by Michelle Beaudoin
Michael, Pete and I went to the Flume to go cliff jumping. It was so hot out my lungs felt like they were full of milkshake and breathing was like trying to suck air through a straw. We had a lot of rain that summer, especially big storms that brought down water so hard we couldn’t see the trees across the street. A huge tree came down in our backyard, decimating the doghouse; another smaller tree crashed into my mother’s clothesline. The yard smelled like cut grass and English lilac trees that waited to burst into bloom around Fourth of July like luscious smelling fireworks.
The Flume wasn’t my favorite place to go. The river water was always super cold there and I was terrified to jump into the pool at the base of the twenty-five foot drop. My swimming skills were solid; enforced by years at the public pool having different strokes and life-saving techniques drilled into me by stern high school girls in French braids and Speedos. They could force me into that cold water forever and I would never enjoy it.
When it was hot and sunny I liked to go to the pool, lather up in sweet smelling baby oil, and watch the boys do somersaults and flips off the high dive. I burned fiercely and my freckles came out in full force, threatening to take over my pasty pale skin. Sometimes I burned so badly I had to sit in a bathtub full of icy water to take away the sting enough for me to sleep.
I went with Michael and Pete that day because Tina was babysitting and the rest of my girl friends were at summer camp or on vacation with their families. My own parents were camping with my two brothers downstate and I was left alone because I worked as a pump jockey at the gas station down the road. I made a lot of tips there during the summer, mainly because I wore a bikini top under my red coveralls and when the boss wasn’t there I unsnapped them to the waist. We were full service and they got an eyeful when I leaned across their broad windshields to squeegee away the dust and bugs. A lot of the time I had to check their fluids and tire pressure. The more I did, the more they slipped me. I didn’t mind the grease under my fingernails or the smell of gasoline that seemed to always linger on me.
Really boring days, Charlie made me sit out on the edge of Route 70 painting the curb yellow. Either that or I had to take the wooden ladder out and wipe down the big huge windows in the office with water and ammonia. Wow, did that stink. Lunchtime I would sit behind the desk and stuff Doritos in my bologna sandwich. I drank so much Mountain Dew my teeth should have been lime green.
I went with Pete and Michael because I didn’t have anything better to do. They were geeky guys who were really smart but not attractive and I wasn’t looking forward to being seen with them by anyone I knew. Pete had an old VW bug with a stick on the floor. I wanted to sit in the back where I could put my feet up on the dirty vinyl seat but Michael insisted I sit up front with Pete. I was glad there was a big stick between us because I got the feeling Pete might have a crush on me. He made dumb comments about cute redheads and girls who knew their way around an engine. I kept my towel and my beach bag on my lap and leaned my head out the window feeling the hot wind blow through my sweaty curls, smelling the heat rise off the hot tar of the highway.
The Flume was crazy crowded with kids from schools all over the place. Pete had to squeeze his Bug in between someone’s hopped up Monte Carlo and a beige Dodge Dart that had to belong to someone’s dad. He parked so close to the ledge my feet slid out of my pink flip flops when I got out of the car. I was so not into this day.
A couple of guys were lounging in the parking area under the shade trees. They were passing around a joint and drinking something concealed in Styrofoam cup holders. I heard them making doofy comments about us and I avoided eye contact by staring at the path to the beach. My plan was to sit in the sun with the other girls who didn’t jump. I didn’t know the first thing about how to gossip but I figured there would be wine coolers and I had a metal kazoo full of pot in my wallet.
Michael and Pete volleyed insults above my head, stuff like I was a chicken and if they knew I was gonna be such a baby they would have left me at home. I didn’t care. They were nerds and I had marijuana. I wasn’t averse to sharing with the girls there. They were sissy smokers and didn’t know how to inhale the sticky sweet smoke all the way down to their toes where you needed to hold it until your ears turned blue. When they tried to suck it in deeply, they coughed the high right out of them into the space between us.
Finally, when they weren’t invited to smoke and when it was apparent there was no way I was going to climb up the steep trail to the cliff to jump with them, Michael and Pete left. Pete’s sharp-boned shoulders led Michael’s baby fat belly up the narrow line of dirt leading to the top of the cliff. At the top they stood side-by-side surveying the swirling pool below. They watched some other guys from our high school, cool guys, jostle and jump one after the other into the pit of swirling water below. I saw them throw rock, paper, scissors to decide who would be first to brave the plunge.
