She glances down at the edge of the lake and laughs.
“Look, there’s ice along the shore! Wonder what it would feel like to dive right in?”
“It’s early April, E., the water must be freezing!” I reply.
E. looks over her shoulder and winks at me.
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid to get in?” she asks.
“Afraid? No. Just that water that cold is dangerous.”
She crosses her arms in front of her and lifts her sweater over her head. Then she unbuckles her belt and slips her jeans down.
“What are you doing?” I ask, incredulous.
“Do you need to ask?” she says.
She continues removing her clothing until she is standing stark naked beside the car, her clothes tossed into the front seat. Her white skin shines in the overcast light, her breasts large and heavy, her skin tight with goose bumps. I stare at the scut of her dark pubic hair.
She laughs, then turns and jogs down the path to the edge of the lake. I stand there like a little boy, feeling silly.
“Come on!” she shouts. “What are you waiting for?”
I think she is nuts. I know she is nuts, because no one in their right mind would take off their clothes in this weather, and even more nuts for considering going for a swim in ice water. And yet, watching her, waving her arm from beside that grey, wild looking lake, she is the most beautiful woman in the world.
She stops waving and turns toward the lake. Naked and pale, I shiver just imaging how cold the water must look to her. Then she steps forward and dives in.
The ice is paper thin and shatters with the impact of her body slipping through. I see her buttocks angle toward the sky like the back of a dolphin and then disappear in the metal grey waves. For a moment the surface of the water closes over her and a stunned silence follows, then, a few meters further out, her head breaches and she is shouting, screaming for joy, waving her arms wildly. She arches back and dives in again, a pale seal playing in the water.
I stand there hesitant, knowing a thing or two about hypothermia and just how dangerous these water are. I’m not just being cowardly. But one of the things about E., why I love her and feel such great joy with her, is that she know a thing or two about being alive. I have never met anyone who takes her daily experience with life so firmly by the horns.
“Hey! You going to let a GIRL outdo you? Water too cold for you?”
Okay, that does it! I throw off my clothes and, tiptoeing over the sharp rocks and feeling the cold wind slap my skin, dance down to the edge of the lake. A stray wave laps over my bare foot and sends me leaping back. Damn cold! E. is waving from the water, but looking decidedly less glowing.
“Hurry up! I can’t stay in here much longer!” she shouts.
Taking a deep breath and jump forward and sink up to my thighs in the freezing waves. The water is so cold it takes my breath away. I stand for a few seconds, breathing hard.
“Nice view!” E. shouts.
“Give me a sec,” I shout back.
Taking another deep breath I wade further out letting the water engulf me up to my chest. The cold hurts, like an angry hornet, gripping my naked body in an iron vise. Nothing to do but to go for it. I close my eyes and leap.
The world crashes about my ears, crushing icy fingers gripping my temples and scalp, bubbles frothing like soda, my limbs dashing through it like knives, and all the while, behind it all, I can hear the thumping of my heart. A hot drum working in the gelid darkness. Somewhere I rise and break free, gasping for air, and a wild, uncontrollable glee bursting from my lungs.
E.’s fingers and arms, then the rounded warmth of her torso and legs, find me and cling to me. Our bodies entwine, seeking communion in a cold indifference. Our lips press together, hungry, laughing, our teeth bumping, our tongues pressing together.
I can’t stop shouting, and treading the water together, we revel in the splashing and bobbing of the waves. We spy another couple strolling by and pausing for a moment to stare at us before hurrying on. We whoop with laughter after they are gone.
“I’m really getting cold, M,” says E. “Let’s get back to the car.”
We dog paddle back to shore and holding hands rush back to the car. The air feels almost warm after the lake. E.’s lips have turned blue and she is shivering. I retrieve a big towel from the trunk of the car and vigorously rub E. down. We get in the car and turn on the heater, splaying our hands in front of the vent to feel our blood tingle back to life.
“Phew!” mumbles E. “That was really crazy!”
It takes a long while for the warmth to course back into our veins, but we are feeling drugged with warmth by the time our car pulls into her apartment driveway.
“I could really use a hot shower,” I say.
E. leans over and kisses me, hard. “How about a nice, long hot bath together?”