The sounds of the other boys jumping off the dock were far off now. They ran the length of the dock, each trying to outdo the other, hoping to, with their mushy little bodies, disrupt the calmness of the lake to mimic the sea. Their attempts to create swells that would consume the floating boy were futile now. The ripples spread gently, too wide to ever contaminate little Miguel.
He laid still, eyes closed with the warmth of the sun on his face and chest, floating on the lake; his focus lured by the hum of the dragonfly flying figure eights above him. He was a frail child, handsome, but terribly shy. His face hid behind his thick, unkempt brown hair, which sat on top of his dark-framed reading glasses. Insecure about his bum leg, as the boys called it, Miguel relieved himself of his corrective brace when his mother wasn’t out scanning for him with her nose in the air, and headed into the water. Every day out at his grandfather’s camp he’d go out and float aimlessly for a while.
”Alex, you get Miguel, that’s it, we’ve made our last pick,” said Robby, pointing and laughing at the other team in general. “The hell we do. Drop Ashley, she can’t run for shit anyways. What good are those big feet for? I bet you could fall asleep standing up and won’t even fall over,” said Alex, turning then to congratulate himself with his palms in air. Miguel was watching over from the porch in short khaki shorts and a jersey sweatshirt with sleeves that hung far too low.
Miguel stood on the porch yawning. He had been up all night in the family room of the cabin reading comics and drawing under a headlamp and the buzzing light of a bug zapper. Miguel caught Alex pointing up at him when he noticed he had finally come out. He headed down toward the far end of the dock, having to pass through the riotous bunch. He clunked his way down the creaky wooden steps of the porch and thudded through the dirt toward the dock. He passed the kids without a word. ”Where the hell ya goin’, you’re on Alex’s team” Robert declared. “Fuck off, I’m not playing. I don’t even like baseball.” “We’re playing softball, maybe you can get a hit off this time” “fuck off,” Miguel said apathetically. “Yeah, ‘cause you suck, Mama’s boy. Take that shit off your leg and run like a man. I’ve seen you walk fine with out It.” said Robert as Miguel walked away.
Miguel walked over to the singles Kayak his Granddad kept overturned off the side of the dock. He grabbed the handle and shook it several times to shake out the spiders. They always crept out mid trip anyways. With the tiny boat in the water he took off and tossed his sweatshirt to the side. Sitting on the edge he unscrewed his brace and prepared for the art of mounting the little kayak. With his grips firm on the handles he shifted his weight from land to kayak, and with a little push from his good leg he was mounted. Just then came Robert flying through the air, knees tucked into his chest, hollering. The rest of them were trailing a few paces behind him with eager faces; ambition marked by grit teeth and tongues pressed to mouth corners. The commotion of the white water knocked the boy right off. Miguel opted for pushing the Kayak further out and mounting it, as difficult as it was, in open water and paddled out to where he could float in peace. It intrigued and inspired his imagination out there in the water, contemplating the the treasures that lay beneath and the glory that could be his.
He learned of the tales of the lake that summer, passed down by drunkards and fisherman of the old general store; the men who on most days went out on the lake to drink away their retirement, returning either fisherman or drunkard, depending.The fools cared little for sport and less for the stores quota for fresh catch, they enjoyed trading stories of bravado; stories of their youth and their shining accomplishments. When the sun sat lower in the sky, and enough of them had grown tired of the perpetual one-upsmanship in matters of vitality and prowess of a younger self, they would shift to stories of the lake and its inexplicable curiosities, as they’d call it, telling tales of great men who on attempts to reach the lake bed to recover sunken gold of an of an old steamboat, had fallen victim to the ghosts of those who had drowned with it. This of course was a logical explanation for bad days catch. “Goddamn, I tell ya, these bastards, hoardin’ their gold and wanna keep every damn fish in these waters,” one would say. “Ya tellin me?”, would reply another letting out a laugh which quickly decayed into a long winded sigh, shaking his head in defeat. “I’d’ve reeled in some 10— 11 pounder, I felt that devil pulled right from me.” They would go back and forth amongst one another with hypothetical adventures in which they set out for the treasure; each adventure, one of them the protagonist, resolving in wit and heroism, and the smug look of pressed lips and small eyes on their drunken faces.
