With a gulp, the lake swallows us up. I hold my breath, feeling our bodies sink. His is the heavier, dragging us both down, pulling us towards the tangled weeds underneath. I hold fast to his belt-strap, my fist straining to keep a grip on it, but he only spins, the belt now broken or undone. His body twists slowly beneath me, on the far end of the leather strap, floating out of reach. My cheeks puff, my lungs pulse for breath. Is he fighting? Is he pulling away from me? With each second that passes, I hope that his fingers will extend up, I pray for his eyes to find me, through the murk and haze, that he will show me that he is awake, that he is trying to stay alive.
I can feel the brick at the end of the rope below me, tugging at my boot, my boot tugging at my sock, my sock slipping from my feet. The slick tendrils of the lake weeds tickle my naked ankle with a wet that is different from water, a cold that is colder than the cold of the lake. I feel my belt slide, eel-like, from around my hip. My nose stings, I repress a cough that would exchange air for water. Above me, her fingers touch my scalp, I feel her reach beneath the collar of my shirt and pull.
I am not strong enough to pull him up; I am unable to resist the weight. I would scream for him to help me, but that would mean giving up air, letting my lungs balloon with water. My throat and eyes burn, I feel the pressure building against my ribs. Help me damn it, I beg him, though he cannot hear it. I scream inside myself—I don’t want to die.
Her body is climbing around me, her legs kicking, her fingers clawing at my flesh. The brick drags along the sediment at the bottom, slowing to a stop. It still pulls against my ankle, but I feel the knot loosen. She will not leave me now, I know—I feel it in how she pulls and tugs and pounds against me. Time is slipping away. I can hardly see anymore; I feel her desperate body flashing and flailing in panic. Her chest is convulsing. She will die, I think. She will die. She will die.
He is one hundred and ninety pounds of flesh. The brick is fifty pounds. The weight of the water grows as we fall, becoming heavier than my effort, heavier than the love between us, than the life within me. Our children are not enough to lift him, and his mother is not enough, nor our home. There is his favorite guitar still, his weekend golf round, the sound of Johnny Cash, the lace nightgown I wore on his birthday. None of this is enough to lift him. None of it is enough to keep my lungs from caving. To keep my eyes open. I cling to flesh that is colder than the water, slicker than the wet of the waves around me.
I was a championship swimmer in high-school, but I have put on weight since then. I have lost strength in the years since I carried her across the threshold on our honeymoon so that I could not lift her into the car to take her to the hospital last spring. I could not raise our children; I could not raise myself when she wore the nightgown, I could not raise the money to keep our home.
I feel the air and water exchange places, but I am sliding towards a slick dark sleep. I am held back by something that sounds like screaming, keeping me here. Hands slicker than my skin pull at me. I vomit water and feel burning air take its place. His fists pound against my chest, heavier than the water inside me. He pushes loose. His lips are cold against mine, but mine grow colder still. I shiver, I see clouds, the sky, his face. “You should have let me die,” he whispers, and the words are as heavy as bricks, they tangle around my ankles, my wrists, my neck. Those words hold me to the ground so that I cannot move. I am no longer drowning, I can see sunlight, but I am suffocating with the weight of saving, and that it is perhaps something worse.