Ainsworth Gym

by on February 23, 2012

Fiction Issue 2
Ainsworth Gym

Most of our first grade class is at the sleepover tonight. Our parents are busy and we are free.

Everyone who’s my friend and a bunch of kids who aren’t are all here, ready to stay up late and then sleep in, all the way until pick-up time in the morning, when we will leave Ainsworth Gym and go home. No one here knows how to think about tomorrow, about if it’ll really come, and what will happen to us when it does. It’s only Friday, so we’ll have another weekend night after tonight but our parents will say that we can’t have another sleepover.

There’s an unlimited pile of movies next to the VCR and we’re eating sweet and tangy corn chips from a big plastic bowl and we can see our fingers through the sides when we dip them in to scoop the crumbs and lick up the salt and spice. There’s Hi-C and Sunny D and Tang, and one kid has already peed his pants and has a new pair on, because every kid has to bring a change of pants and underwear in a plastic bag.

There are bowls full of Oreos that we’ve crushed with our fingers, and a canister of whipped cream that we spray all over and eat it down like a sundae.

The counselors (there are two of them, I think, and one other big kid who’s their friend, or maybe there are three) say that there’s no official lights out. We can stay up until we are physically unable to stay up any longer. In other words, no one will close our eyes for us. Some parents said they’d like to text around nine to check in, but Ainsworth Gym has a no phones during sleepovers policy.

The first movie I don’t remember, and the second was a comedy, a PG about a jailbreak with some serious beatings. We all cringed along, giggling about how much it must hurt to get beaten with a nightstick when you’re trying to break out of jail, and how great it would be.

Now we’re watching Lake Boy, a PG-13 that we watch every time. It always comes third and is by far the most important. It’s about some kids at a summer camp who sneak out of their bunks on the last night before their parents pick them up at the end of the four-week session, to take them home for the start of school and everything after. They’re all seven-year-olds, just like us, four of them, and they sneak out to do the one thing they’re not allowed to do: swim in the lake at night with no one watching. They creep down in their bathing suits and flip-flops, because, after three weeks and six days of nights spent asleep in their bunks, they can’t stay away from the lake a minute longer.

They’re thinking about how they’ve had to wake up every morning this month to leap in the water and do polar bears, which means getting drenched to the bone at sunrise, but that was with the Coach watching, holding an attendance sheet on a clipboard to make sure that everyone was there, and that everyone was still there when it was time to get out. He had a stopwatch to measure how long they’d been in for, and to make sure they never missed breakfast.

Everyone wanted to do polar bears because the alternative morning activity was farm chores, which they say is just feeding the animals but actually involves dealing with poop.

We know, because we went to a camp like this last summer, when we’d all just turned seven. We did polar bears in the same kind of lake as in the movie, but we were all too scared to sneak out at night, and, besides, we hadn’t seen the movie yet because we weren’t allowed to watch PG-13 until this fall. Now we’re basically seven and a half, and it’s cold outside, and nearly Christmas.

So the kids in the movie (we’re coming to this part now) go down to the lake on the very last night. Some of their parents who come from far away are probably already on the road, racing to pick them up with enough daylight left to drive all the way back home tomorrow.

We all went to camp in Connecticut or New York or another place like that, and our parents had to drive a long way to get us. It was just three of us then. Our parents said they could have carpooled, just one parent driving to pick up three campers, and that way they’d keep the environment from being destroyed, but they all missed us too much, after we’d been gone for four weeks, and no one could bear not to see us right away, especially because of the no phone policy, so they came in three cars.

Almost as soon as the kids get in the water, one of them drowns. But it’s not like he really drowns, exactly. It’s like something down in there, that was waiting very, very quietly and for a long time, reaches up and grabs him, hard, and pulls him straight down, and all the way down. It’s almost like this thing knew they were coming, or even told them to come and knew for sure that they would.

The whole scene is kind of weird and fast and creepy in this part, but that’s why it’s PG-13, so you can’t tell for sure what’s happening. But one of them drowns, and in the morning, when the parents come for pick-up, it’s only three of them left.

Except he doesn’t quite exactly drown. This is just the beginning. Later on, he becomes what’s known as Lake Boy.

For the next ten years, the kids start to get old as they think about what happened. The movie skips over this part. Then, exactly ten years later, when they’re all seventeen and have their own cars and licenses and beer and cigarettes, they decide to drive back to the camp and go in that lake again.

Something about what happened that night stayed with them all this time and they used to not have the courage to think about it, but now they’re seventeen and it’s now or never. So they pile into one car with rock music and crumpled Wendy’s wrappers on the floor, and take off onto the same highway that their parents drove down to pick them up. It’s the end of the last summer before college, and they’re sad, and want to do it before they’re grownups and have kids of their own.

They plan it so that they get back to the campground in Connecticut or New York at the same time of night that they went swimming there the last time.They park in a patch of weeds next to the road and sneak into the campground, past the counselors who are supposed to be keeping guard but are sleeping and kissing and stuff instead.

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Responses to Ainsworth Gym

2 responses

Intense and immersive. The echo of the gymnasium, the texture and taste of snack foods, the chill of the water, the sense of escalating jeopardy, and most impressive – the voice of a child. So often stories from a kid's POV read like a 40yo trying to sound like a 7yo, but Ainsworth Gym hits all the right notes. Terrific.

posted by Sarah      May 23rd, 2012 at 4:15 pm

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