I'm not old enough to go to the lake all by myself or so my parents say. Luckily I'm allowed to go if I take my five dogs: Hot Dog, Roundog, Calliope, Spittle, and Cakes. There are a few other strays that I've named in secret, but these five are the most loyal and the ones I'm allowed to let in the house. They nip at the heels of anyone who comes too close to me.
My lake is not a swimming lake. My parents tell me this like a million times a day. It is mucky on the edges, and when it floods, the park guards sometimes forget to move the trashcans and portable potty. When this happens, the cans float and bob and empty their insides into the lake, making the air smell like the time my mother forgot a fruit basket on the top of the fridge. When we finally found the basket, there was nothing left but fruit flies, skins, and goos. That’s what the lake is like after a river flood—all skins and goos. So I understand why my parents say, “Absolutely no swimming. No wading. No reaching in for stones or shells. No pretending you need to dive in to rescue a dog.” Still, I think, what is the good of living near a lake if you can’t go swimming?
Sometimes, when I'm feeling very bad, I hop in right where the river feeds the lake. The water is fast and clear and clean. There is a small island that I can wade to. The island sprouts a few tufts of grass and five tall trees whose roots weave together in hills and hammocks that hold the dirt and sand so that my island stays alive. I love the cool water on my toes then ankles then the pits of my knees. My belly button and chest. I never let it go past my armpits, and if it does, I head straight back to shore. My dogs swim with me--all except Roundog who is actually small and skinny and scared of the river.
I know my parents would be super mad if they knew I got in the water so I bring dry clothes and a towel and clean up proper before I go home (mom and dad, you promised not to get mad about anything you read here cause it could just be fiction and you don't want to stifle my creative juices). I don't like being a sneak but I love my island. I hide objects up in the tallest tree, like dad says you have to hide food from a bear if you go camping. This way the spring floods never wash away my treasures.
Inside the knapsack I hang from the tree, I keep plastic bags, and in each plastic bag, there is a special treat. Some bags hold snacks—I like ginger cookies, and I super like caramels and miniature boxes of raisins. One bag holds books—Watership Down, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird. Another keeps a change of socks. Another underwear. Another a raincoat and sweater. I keep note that the new boy in school wrote to me: “What’s your name? You seem weird.” The rest of the bag holds what the river brings. Other people’s treasures are always washing up on the shores of my island. I collect them: one silver ring, a fork and a spoon, a yellow ping pong ball, a punctured basketball, an old glass soda bottle, a barrette.
From the top of my tree, I can see where the church spire will peek up through the water when the dry season comes. The rains will stop and the air will be so thick with hot that the ground will have no choice but to drink from the lake. That's what I'm waiting for. August. And another glimpse of the spire with its crooked cross and missing shingles.