Skinny Pete lost the draw. Michael stepped back under a low hanging tree branch to watch. Pete was all angles and I wondered if he would shatter when he hit the turbulent pool or if he would simply slide underneath the surface like a letter in an envelope. He walked backwards a few steps then ran, hollering like Tarzan. He grabbed his bony knees and plummeted. Coughing and spluttering he burst from the pool, bobbing like an apple. It took him a minute to get his bearings in the water. His head kept plunking under until he finally stabilized himself enough to long stroke his way to the shore. He caught a rock and hauled himself out, his black and orange swimsuit sagging so far below his belly button you could see his pubic hair. He hugged his scrawny arms to his chest, shivering.
Michael was quicker, less hesitant. He came barreling out from beneath the tree and did a whopping cannonball through the air, crashing into the pool and spraying everyone in the vicinity. He also bobbed and dunked, struggling to remain still and buoyant. Michael wasn’t a real good swimmer but he managed to haul himself over to the side where he, too, grabbed a rock and pulled himself up.
Some of the older guys catcalled at Pete and Michael, calling them pussies for not diving. Of course, we all knew it would be crazy to dive into the Flume’s pool. Although it was deep, it was full of rock ledge underneath, and there was a brutal current intensified by the recent storms. I watched Pete and Michael look at one another. They really wanted to be cool.
Pete came over to where I was sitting and said, “Give me a hit.” I passed him the kazoo and the lighter. He plopped down on the edge of my towel and took a huge breath in, holding it until his lungs burst. I laughed, “You’re such a lightweight, Pete.”
The girls around me giggled and Michael stepped up for his turn. Michael had asthma and I worried about him smoking. But I wasn’t his mother and if he was brave enough to cliff jump, who was I to argue? Pete passed him the kazoo and Michael mimicked him by breathing in deeply. His lungs couldn’t contain the smoke and he quickly coughed it out, gasping for fresh mountain air to clear his lungs. Pete pounded him on the back, “Easy, man.” I tried not to snicker.
“Fuck you, Marcy,” Michael rasped. “Let’s go, Pete.”
They headed up the path again. I leaned back on my towel, laying my head on the makeshift pillow I crafted from my discarded shorts and tee shirt. Slipping my sunglasses back on my head, I closed my eyes. I didn’t need to see their act again. One of the girls from another high school asked me if Pete was my boyfriend. “Hell no,” I said trying to sound sophisticated. “He’s such a spazz.” The other girls tittered. They started talking about a couple of the older boys who were perched up on the cliff.
As I tried to eavesdrop, I heard a dramatic splash followed immediately by another body plunging into the pool. I looked to see who it was but no one’s head popped up. I made an awning of my hands and peered up to the top to see who was missing. Neither Pete nor Michael was there. “HOLY SHIT!” yelled one of the guys from up above. “Those nitwits double teamed it!” They were lined up now at the edge of the cliff looking down to see the two imbeciles emerge.
But they didn’t.
The boys ran single file from the top of the path to the bottom where we were now all standing. One of them jumped in and disappeared underwater. He came up thirty seconds later. “Nothing,” he said. Boys started jumping in from every angle. They looked like the whack-a-moles at the fair—one head bobbing up and another disappearing. Still no Michael or Pete.
One of them pulled himself out and shouted to the others, “Let’s try down the river. Maybe they got swept under the current and got dragged down a ways.”
Some of the girls started crying. Several of them scrambled up, grabbing their gear. “We need to get to a phone and call for help!” One of them stood over me blocking out the sunlight, “Are you coming with us or what?” I wasn’t sure what to do. I was stoned and there was a blank where my quick wits usually were. She pulled me up by my arm, “Snap out of it. Let’s go.”
EMTs found Michael’s body later that afternoon. He was about a half mile from the Flume. I didn’t see him but I heard he was bloated and his eyes were open. It took three more days for Pete to surface. Search and Rescue thought that maybe he had been trapped under a rock or something and it took another pounding rain to pry him free.
The police asked us a lot of questions. They confiscated my kazoo and what was left of the alcohol people had with them. At first they said they needed to release me to an adult but my parents were out of town, unreachable. They brought me to the ER so I could be evaluated to make sure I wasn’t going to go loony over it. When the doctor said I was fine, they drove me home and advised me to call someone to come and stay with me.
I had vodka and didn’t need any other company. When Pete’s mother called I was feeling completely disconnected to what had happened. I was drunk and stupid and blatty. She said she was going to call our next door neighbor to come and check on me. I hung up the phone and went out the back sliding glass door across the lawn through the woods to the railroad tracks. I sat on a rock alongside them, leaned over, and puked in the weeds.