In the distance, he saw Craig steadily stroking towards The Dock. Presently the gang accepted him onto the deck, where he coughed and spat out the lake water. Craig turned back for a moment flashing a wide grin, but Seth wasn't smiling. Their eyes were locked for a moment, until one of the other boys on the deck fell into the water, distracting Craig.


BIO: Christopher Garry's works are forthcoming in Bewildering Stories and Tales of the Talisman, and have appeared in Linguistic Erosion, Danse Macabre and others. Born in Illinois he lives outside Seattle with family and pets. If he were born at another age perhaps he would stare blankly at the sunset as he wipes mastodon blood from his chin, tossing the bone aside. He can be found on ctgarry.com or in Seattle playing with his children.