Boy by the Water

Oscar arrived at his friend’s house an hour before intended. A problem with the local bus scheduling had left the boy with no option but to catch the early afternoon slot. He peered through the glass of the front door. George, the boy’s friend, didn’t finish work for another forty minutes; nobody was home to let Oscar in. Stepping back, Oscar considered what to do with his spare time.

Earlier in the day there had been a stifling heat. Oscar had sat outside, dowsing himself in water to cool his body. The heat had now diminished somewhat, although a pleasant warmth still hung in the air. He found himself wandering away from the house, possessed by the half-baked idea that he should ‘make the most’ of the evening by going for a walk.

Oscar walked down the road, turning off onto a public footpath. Although clearly marked as a ‘public right of way’, the path seemed to follow through a series of private country lots and courtyards. As he passed by these old farm houses, he reflected on how charming they seemed in the summer light. He felt as though he was in France or Italy (or a place called ‘Puglia’ which he had never been to, but had oft imagined to be similar), far removed from the usual grime and cold of Northern England.

Soon, he was walking along another road, alongside which a steep embankment could be found. Prior to his arrival at this location, Oscar had vaguely been guided by the idea that there was a reservoir or a lake in close proximity to George’s house. He hazarded a guess that, beyond this embankment, cloaked from sight, he might strike upon this water. Oscar was unsure as to whether the lake was on private land. Thus, he waited for any cars to clear from the road before clambering over a wall and ascending the embankment. As the boy passed the brim of the bank, a large reservoir revealed itself to sight. Oscar noted the seclusion of the place and the way the water shimmered slightly in the dusk light. He sat by the lake, far enough forward to be hidden from sight, but still removed by one or two metres from the water’s edge.

The boy watched the lake. He was surprised to see the surface broken occasionally by fish. Time passed. Birds darted down, snatching flies with a graceful violence. It was certainly the perfect spot for relaxation. He hummed and marvelled at how free he felt at that instant in time. The sky held a quiet joy; the colours served to reflect a Summer Mood.

Oscar began to think. He considered whether he might take a swim in the water. A string of recent reservoir-related tragedies had left the boy acutely aware of the dangers of open water swimming. Admittedly, the water did not seem too inviting; it looked cold. And yet, the notion prevailed. Something – probably the sense of foolish self-destruction apparent in all adolescent boys – pushed him towards the lake. It must have been fifty metres across. Deep. Perhaps he could swim a third and then return. Not by any means a large distance. Indeed Oscar had swum further in colder conditions. Still, the danger hung in his mind. He considered whether he might panic and freeze up, sinking to his death. And death was certain. Nobody knew he was here. Nobody to save a flailing body. From his current position he held true anonymity. The grass by the side of the lake was overgrown – it was clear that this was not a regular route for local walkers. He imagined the morbid circumstances. If he drowned in this place, he would disappear from civilisation. Nobody would think to look. His body may never be found. How often might the water-board inspector’s visit this reservoir? Once, maybe twice a month? Even if somebody passed this spot in weeks to come, it was possible that the wind could eradicate all trace of his presence.

A strange feeling of power came over him. Of course, Oscar had been in a position in which death was possible before, but he had never (as far as he could remember) been in a position in which he could wield such powers as to obliterate his entire identity. The image of his own death mingled with the luscious countryside to yield a strange feeling. A beautiful, if dark, notion.

The midges hovered above. He checked the time – he was scheduled to meet his friend in fifteen minutes. With reluctance, he deserted his position, stepping back down the banking and hopping the wall. The road was empty.

As he returned back along the route, he pawed over his recent emotions. He saw the farm houses now in a different light. A part of him wanted to return to the reservoir, to take that long anticipated swim. Over and over death visited his mind. He questioned whether he should share the episode with his friends. Once more he pictured the water. The blue fear. Soon, Oscar had arrived back at the house; upon catching sight of his friend’s face, he smiled.

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