For my best friend:
August heat. Crickets drone in the far-off fields. The sun is a dusty circle in the sky. The stereo plays a mix For You, songs we shared in middle school that assault our ears with nostalgia and shared embarrassment, rolling out the windows to greet the cows standing inert in the afternoon. We are the only streak of motion in this pastoral summer scene, following the dark current of the canal to the flume.
When we park the car, the back wheels hang over the dirt edge. “Grab these,” Annabelle says and hands me two worn chunks of Styrofoam. I tuck them under one arm and follow her down the gravel path to the rushing water. We trace the path down to where the canal rushes and roars through a cement chute before flowing peacefully out to the reservoir.
“Jesus,” I say. The water is a crisp white and cold spray collides with the hot air. Fear crawls up the backs of my knees, claws at the small of my back.
“Take my hand,” Annabelle shouts into my ear. I grasp it and we creep along the cement shore to the very top of the flume.
Water blasts past us to the bottom of the narrow cement gully. I’m holding my breath in my throat, but her face is serene as an sculpted angel. I tip forward suddenly and let out a scream. The sound shoots off the far wall and is quickly swallowed by the white foam. “Fuck.” I regain my balance at the last second by grabbing hold of one of the long thin branches stretched over the canal. Thorns cut my palm, but I let out my bottled breath in a sigh of relief.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” We pause for a minute before continuing our slow steps towards the top of the flume.
Finally we reach the top. The canal is peaceful here, flowing along smoothly without warning of the sudden drop ahead. We clamber down the sloped bank, loosening chunks of dirt and rock.
We each hold a piece of styrofoam and wade out into the knee-deep water. The current washes the fear from behind my knees, clear and encouraging. Come forward, the water laughs. Ride of your life.
“You’re crazy,” I say aloud, to the water. To Annabelle and myself. To the warm afternoon saddling my shoulders.
Annabelle turns towards me. “I love you too,” she says. “We’re not going to die.”
I nod and grin and sit with a splash on styrofoam, feet braced against the hard bottom of the canal. Annabelle lets go first. I hear her voice echo down the chute, a mixture of fear and glee and exhilaration. Next.
Unthinking, I lift my feet. Whoa. The current shoves me forward, the styrofoam brushes the slippery algae along the bottom and as the canal sweeps forward and steepens, the world becomes a tunnel of dirty concrete and clean blue sky. I’m screaming, laughing, forgetting and yet still forming words with trembling lips. In front of me lies a green abyss, the final slow meander of the canal before it flows into the reservoir.
“Watch out!” Annabelle screams, and panic hops onto my swiftly careening craft.
“For what?” I ask, but my question disappears without reaching her ears. I plunge down and outwards, floating into the green pool of water. The pool is deep, but the current pushes me farther towards the open water. I spot Annabelle’s warning, a jagged triangle of concrete lurking under the surface inches from where I was spat from the flume. My silent prayers reach up into the hot sky.
We float on our backs, our hair streaming through the murky water. The world is upside down; the mountains point downwards in the distance. “Let’s go again.” Annabelle lifts her head. Her mascara is running in hurried streaks down her cheeks. Just the idea brings the tingles back to my limp body and fills me with a fearful energy.
“Sure.” Why else would we be here?