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The Causeway

By Margaret MacInnis

“Watch me, Margaret,” my freckle-backed father said. Wearing cut-off Levi’s and a silver crucifix, he stood barefoot on the cement wall designed to keep cars from driving off the causeway into the lake.

“I’m watching, Daddy.”

“You have to stand up close to the wall and watch until my feet disappear.” He was getting ready to dive into the “haunted” small side of the Whitins Reservoir. We – my younger sister and the cousins with whom we played – did not swim on the small side. Our mothers, aunts, godmothers, and grandmothers had so often recounted the stories of all night searches for missing children, who later resurfaced, facedown and lifeless, that we would not have considered it. Not only was my father going to dive into this unfamiliar deepness, but he was going to swim under the causeway, through the pipe joining the two sides of the reservoir.

“Are you sure it’s OK?” I pointed to the water. “Down there. In the pipe?”

“Yes,” he assured me. “I’ve done this a million times. Don’t worry about your old
man.”

Old man. He was not an old man. He was only thirty-two. Puppa, his father, was an old man.

“You’re not old,” I said and he laughed at me.

“You take everything literally. No, I’m not old. But I have done this a million
times. Relax.” He smiled and patted my head. “You’re such a worrier. Are you sure you’re only eight years old? Look. Just wait until you can’t see my feet any more, cross to the other side and watch for my head. Make sure you look both ways before you cross.”

“When?” I asked.

“When what?”

“When did you do this a million times? Before you had me?” I wondered aloud, trying to piece together a portrait of my father as a young man right then and there, before I missed my chance, and he disappeared into his bedroom or backed down the driveway alone. Sometimes I would not see his face for days. That’s just the way it was, but here in this moment, he was all mine. I had to make the most of it.

He sighed. “Yes, before I had you. Ask your mother. She’s seen me do it. Mostly
though, I did it when I was a kid. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. Around then.”

“Did your old man watch? Did Nanni?” He guffawed, shaking his head at me.
“Puppa and Nanni were nothing like me and your mother, nothing at all.”

“What do you mean?” I wanted to know, oddly fascinated by the fact that my
grandparents were almost strangers to me. We lived with my other “grandparents”, Memé and Nana. Memé was my mother’s mother, and Nana was Meme’s aunt. At the time, I thought I knew all there was to know about them. My father’s parents were the mystery.

“No more questions. I’m ready to go. On the count of three.”

“On three or after three?” I asked, and my father groaned.

“Jesus, Margaret. Can I please go?” Yes, I nodded, unable to speak, disappointment swelled in my throat. I had ruined everything. He said again, “On the count of three. No, after three. Count.” After making the sign of the cross, he arched forward into a diving pose.

“One, two…”

Splash. He must have meant on three. Down he swam.

When I saw his feet vanish into the pipe, I ran to the other side without looking both ways. I was sure it was safe. Standing on the open causeway, you could see a car coming from a mile away. From the rocks that served as steps down to the water, I waited for him to surface. When he did, he looked dazed, almost as if he had forgotten where he was, who he was. “Daddy?” I reached out my hand and climbed down the rocks toward him. “Are you OK?” I asked as he grabbed my hand and pulled me toward him.

“Sure. Sure I’m OK.” I clasped my hands behind his neck and felt the silver
chain of his crucifix beneath my wrists. “I don’t remember the pipe being that narrow. It felt like the walls were closing in,” he said, gently pulling my hands apart and pushing me back toward the rocks where I could stand on my own.


 

Margaret MacInnis's poetry has appeared in The Lyric, and is forthcoming in Literary Mama. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Queens University of Charlotte, lives in Massachusetts, and will be a fellow at the Kimmel Nelson Harding Center for the Arts in Nebraska City in October and November.

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