by Jeremy Warach
The boy lay on the ground, the tall grass rising around him. He knew how his mother would react if she knew he had been lying there, with bugs and dirt and who knows what other contaminants in such close proximity. But for now, he didn’t care.
His eyes were half-open. A few puffy white clouds floated slowly across the crystal blue sky. Doing this, doing nothing, was something he was very unused to. At home during the school year, it never would have occurred to him that this was a possibility. There was always schoolwork or after school clubs or sports or hanging with friends or chores, and when he had downtime, there was video games or the internet. But here, on summer vacation with his parents, at his grandparents’ cabin by the lake, staring at the sky and watching the clouds pass seemed natural and right. The kind of thing that someone should do here.
The fragrance of his surroundings filled his nostrils. The soil and the grass and the clean air. It was a smell he wasn’t used to, and he wasn’t sure if he liked it or not, but he breathed it in deeply. A gentle breeze sighed against his face. He closed his eyes. The warmth of the sun, the air moving across his skin felt amazing.
He stretched his arms out to his side and dug his fingers into the soil, grabbing and releasing handfuls of rocks and dirt and grass and whatever was within his grasp. The surface was warm, but a few inches down was cool and rich. He pushed himself up and sat on the grass, still digging in the dirt with his fingers. The dark brown soil coated his hands and was embedded under his fingernails.
The shore of the lake was twenty or thirty feet away. Its still surface mirrored the blue and white of the sky and clouds. The far shore was sparsely wooded. The boy considered hiking around the lake to explore the opposite side. It was the kind of thing that Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn or one of the boys in those books he had to read for school would have done. But it was a large lake and would be a long walk, and it was already mid-afternoon. And he was hungry. Tomorrow. Tomorrow would be a better day for an adventure. He smiled at the thought. An adventure. He didn’t have adventures. But he knew there would be a sandwich waiting for him back at the cabin.
He stood up and wiped his hands against one another, but he couldn’t get all the dirt off of them or out from under his fingernails. His mother was sure to scold him, then send him to shower and change his clothes before letting him eat.
The boy took a long look at the lake, then turned to head back to the cabin when something on the ground caught his attention. He stopped and looked down. It was a rock. Just a plain, ordinary rock, but it was larger than most and smooth and almost perfectly spherical – the size and shape of a handball. Without being sure why he was doing it, he picked up the rock. The weight felt good in his hand. He tossed and caught it a few times, smiling to himself at this simple but pleasant find. Facing the lake once again, something moved in the periphery of his vision which had not been there previously. Gliding across the surface of the water, near the middle of the lake, leaving a few gentle, V-shaped ripples behind it, was a white swan. The boy couldn’t figure out where it had come from – it was in the middle of the lake, far from any shore. It must have just flown there and silently landed in the water. It moved from left to right, coming from nowhere and headed to nowhere.
The boy found he couldn’t tear his gaze away from the bird. The black mask around its eyes were the only part of it, aside from its beak, which wasn’t white. The long neck curved gracefully down to its body. The boy imagined its webbed feet paddling beneath the surface of the water, pushing it along on its way.
He tossed the rock in his hand a few more times as he watched the swan. The he stopped and wrapped his fingers around the rock. He turned slightly, taking the stance his baseball coach had taught him, then cocked his elbow, and in one swift motion, he hurled the handball-sized rock as hard as he could towards the swan. The rock arced over the lake and landed a good five feet behind the swan, with only an anticlimactic ploop as it disappeared below the surface of the water, leaving only a few expanding rings of ripples as evidence of its passage. The swan took no notice, continuing on its way, wherever that might have been.
The boy frowned with disappointment, sighed and shrugged his shoulders, and watched the swan for a few more moments before turning to head back to the cabin and his late lunch. After walking no more than three steps from where he had thrown the rock, he felt a squish underfoot. He looked down and grimaced. His mother might have only mildly scolded him for his dirty hands or lying on the ground, but he knew that he would hear no end of it when she saw that he had stepped in animal poop.
The boy cursed under his breath, wiped off his shoe as best he could against the grass, and began jogging back toward the cabin.