TRUE DELUSIONS: Based on a True Story

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A swimmer attempts a long underwater swim beneath a wide dock.
Somewhere he gets stuck in the twilight zone.

TRUE  DELUSIONS

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

 

The four guys had been horsing around for almost an hour—swimming, slapping water at each other, diving, and cannonballing off the Country Club dock. Shouts of pleasure and surprise from the four twenty-somethings punctured the afternoon stillness. They redoubled their determination to experience the cool of the St. Lawrence River under the scorching dazzle of the August sun.  

They recently completed two rounds on the most beautiful nine-hole golf course in Ontario; voted as such, for the past twenty years. The guys comprised a fun foursome on the links. They  were exceptionally close friends since second grade. Three of the guys were born in Brookvale and spent their entire lives to date in that charismatic town of five thousand souls. Jack Stone arrived from the charming village of Lyn to begin second grade after combining kindergarten and first grade in a one-room limestone schoolhouse. His first dips in the St. Lawrence occurred while passing his early summers with his divorced mother and his older sister in a two-storey cottage on Lily Bay.

Larry Kerman was the supervisor of a construction crew. He was also the oldest, the funniest, and the most unpredictable of the quartet. In his off-hours he was becoming an accomplished artist.

Kevin Dinsmore was a thoughtful, serious guy, but a good sport about anything,  despite his short sightedness and paltry body. Kevin was on summer vacation from his M.A. math program at the University of Toronto. The town knew most about Kevin because of his father, a huge man with an impish grin and a bent for shit disturbing.

Mr. Dinsmore took Kevin and the other three guys to a showing of “The Outlaw.” The authorities more or less banned the film across the country because of Jane Russell in some steamy hayloft scenes wearing a brassiere specially constructed for the full-figured lass. Wherever projected in Canada, there was an enforced requirement: all bodies under eighteen years of age must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The guys were boys of twelve and thirteen, but Kevin’s dad, Winston, was a lawyer and insisted on the literal reading of the banning language: “I am both a parent and a guardian and these are my wards. Period.”

They were barely able to hold it as far as the popcorn machine before cracking up—including Mr. Dinsmore. Every time any one of them—or  any of the other five thousand or so residents of the town—alluded to the scandalous two week run of the film, there was always a general blessing of Winston and his blow against censorship. Of course, all during the showing of the film in Brookvale, there were townspeople flitting across the border to Ogdensburg to view the movie; and, of course, to order a copy from the filmmakers.

Hank Lawson completed his second year of medical school at McGill. Hank was the real athlete in the group, although Jack was never more than an eyelash behind him in any contest they entered. They both played football. Jack played basketball; Hank played hockey. In track, Hank won everything up to half a mile; Jack everything longer. Jack finished law school and was preparing to article with a law firm on Bay Street in Toronto.  

Larry began drinking beer and smoking when he was ten, yet he was the strongest of the Brookvale Brothers, a fact neither Hank nor Jack could ever reconcile with his dissolute lifestyle.

Kevin jumped on Larry’s head and held him under, to test the strength the guys talked about whenever sports and Larry was the topic. After ten seconds, Kevin was wasted. Larry crashed though the watery wall of the surface, bursting upward out of the water like an Orca.

“Good luck, man; it’ll never happen.” They all gave gurgling watery laughs. A few moments later, Hank was near the end of the dock, slowing his stroke. “Hey guys, let’s swim under the dock; you know side to side.” The other three men shouted ridicule at the idea: ‘So what! . . .  it’s so stupid! . . .  it can’t be all of twenty feet! . . .  big deal!’

“Go ahead,” Larry bubbled through a half-mouth of water.  “Okay; I will.”

 Hank duck-dived in the direction of the west side of the dock and slid beneaththe skin of the river. The other three indulged in banter, completely unconnected with Hank’s vow and instant disappearance.

More than three minutes passed before a howl of triumph erupted from the east side of the dock.  A moment later, Hank’s head came around the end. His three companions smiled, whooped, and slapped water in his face by way of congratulations.

Jack immediately decided to follow Hank’s feat. He quickly lowered his head through the surface and began breast stroking his way to a spot beneath the edge of the dock. Once there, he propelled himself under the structure. Instantly, the murkiness of the water shocked him. He knew Hank’s earlier movements stirred up a blinding cloud of liquid dust from the bottom. 

Jack dialed back the pace and vigor of his hand and leg movements, vainly struggling to avoid a complete blackout. From a place in his viscera he never knew existed, crept the bitter bile of fear. He challenged its presence. Within a couple of seconds, he forced its retreat.

The toll taken by his mental efforts was draining his lung capacity. His resolve and breath began to fail. ‘What to do?’ He tknew he was only halfway under the dock, but he had to get air. A hot panic prodded his chest and flooded his mind. He pushed upward. His head banged against an unexpected object. His depleting reservoir of courage took a direct hit. Despite his disorientation, Jack knew the dock planking was at least two feet above the water; so what was this? He pushed up again. Bump.  A full-scale terror seized him. He moved automatically. He took two more strokes east and pushed up.  ‘Air.’  He gasped, almost crying through shallow breaths. Luckily, he had found a pocket of air between the two submerged support beams running the length of the dock. He had hit his head on cross beams. He began a weak smile while his panic eased out of the red zone. Yet, a cold clutch of fear throttled his resolve. He understood with icy clarity he would have to go either forward or back in order to hit open water. He quickly dismissed an underwater swim to the end of the dock. It was at least twenty feet from his present position, with any number of cross supports between him and the river.

