Mom’ Day Out was a story I entered in a contest on Writer’s Weekly.
The topic and beginning paragraph was:
The sweat vanished from her skin as she sank down into the cool, blue swimming hole. The radio spread a festive mood to the commune members, who were picnicking, sunbathing, and laughing while dropping from the rope swing into the water a few feet away. Everybody got silent, however, when the music was replaced by an automated emergency broadcast network message. Thinking it was just a test, the festivities resumed until the annoying tone switched to a panicked broadcaster’s voice…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
I’d driven an hour to my favorite summer spot. Leafy green tree branches hung overhead while I floated on my little inflatable raft, trailing my hands through the cool water. Every now and then, I’d close my eyes and roll over the side into the clear depths of the swimming hole. From under water, I could hear the muffled sounds of the crowd who’d come here to escape the heat.
The Swimming Hole, an unoriginal, but affectionate name, was more than just a hole. It was a small sparkling blue lake nestling in the depths of the Michigan woods like a sapphire jewel rests in the soft curves of a woman’s breasts, surrounded by trees on three sides, a wall of stacked rocks on the other.
The rocks were just right for barefoot children to scramble over and up to the pinnacle to jump, relishing that free falling feeling for an instant, before splash down.
Today was special. I was mildly agog at my good fortune. My husband Alex had been working on a big assignment, and had been absent for two weeks. Our two kids, Jeremiah and Natalie, both under the age of sanity and self-control, had been cooped up while I fought a summer cold. That battle ended with a victory for my side, but the three of us, or four of us if you count the cold weather, were heartily sick of each other.
We’d gone through every coloring book, every box of pasta and tube of glue for messy art projects, every bag of flour and every old newspaper for papier mache sculptures. The inevitable result was soggy papers, but no strangely fashioned cat at the end. Little pieces of pasta hid cagily on the linoleum, and would crunch under our shoes for months to come.
To be accurate, the kids did all these things while I mediated arguments from my spot on the sun-splashed sofa in the family room. To wit, I was exhausted and emotionally depleted. I longed for adult conversation with a friend about important topics. Like shoes.
Alex, finally home on a weekend, told me to call a girl friend and get lost for a day of relaxation while he spent time with the kids. He’d planned a trip to a pizza parlor, a round of miniature golf, and a few rides on the racing carts. A friend and I had agreed on The Swimming Hole, but at the last minute, she’d canceled. It was just me, my raft, the water, and about a thousand people with their kids, enjoying a day of putative peace and quiet.
Someone had brought a radio. Actually, many people had brought a radio, but I heard only one above the din of hilarity. It was set to a classic rock station, and I was enjoying the beat of the Beach Boys goin’ on a Surfin’ Safari, when I heard the unmistakable crackle of the Emergency Alert System breaking into the surfing at Laguna and Dohini beaches.
No one paid attention to the distinctive crackle. The weather person had informed us that we could expect clear, hot, sunny skies. The Russians weren’t expected to land in Michigan, the Cold War being long over, and terrorists seemed interested in bigger fish in bigger cities. Blowing up our swimming hole would be a waste of their energies. We left the earthquakes to California and the Beach Boys, and we’d never had a blizzard in Michigan in July.
It was possible climate change had finally caught up to us, swathing our state in unseasonable snow drifts, but I didn’t care. Hell and Michigan could literally freeze over, but I wasn’t leaving my raft until twilight, another four hours. The other bathers didn’t seem to care either; I could barely hear the announcement over their high decibel disregard.
The announcer’s voice, the dulcet tones of a soft spoken man who’d honed his vocal skills for the express purpose of soothing the excitable masses, hitched a little in the middle of his broadcast. Safely submerged, I was surprised to hear what I thought was my name.
‘I’m imagining things’, I thought. ‘There’s no way there’s an emergency involving me, or my little raft. Get a grip, Darcy. You’ve been guzzling too much Nyquil.’
My head popped up, water streaming into my eyes and ears, but Nyquil-imbibing and water notwithstanding, I noticed the place had become deafeningly quiet. All festive exuberance had ceased. The normally soothing voice of the announcer was becoming panicky, the words rising to the altitude of Mt. Everest, into a range of sound only dogs can hear.
In the background, from a radio station located in downtown Grand Rapids, a collection of screeches, squawks, crashes, and other noises rose above his voice, suggesting that the Dawning of the Planet of the Apes was at hand. The noises weren’t just suggesting it; these apes were dead serious about their mission to overthrow civilization, and were about to snatch the mic from the announcer’s sweaty palm and tell us so.
‘Darcy!’ the broadcaster’s familiar voice shouted from the radio. ‘Come home if you can hear this! I can’t handle these buggers! I got called into work today and had to bring the kids along! They’re tearing up the place!’
The seats of the truck are still wet and I’m trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for traffic court, to fight charges of speeding in the commuter lane on the interstate with an inflatable raft resting next to me in the passenger seat, lipsticked face on it grinning happily.
I even had to buy it a Coke and a burger.