Langston stood in the shallow end of the lake with his arms extended and knees bent, bracing himself. He fussed about as Julia shimmied around him, kicking at waves, laughing, tickling him. “Don’t break a bone, messing around.” Langston drawled, pretending to laugh though he really wanted out of the lake. He shook beads of water from his graying afro and wiped his eyes. His vision blurred as he took in his surroundings. The blue sky washed over the edges of the beach. Faceless, peach figures raced about or stretched out on colorful pallets. Umbrellas with long rods poked from the sand. Yelps of glee echoed, causing him alarm as the force of waves became shoving hands, punching fists. “Help me,” he mouthed. Meanwhile, Julia’s shimmy turned into a Cha-Cha. “Baby, this little bit of water won’t hurt you.” Melanie and Marcus stood within shouting distance, watching Julia and Langston from the shore. Their hands, like visors, shielded their eyes from the sun. Marcus retorted, “Technically, you can drown in a bathtub. Remember Whitney?” Melanie ricocheted a wet towel off of Marcus’ thigh. Marcus smarted, “What!” “That was wrong, Marcus. W-R-O-N-G, wrong.” Melanie said, rolling her eyes. “Anyway, you need to mind your business.” “Y’all heard the man say he don’t want no parts of the water. He’s fifty something years old, not twelve. If he’d wanted to learn to swim, he’d have done it by now.” “Thanks, Marcus. Julia don’t listen,” Langston said, trying to look over his shoulder to commiserate when his feet began to slip on slick rock. “Ah, shi….” Langston’s six-foot-five frame scissored in the air, landing him butt first in lake. He splashed about furiously as a swell of water hit him in the face. From a seated position, he dog pedaled the air, slapping away memories like the time a group of white men chased him and his brother Ricky away from the neighborhood pool … like the time a swarm of men tried to drown him in the Barnett Reservoir, their beefy hands clamping the top of his head and pushing down remained a palpable memory … like the time… like the time. . . like the time. Langston tensed a bit, feeling Julia’s hand brush his shoulder. She reached further, an olive branch to help him up. “Baby, I got you. You’re safe.” “I’m not safe,” Langston said, accepting Julia’s extended hand to pull himself up. In the distance, a group of young white kids garbed in plastic snorkel gear and inflated arm cuffs dived, swam, splashed, and giggled. Julia nodded toward the youth. “See. They can’t be more than six years old, but they’re swimming.” “Yea, well, the world is theirs to swim in. Isn’t it?” “I don’t understand,” Julia said. Of course, she didn’t understand, having been raised upper middle class in the north. Unlike him, a southern boy to his core but still her man, and men don’t fear. But they sometimes shake when they remember.
Tina Jenkins Bell is a Black published fiction writer, playwright, freelance journalist, literary activist, and academic. Prior to the pandemic, 2019 was a very busy year for Bell. Her mini-memoir, Devil’s Alley, appeared in the Us Against Alzheimer’s anthology; her play Cut the Baby in Half was featured as a staged dramatic reading at the Greenline Performing Arts Center; her speculative short fiction, To the Moon and Back, appeared in Hypertext Journal and was later nominated for an Illinois Arts Council award; and White Vans, flash prose, was published by South Side Weekly. Ms. Bell also collaborated with Janice Tuck Lively and Sandra Jackson Opoku to write A Conversation with Lorraine Hansberry and Gwendolyn Brooks, a fictional account of two literary icons discussing race and women’s issues during a chance meeting in heaven. A Conversation, was produced as a staged reading by the Chicago Humanities Festival. In 2018, Bell collaborated with Janice Tuck Lively and Felicia Madlock to write a collaborative hybrid fictional account of Robert Sandifer's (the young boy who was murdered by his own gang) last hours; Looking for the Good Boy Yummy was published in They Said, a Black Lawrence Press anthology. Bell is a co-founder of FLOW (For Love of Writing) and has collaborated with numerous writing organizations, authors, and bookstores to offer literary programming in Chicago’s underserved communities. She is currently working on her second novel, Family Legacies.