He instinctively ducked under the water and began to breaststroke east. At once, Jack lost all perception of time. The unlimited construct of time itself, vanished. Vivid scenes scrolled across his inner eye. The visions were unnaturally colorful and strikingly clear. He felt himself recoiling from disturbing pictures of his friends.

Kevin was older and in England, at Cambridge, where he taught math. In the next image he was hanging out of a car door, a racing car. He was completely still. Blood streamed from gouges in his face.

Next came Larry, muscled and shirtless, sitting up on the back of Bobbi Webster’s Mustang convertible. He held a cigarette in one hand and a tall glass of Long Island Ice Tea in the other. He was smiling. Surrounding him was the celebrity aura of a man with sleek black hair and the face of a movie star. The image wobbled and shimmered. Larry was old and bent, wearing a beret, and holding a paintbrush. He was smiling the same smile, yet his youth and vitality now resided in the fragile body of an exhausted artist.

Following some unsettling wobbles of Jack’s cranial screen, Hank popped up. He wore railroad coveralls, a striped hat, a red kerchief, and a smile of bad dentition. Several young children—maybe eight—rushed to hug him as he entered the door of a lopsided frame structure in the middle of some failed harvest.  He stopped smiling. He looked toward the camera and mouthed the words: ‘don’t do this’. He nodded toward his brood and their gussied-up brooder house while an emaciated little woman appeared to be dying as she stood.  

Unexpectedly, Jack felt himself moving toward the surface. He quickly guessed the tremendous increase in light signaled his asleep-at-the-switch consciousness. The strong light meant open water. Open water meant freedom. He made a last full-strength surge for the sun. With a loud whoosh, his head drove through the remaining inches of water and continued climbing for at least another two feet, an advance that brought sunlight dancing onto his wet neck and shoulders. He unshackled a bellow of total satisfaction. He had done it.

His three mates were in the water, leaning over him; searching for any movement from his eyes. They surrounded him, shaking his head; and then, holding him by his elbows, they raised his head and looked for a flicker of life. All were crying. Jack moved, opened his eyes. The look of confusion that slid over Jack’s face prompted all three to say through tears: “Jesus, man, we thought you were dead; Dead.”

Larry added: “Yeah, Christ, man, you were under there for over ten minutes; what happened; where the hell were you?” Jack couldn’t stop smiling, but had to acknowledge their fears; their concerns.

“I’m fine, guys; really; I’m fine, I’m good.” Almost at once, all three ducked their heads, splashing water on their faces to remove—or at least disguise—their recent tears.

Jack said nothing; not even a hint about seeing their tears of grief. Instead, he ruffled the hair of each guy and told them what they wanted to hear. All of a sudden, Jack became aware he was saying things he was not really thinking about saying. Jack was usually uncommonly deliberate and thoughtful before speaking about anything meaningful. From his innards, a relentless force pushed up his serious-talk side. He knew exactly what words would placate and brighten up each friend. Jack, along with the others, listened to himself spill cheerful, silly banter to restore their good humor.

 *

The four pals lay on the broiling planks of the dock with their heads meeting at a common point, about a foot from each other. Jack told them about all the parts of his mysterious and challenging journey that he could remember; about hitting his head on the cross beam; about thinking he was going to die; about hitting his head a second time—and just knowing for sure that he was dead. He told them about swimming until he saw the change in the light that meant open water was above. His three pals were silent. Each of them was inwardly calculating the time it would take to do what Jack did. They all came up seven minutes short.

“Are you sure nothing else happened, Jack”? Jack gave each a quick negative while looking with a steady frankness deep into their eyes.

Following an eerie silence, all three told Jack—in their own unique fashion—that there was no way he could have been under there ten minutes unless he had come up for air. The three also knew the dock had underpinnings on the eastern half that went down two to three inches above the surface. There were no air pockets between the one Jack found and the open water on the east side of the dock. They told this to Jack, who had not known this fact. Initially, he became a little angry that none of the guys told him. They all immediately stated loudly,  they had told him. Hank was especially vociferous while defending himself. He told Jack he severely warned him about doing this underwater feat. It was something special; and very dangerous, because there was no safe harbor after reaching the midpoint—which, by the way. Hank said he had not used.

While the guys continued talking, Jack felt himself tumbling into a state of reverie, an odd twilight zone. He could vaguely hear the guys talking. They were congratulating him and evaluating a submission to the Guinness book of world records.

Swiftly, all the haunting images Jack saw so sharply while submerged, once again filled his mind. They reappeared with the same intensity they contained the first time. The voices of his friends drifted farther and farther into a void of silence. He felt his eyelids slowly closing.

*

Doctor Goodison was finishing his first round, when he heard the harrowing cries from the three young men on the dock, kneeling beside the still form of Jack Stone. Luckily, the doctor knew exactly what to do. After three minutes, Jack threw up some murky lead-colored water and began to sit up. His friends told him he was under the dock for over ten minutes before bobbing to the top. They fished him out and immediately called the doctor. Jack clung fiercely to each one of his pals and thanked the doctor repetitively, with a deep blunt sincerity.

Jack never told the whole story to his friends. Later, on every occasion when the guys asked him what happened down there, all he said was:  “I thought I was going to die.”

*

Kevin died while riding as a navigator during a road race in Italy.

Larry became a well-known artist in his sizeable ken and died of pulmonary disease at fifty-nine.

Hank flunked out of medical school, married a Swiss national, had twelve children, and retired early from the railroad with a drop foot and macular degeneration. 

Jack is alive in Kingston, running, bicycling—even pumping some iron. He has only been in the water at the kiddies’ end of a swimming pool.  

 

THE END



 
 


Submitted: February 02, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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