Timothy Russell looked across the water. He was in a small canoe in the middle of Lake Sarene, but couldn’t quite remember how he got out there. A thick blanket of pine trees surrounded the water, only clearing away for the small dock. It was a shambling thing, nearly worn to pieces. There was something that he was forgetting; he was sure of it. He sat there, drifting lazily, staring at nothing in particular. A group of ducks swam past, ducking their heads in the water.
A faint giggling came from across the lake. Dancing around on the dock was his daughter, Lila.
“Lila Russell, what are you doing?” he called out with a smile on his face.
He reached for the paddle, but it wasn’t where it should have been. He began to paddle with his hands towards the dock. The icy water stung his hands, but he kept paddling.
“Daddy! Daddy, look!” Her voice seemed so distant.
Timothy kept paddling as best he could. His hands were red. His sleeves were soaked. Lila moved further out on the dock, mimicking a ballerina’s pirouette. She had just begun to take lessons the week before. She was certain that being a ballerina was more important than learning to swim.
“Lila Russell, go back to the shore,” he called out as loud as he could, but she didn’t seem to hear. Up on one-foot, Lila began to twirl. Her tutu she insisted on wearing was spinning around her. Then, she fell.
Timothy Russell looked out across the lake. A cool spring breeze chilled him, rocking the canoe gently. The scenery was calm. A group of ducks swam around, bobbing and ducking into the water. His sleeves were wet. He didn’t remember sticking his hands in the water.
He took a deep breath of the cool clean air. It was too early in the season for other people to be canoeing around up at Lake Sarene, but he found the time of year perfect. He closed his eyes and relaxed, letting the boat drift away.
He thought he heard a scream. He looked around frantically and there was Lila in the water. She thrashed about, trying to stay afloat. Timothy reached for the paddle but it wasn’t there. He reached his arms into the water and began to paddle, desperately trying to reach his daughter.
“Lila, try and stay calm,” Timothy called out.
The progress was slow. He wasn’t going to make it.
“Lila, please try and keep your head above the water.” His voice was hoarse. Her hand reached up, desperately trying to grab hold of something.
Timothy Russell looked out across the lake. He was cold and wet, but didn’t know why. Something seemed off. Had he forgotten to take his keys with him? He gently patted his pockets until he found them.
The canoe was drifting towards the dock. Had he fallen asleep? He looked around for the paddle, but didn’t see it. So, he sat back and let himself float aimlessly.
There was something he was forgetting. He took a deep breath of the cold mountain air, and he let it out. The pine trees rustled as another breeze swept across the lake. A paddle floated up to the boat. Was that his? How had it gotten that far out in the water? He picked it up and placed it across his lap.
A flash of pink spun through his mind.
Where was Lila?
He looked towards the dock and began to paddle frantically. She had been right there.
She had been spinning right at the end of the dock.
Water splashed over him and into the canoe as he rowed.
He was out of breath and his daughter was nowhere to be seen. His stomach clenched. He
couldn't breath. Where was she? Everything was moving too fast. Timothy bent over. He couldn't handle it.
Timothy Russell stared out across the lake. He was soaked. Had he gotten in the water? There were ducks across the pond, but he could barely make out their shapes as they swam. The sun was sinking behind the trees. It was much too cold to have gone for a swim. What was he doing out here?
The canoe began to bottom out. He looked behind him and was only a few feet away from the dock. Somebody should really fix that thing up; it was falling to pieces. His canoe floated closer to the shore.
He steadied himself against the dock and pulled himself up. The boards on the dock creaked and groaned against his weight. The wood had long ago rotted from misuse. He grabbed the rope and led his canoe towards the shore, taking careful steps to avoid the more rotted parts of the wooden dock.
He stared out across the lake and pulled his canoe in.
Timothy Russell stared out across the lake and remembered.
He had stood in that same spot nearly thirty years before. Lila had begged to go on a fishing trip with him. She was only five at the time, but she wanted to see the ducks. So, they drove up to Lake Sarene.
She had picked out her new life jacket, dark blue with a golden duckling on it. They put the canoe in the water, but she refused to get in. So, they sat on the dock, watching the ducks swim around.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go out there, Lila?”
The cool spring breeze floated through her hair.
They sat at the end of the dock for a while. Their gear was laid out in the canoe.
A strong gust of wind rushed against them and her life jacket went flying out of the canoe. He watched as it flew, landing nearly halfway across the lake.
The life jacket had scattered a few of the ducks swimming around.
“Let me go get it. Make sure you stay right here, Lila. Don’t go wandering off, okay?”
He paddled out, taking care to look behind often, checking on Lila. He reached the life jacket and picked it up.
“Daddy! Daddy, look!”
As he turned around, he saw her dancing on the pier, mimicking the other ballerinas in her class. She had just begun to take lessons. The paddle slipped from his fingers, floating away from him as he tried to propel himself back to the docks. He saw her final spin as she fell into the water.
The doctors said that the cold water had sent her into shock. The doctors said there was nothing he could have done.
Timothy Russell stared across the lake. He left the canoe there. Nobody would bother it. Nobody came up there anymore.