Miguel tread in place in the murky green water, circling his limbs and swashing water in and out of his mouth with each breath. He looked out to where the boys continued advocating their athleticism. At this distance it played like a silent picture, but he could piece it all together anyway. Their conversations had apparently not wandered far from who between them had the better swing. Each time he looked over, there was another one taking some magnificent swing of an imaginary bat, his hand a visor below his brows, following the hit far past the tree tops and the mountains. He thought about how much he hated them. He wondered what warranted these feelings of superiority. They’re so dumb, he thought in disgust. He despised them. But he envied them, in a way. Miguel wished he would be as simple as he perceived them to be, so carelessly blissful. They were ignorant to their faults and overly confident about their abilities. There on the lake he decided he would be the one to retrieve the gold. He would be a legend on the camp. He would have a place on the wall of the old general store, next to Ol’ Tom Healy, whose plaque reads: Thomas Healy, Martyr of Fishermen, Lived by the Swordfish, Died by the Swordfish. Miguel’s wouldn’t read In Memoriam, it would be of solid gold and it would salute his greatness. He had decided to go for it, he would reach the lake bed and show everyone.
Miguel, with his small frame managed a great capacity for breath holding. He developed a slight obsession over it, timing himself in the silent back seat of his father’s station-wagon and in secrecy during his night bath before bed. With a giant breath he flipped his orientation and headed for the bottom. Swimming with his eyes closed he set his thoughts on the joy of climbing up onto the dock with his treasure. After a minute or so lost in reverie, his musings were replaced by panic. Still he continued swimming his route. His young body shook; his eyes shut tighter, and let go a muffled scream of desperation. Just then he opened his eyes. No longer did he feel himself imploding under the weight of the lake. The oxygen-deprivation induced convulsions had ceased. He found himself standing in crystal blue waters and white sand. He walked with great effort toward, what he could make out to be through the blur of uncovered eyes in water, the remnants of an old boat. Scattered throughout the lakebed were constellations of gold pieces which shone blindingly. He heard the muffled sounds of “Miguel! Migueliiito!” as he tread about gathering the gold. “How the heck do they know my name!?” he thought as he plowed through with ferocity. The waters went dimming from the brilliant blue into darkness as he progressed. The calling became more and more clear and omnipresent. He felt a hand grab him at his armpit and yank him from behind.
He came to just before the tub had over flowed. Minerva, who helped around the house, hated when he would go so long in the bath. “Te vas ahogar, viejo loco,” You’re going to drown, you old fool, she would say. “Get your hands off me, what the hell are you doing in here,” he coughed at her. He hardly kept conscious on the wooden chair he spent most days reading and rambling out of; a warm tub seemed to Minerva a definite trap. With the big toe of his good leg he lowered the water release lever. He looked at his empty hands, old and pruny, and let out a sigh of discontent. He reached over the side of the tub, wheezing his way over, extending his frail arms toward the ground. His thin wet hair lead streams down his face. It brought to him a burning itch which he refused to tend to it before he could manage to pinch the brim of his whiskey glass with his pointer and middle fingers and slide it across the ceramic tile. These little things enraged him. These tiny inconveniences of life made for outlets to displace festered anger and hate. Miguel dragged the glass toward him, knocking over an empty orange container of prescription pills, and drank it all in arrhythmic gulps interrupted with desperate breaths. He slid deeper into his lukewarm lake of self loathing. The more he thought about his youth the further her sank. He was fully submerged, only his pale knees and wrinkly face broke the water. He would do it this time he convinced himself
He breathed in and out, with all the strength his frail chest could manage, strongly dispelling out all the air in his lungs and bringing in fresh air. With his lungs at capacity he turned over and lay limp. He quickly found himself in the familiar meditative state, where his mind seemed untethered from his body, in a vacuum where his cynicism quickly dissipated and regret no longer plague him. Only when enveloped in the total darkness of sensory deprivation could he find some peace. He lay floating in his tub drifting further into nothingness.
Miguel came up into the sunlight and gasped for air. He relaxed into a float with a clenched hand full of gold, studying the tiny vessels and the pink flesh of his eyelids. He thought about what his plaque might read: Miguel Angel Castillo, Conqueror of Phantoms, Retriever of Treasures, Propietor of Camp Castillo, Champion of All Games Therein.