There was a day like no other day before or after. It was summer. It was July. He was in the little dink at sunrise and the tide was dead low so that he could see the gun metal gray of the mud banks above the slack cobalt channels through the reed-beds. The channel was narrow and shallow and vast schools of silver minnows swam between the mud banks and the red gunnels of the boat. He stood barefoot at the transom trailing an oar. At the bottom of the boat was a pool of cool water, and there were small fish in there too, and when he dipped the oar the boat tipped back and the water flowed over his feet and he could feel the small killies on his toes.
He poled through canyons of high cattails where night herons lurked slump-shouldered in the mud, picking out from the dark water the running minnows spooked upstream by the boat. There was the sound of his oar in the water and the way it sometimes knocked hollow on the side of the boat like a wooden drum. There was also another sound he would grow to love more than any other on this earth, the melodic trill of the black birds with the red wings, and maybe this was the thing that brought him back. The day-room overlooks a marsh where those birds are found and when he hears them he is back among the thick reeds. He is small again. He sees the flitting black shadows of the birds, landing on the cattails that bend beneath them, watching their necks ruffle and puff out as they make a sound like the gathered music of crickets and tree frogs at dusk.
This is what you remember. A day in the kill. Something so ancient within your history that it startles you to remember. It raises doubts about the whole thing, the record of days lived. What else could there be like this? Nothing. A skinny, barefoot little boy, cut-off Levis, alone in a skiff with a couple of Coke’s wrapped in foil and a tuna sandwich made nice with celery and dill. Dark water, Jell-O smooth. Black mud. Horseshoe crabs of translucent amber with all the things that makes them tick in full view before his super-hero x-ray eyes. Glaring white Whooping cranes. A fishing pole, a Zebco reel, a tobacco tin where the spinners rattle and click in a tangle of crusted salt. Deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of the kill, to the very heart of it, where he drops the rope tied to a Nassau brick and follows it with his eyes through the gloom, tumbling down to the bottom where a plume of graphite mud explodes like a tiny H-bomb at the bottom of his sacred hole.
How the water feel around him. The sensation of liquid immersion. Soda bubbles and invisible forces. His naked body. Floating. Flying. Spreading his arms out and diving to the bottom like Jacques Cousteau. Staring up at the scattered light, how the rays slant down like laser beams through silversides by the thousands, huge schools of mirrored needles freshly spawned and fearing nothing, and he floating through them, feeling the tickle and poke of a thousand fishy noses. His eyes closed and his sun-tanned body. Drifting. Swimming through a galaxy of stars. The tiny killies.
How a sound brings you back. The trilling. Shoot right back to a spot on the map of your heart. See. The wavering silhouette of the boat from the bottom of the salt marsh. Feel. The rush of water and the air trapped in wobbling pockets of amorphous chrome. Hear. The splash of the boy as the surface breaks open, and the intake of the mugging July. Taste. Salt water fingers and Coke syrup. Smell. Low tide and dry reeds. Creosote and rotten wood. Tuna fish sandwiches and Big Buddy gum. Nicotine fingers and Pixie Stick dust.
He treads water and the water passes through his splayed fingers with a pressure that vibrates and he owns the water and he cannot drown. He spins slowly so that the world turns against the turning and the sounds of the insects blur to a drone. Cicadas, dragonflies, greenheads and swarms of gnats. The darting black shapes in the reed beds. Bird calls. Wooing and warning. Come to me, they say. Take flight. Fly away and come. What else is there? Nothing. What else was there? This. Only this. He was swimming through the stars.