July heat, and the boys leaned against trees, shirtless, and vied for the shade. Throughout the summer, they’d resorted to pushups along the sidewalks and chin-ups on the jungle gym outside of Eldon Elementary. The boys swarmed through the beach days; chewing gum, spitting, bragging about paddling skills, their maneuverability from the inside of an Old Town.

By 2:00p.m.the shore was lined with blue canoes. Paddles placed like crossbones on the inside, and the boats rocked against each other’s hulls. Too hot to bear the weight of the sun before the regatta began, the boys took to chewing ice and sucking popsicles in the shade.

That day, David Foster wore a red swimsuit and reached around to his burned back, felt for the mole that marked him, and scratched. He didn’t know that he’d be dead within the hour; that the mole would prove irrelevant.

David Foster squinted out over the gathered crowd, eyed girls from school—Julie Shepherd, in particular—and took to dreaming. How she might appear peeled out on the hull of his canoe, moon clinging to the dark as he peered down into her upside down eyes from his spot on the bench.

What might he say?

Within minutes, the air horn would sound, and they would race. And as David Foster’s back muscles strained and leaked out of him, he’d think of just the right words to tell Julie. He’d think them as he grunted through the water, as the wayward paddle smashed against his head, as the blackness took him, the water took him, as the red bathing suit gathered shadows from the deep.

At those depths, there are no dreams, just silence. The swirling of paddles far above now muted, the cheering of crowds invisible. The swimsuit would billow, as would his hair, but the motions emitted were not motions that would save him. Jerry Sweiber won the regatta. The others lost. As David Foster’s lungs took on water, Julie Shepherd, much like everyone else, fought to cheer the loudest.


When they found him, they found only a part of him: David Foster’s red swimsuit tucked tight between the cattails and beaver dams. Then came the slack legs and the slack arms and the torso, slacked, and then he was whole again. Spliced back together. Sewn with the algae and seaweed. Drowned and dead, but whole, and found, at last.

Julie Shepherd walked barefoot along the banks of the water. Jerry Sweiber walked beside her. When she glanced through the brush and sticker bushes, she saw the red flower blooming from the marsh.

She had a sharp eye, everyone said so, and could recognize a person by their movements and their shapes.

“Pick it for me,” she begged, so Jerry Sweiber high-kneed it over the thorns and the puddles and bent to pluck the flower.

David Foster had placed last in the regatta. The paddle slammed his head and sunk him deep. He became the flotsam, and the crowd cheered for Jerry Sweiber and the runners-up. Balancing quiet on the lake, the empty canoe remained.

“Pick it for me,” she begged, and so he had: high kneed, bent, plucked. Only there was nothing left to pluck. Nothing to bend for.

Just a body, cold and white. A red suit in the weeds.
A body to drag to the safety of the shoreline. A body to bury. A body to turn inside out for answers. If only the lungs could speak.

“Pick it for me,” she begged. “What are you waiting for?”

But Jerry Sweiber could not. Could not bend, could not pluck, could not untangle the algae from his ankles and his neck. The winner squinted down at the loser. David Foster’s arms carved canals into the mudsand, becoming a little more permanent.