It was dusk it was too cold to swim. The Atlantic is always too cold. I unzipped my dress, pulled it off, made a pile. The section of the water I chose was between two rock fingers that measure the beach, black rocks with signs that, in the day, you can see say, “Do not climb.” That section was occupied by one other woman, with long hair, who went far out, and floated back in. So I felt safe. I stepped in, my feet, ankles, calves, adjusted from wading, but then the waves came to take more, they push, as I step out, and flinch, and flinch. The water is dark, diluted ink. I can see, still, occasionally, my feet, or some rocks. Why did I go in?
The sea to the west was a sheet of gold flexing like a million soft seeds and it wasn’t enough to look at it like it was a painting.
The difficulty is my waist. I never think I can make it, the cold cinches, snaps on that delicate skin, but then I have made it, and the last part is a drop, to my shoulders, and I’m in.
I swim breast stroke, upside-down hearts, or a couple of crawl pulls, elbows back, throw shoulders forward. I tread water, slowly beat arms and legs to stay right where I want to be. The other woman did headstands, her legs and feet kicked up cockamamie, held a second, fell.
The surf was gentle, only at just the right distance from the shore did you bob and progress a bit with the waves. I swam parallel to the beach because I had heard that was safe. I stopped and looked at the the sun’s work again, and it was not enough, just looking at the glittering, and behind it, the ashline of the sun, and the toys of Coney Island far off, mini 4th of July every day, winking, running, switching colors.
It was not enough to be in it, it was not quite enough.
I had to keep moving so the cold couldn’t grasp me, flowing arms and legs to tread water, or to make a meaningless line one way or another.
It was not enough. Under the dark water, I pulled my swimsuit bottoms down my legs, and unhooked my top and ducked out of it. I held my swimsuit in my hands and that was better. I took more upside-down heart strokes and frog kicks, this swimming is natural to me, open, push, open, push.
I dipped my head back, which was another cup of cold, cold cap, but my hair had to be soaked with saltwater, too, with the sea. I put my finger in my mouth for the salt.
I wove myself back into my swimsuit, which wasn’t easy, it floated around, too. I swam up, and walked up, out of the water, wrapped myself in the sheet I brought to lie on. I hadn’t bothered to bring a towel because I rarely swim at the beach. The sheet was white, so I was a ghost, a little Gandhi style ghost. The sheet wasn’t very absorbent, but it felt good to be wrapped. The light was still enough to see the sand I walked on, the remaining light, and the far reaches of the light from the streetlights of the boardwalk.
I stopped at the steps to the boardwalk, wrung out my hair, put on my dress, and took off my suit underneath. The public bathrooms close early at Coney Island, like 4 o’clock. No one paid attention, anyway, there were only a few people going by. New York City will let you smell like an animal who fears water, rant, stumble.
I didn’t want to do any of those things. I wanted to push to keep my head just above the Atlantic, naked, and see the sun and the water in their last performance of summer as the lights of Coney Island held onto the 4th of July with sprinkles and sparkles. And have no one see my head, and my kicks, except the other woman, and no one remark, except for the people who happened to walk by, and said, “People are swimming.”