The Accident at Lake MacGregor

The following is an excerpt from my book in progress. It’s a true story. I like to try work out on the blog from time to time. I appreciate your comments.

Ten o’clock on a school night. I knew Cathi’s mom was down at the lake, trying to get the scoop. The police cars whizzed by about two hours earlier. By then it was already dark. I prayed, “Please, please let him have run away.” It had been too long for him to come up alive.

On the really warm days toward the end of the school year, all the cool kids would go to Lake MacGregor. The boys would strip down to jeans or shorts but the girls all wore bathing suits. Everyone would stampede the water, rendering it a churning, writhing storm of young bodies and summer exuberance. They came to Lake MacGregor because, in early June, the lifeguard was not yet on duty. Sometimes the future lifeguard himself counted among the revelers.

Today was one of those days. At least thirty kids had descended on the beach, yanking off restrictive clothing on the way down the hill. They jumped in the water and dunked and wrestled, splashed and laughed and chased the girls. We MacGregorites, for the most part, sat on the retaining wall at the beach. I think our friend Mike went in, but none of us did. It was our lake. We didn’t need to go in that day. We had all summer. Or that’s what we told ourselves. But everyone else partied in our neighborhood, and that was enough for us.

The party started to break up around four-thirty. Small groups climbed out of the water, wrung themselves out, and headed home.

We left about the time the party was breaking up, home to our parents and dinner. After dinner, Cathi’s mom knocked on the back door. “Did you hear? One of the boys that was down at the lake is missing.”

Missing? What does that mean, missing?

About then we heard the sirens. They got louder and more urgent, then faded toward the beach.

“The police are already down there,” she went on. “Mrs. Brady told me. I’m gonna go down there.”

Missing? Maybe he’s just late getting home. He can’t have drowned in my lake. No one’s ever drowned in my lake.

I could have gone down there. My father did. I could have, but I didn’t want to be there when they dragged him out of the water. He’d be heavy and covered with seaweed and though I didn’t know him, I couldn’t stand to see something like that.

I know the fire trucks and the ambulance were there until late that night, but I don’t know when they found him. They did find him, though. Wearing a pair of wet jeans. They thought the jeans killed him. He wasn’t that strong a swimmer and they said he probably got tired and the wet jeans were so heavy they pulled him under. No one noticed until his friends looked for him to leave. How would they notice? There were so many people there that day.

No laughter echoed off the walls at school the next day. Just hushed conversations among clusters of kids. “Who died?” someone said when he walked in. Someone silenced him immediately.

School was quiet for a few days. People slowly recovered. A month later, someone requested a song for him at the roller rink. The DJ announced his name and people just left the floor, crying. But eventually life overtook tragedy and people didn’t talk about him anymore. We went on. But no one came to visit Lake MacGregor that summer. We natives swam, mostly to take our lake back, and we did, but once death had violated our lake, it was tainted forever. People would say, “Oh, Lake MacGregor, is that where that kid drowned?” We reclaimed our childhood playground, but to everyone else, it would always be the site of tragedy.