Country Baby Swims In Poison.

by Serge Bielanko

Up to my ankles in the bathwater lake, I stare at the greenish globs of what I'm pretty sure is goose crap. I stare at it out of the corner of my eye so Monica doesn't see it and get leery. I stare at Violet in my arms. She's in her Old Navy Big Strawberry One-Piece and looks damn happy about that. I bite down into my lip and wonder. I stare at the lush summer hillsides slithering in the crippled breeze. I stare at hunks of shredded cloud forming circus animals far off in the distance. A walrus. A zebra head. I breath Pennsylvania air into my Pennsylvania lungs and try and follow my Pennsylvania heart towards the right decision. I need to make a Malcolm Gladwell here in about the next four seconds. People are waiting.

Do we let Violet 'swim' for the first time in her little life in this lake here on a beach where a few geese have sculpted a monument to old lunch? Or do we play the very safe/cautious/caring parents who would never expose their tiny baby to the cornucopia of problems that hang around little kids who bath in animal shit?

Do we have fun in the summer lake?

Do we drive away dry?

I dunno.

I kick the damn turd with my foot. It sloshes about six inches and settles down to float some more next to it's brother/sister. I make a wave with my foot and it bobs up and under the turd with all the energy of maple syrup. I sigh. Monica is ready with the camera and is jabbering some shit at me about when to get ready and when to dip Violet's toes in but not before she's definitely taping and blahblahblah.

A boy of about seven or eight is staring at me and Violet with a bratty hyperish look. Maybe he's pissing himself in the lake, I think to myself. He is swinging a purple plastic shovel and no bucket and he's staring at us and aimlessly hauling sand up out of the the bottom of the lake and tossing it over his shoulder where it plops back onto the wet beach with a depressing squishy thud. I make sure I don't see any parents around or any older brothers into Tim McGraw and peppered jerkey and Kicking Ass In The Name Of Fourth Of July Freedoms and when I'm pretty sure there's no one watching I give the kid a Mega StinkEye. It goes through him like a crossbow bolt, but he doesn't flinch or stop staring at us or anything. He's one of the Unwavering. Ugh. Whatever. Let the fucker watch then.

Monica is saying: Hemmma Hemmma Hummy Halloma. Hummuno Hummo Hemma Haboop!

I don't really hear her or know what any of that means, but I know she is over there talking to me. It's not that important anyhow. I'm alone in my wilderness of decision here.

I touch Violet's sunscreeny forearm. She bats it all around like she's swatting at a flying tarantula. She's watching the small waves that roll in from the far off motorboats and slap up against my lower legs. She's seeing the other older kids as they chuck Nerf footballs and tease each other with splashes and dunks. Some big twentysomething over by the rope that marks the swimming border is laughing with his buddies as he holds up a sunfish that he's managed to catch. Or more likely: found. Violet can taste the excitement flitting around in the Fourth of July air here. She's hungry for some.

Fuggit. We're going in.

The moment comes. I sit on a concrete curb thing that makes no sense in the world except that maybe God built it there on the 3rd so I'd have a cool place to sit for the big moment. Up til now Violet has only known the feel of water in a two foot plastic baby tub. And her own spittle.

Monica say's "ROLLING!". So we're rolling.

A mini mini wave breaks around my calf.

Shovel Boy has ceased operations. He's just fixated on us. I see a goose ball bump into his foot and I smile at the poetry.

I say a few words, I don't remember what. I lower the loveliest pink toes I have ever known toward the lake water. Monica films.

Somewhere in the Paris night a couple falls together in an embrace of red wine and lust. Around the world in a remote African village a baby dies after trying so goddamn hard to live. Somewhere a car crashes into a cow. Everyone is ok but the cow. Under Manhattan a young man sees a woman in the subway he will one day marry. A Ukrainian grandmother turns out the lights. An Australian grandfather turns 'em on. Stag move through dark forests of pine. Great White Sharks move through dark caverns of coral. A chipmunk somewhere eats a piece of bark, closes his eyes, sighs.

The toes and the legs kick at the water. In the water. Violet is technically in the water. I hold her out and we do a rise and fall thing where she gets lifted up fast above my head and then slowly drops with my arms to a foot dip in the silty lake. Her eyes are so serious, deliberate. This is not play yet. This is a massive gargantuan body of splashy shiny water closing in all around her and she is excited but uncertain. Short little laughs are twined to creeping little cries. Its a package deal. Her baby emotions are thrown into a tizzy. She doesn't know whats going on. She is out here in this wide open world of mountains and swimmers and buzzing boats and distant laughing and well-fed farm people with scuba masks on hollering for their friend to "Bring Down The Super-Soaker!"

All these lovely country folk out swimming in the lake on the Fourth of July, it's like a seven billion gallon vat of tepid American Gothic Soup. It's the perfect place for an American babe's first swim.

I loosen up and splash my baby. Hand her off to her Mama. Film those two, take pictures. All these fine people have been swimming in this water most of their lives, lapping up mouthfuls of it's healing powers and continuing to live. Coming back, every Fourth.

Swimming right through Goose Shit like it was a Finish Line Ribbon at the end of another long tough year.

Which it probably was.