26 Apr Drowned Youth
Little Robbie dropped closer to the edge of the pool. He clawed at the air, swimming against the tides of gravity, pulling himself towards the water and away from landing on the concrete patio.
He lost sight of the woman he was trying to impress by diving off the roof of the mansion.
In the moment before impact with the ground, he flashed back to a memory of the first time he did something this stupid.
He flew back in time to when he stood at the shortest height he can remember being.
When everyone he met would look down at him, muss up his hair and call him Little Robbie.
He saw himself standing on the sandbank of a lake where his family used to vacation. The fluorescent orange life jacket he wore scratched at his skin. He ran in and out of the water, kicking at it, splashing and laughing as he did. It was so cold that when it crept up his knees, he shivered, screamed, then ran back to the shoreline, giggling. With a big smile stretched across his face, he looked over at his mom laying across a beach towel, reading a magazine. He laughed and screamed, “Mom, look at me, look at me.” He ran into the lake, again. But she didn’t watch him at all, so his tiny smile dipped into a frown.
Robbie’s mother gazed at a muscle-bound man swimming along the shore, doing laps a bit far out from the small beachhead. Her lips parted as she saw his muscles ripple with each stroke. She peeked at him through her sunglasses over the top of her magazine. And she ignored her Little Robbie running in and out of the lake.
Little Robbie sprinted across the shallow end until his stubby legs burned from wading through the water. He shouted, “Mom, you’re not looking.”
She longingly stared at the muscular man gliding through the wake of a nearby motorboat. His naked back beaded over with water droplets that glimmered as if his skin were made of diamonds. She lowered her magazine onto her chest. And she lost her place in the article she was reading.
Each time giggling, little Robbie yelled for his mom to watch him, he saw more evidence of her ignoring him, and his little smile sagged deeper into a grimace.
He stood on the shore, gawking at the swimming man then back to his mom who was rapt with attention for this stranger.
What went through Robbie’s little kid brain is that he needed to do an act so impressive his mom would see how special he was.
Little Robbie slowly took off his life jacket. His arm got caught in it and he had to squirm until he broke free. He dropped the lifejacket in the sand. And he doggy-paddled his way into the shallow end of the lake. But he saw how this didn’t impress his mom enough for her to admire him.
Robbie’s mother laying about on the beach, flopped her magazine into her lap as she shielded her eyes from the piercing sun. She gazed on as the man swam over to a dock and climbed onto it. His bulging muscles didn’t escape her eye. Nor did his bathing suit bunching up around his hairy legs. Her lips parted and she shivered.
Out in the water, Robbie paddled through it until his teeth were chattering from the chilling swim. His tiny body fought the wake coming from a far-off motorboat. His feet left the space where they could still kick the sand beneath him. The wake splashed him in the mouth and his head dipped underwater. The lake suffocated the world around him with blackness. It muted the roar of the motorboat with a sound that was much like the one he heard when he put his ear to his mom’s stomach. He swam harder and his head popped back up into the daylight. He breathed heavy as his undeveloped muscles started to ache. Losing the momentum pushing him forward, he sluggishly flopped around in the water. Bobbing under the wake, he gulped down a mouthful of it, and the cold liquid stabbed his lungs, blocking his next heaving breath. He broke the lake’s surface for a moment, long enough to shout, “Mom.” But he only coughed and swallowed more of the lake into his tiny lungs. He struggled to kick at the water that was dragging him down. He gasped for air as he was splashed in the face, shouting, “Mom!” And, “Look!”
What went through his brain is why did I do this to impress her when she was clearly not interested, except it wasn’t a fluid, cohesive thought, it was more like a feeling that washed over him. Just like the lake filling his lungs, pulling him under, and swallowing him.
This was the first time little Robbie drowned.
Josh Ackermann escapes his desk job by writing in his free time. One of his short stories, One Helluva Headache, was published in the English Bay Review. He’s currently revising two of his first novels. And he’s is the creator of the Falling For Stories podcast; among many other titles.