Call It a Feeling

When and why had I begun to think about Ingrid Stoltz? She was such a bitch. That’s what we said about her as boys at Camp Geronimo. Now at nineteen, a counselor, I could zip around the lake in a canoe, and the campers liked to join me, running their hands through the water, yanking out slimy lily pads. It was late June, and Ingrid, poised like an egret in the lifeguard tower, wouldn’t stop blasting her whistle. She loved that whistle. No one should have given her a whistle. She had a striking quality that could pass for beauty in the right light, her features sharp, her hair long and coppery, and from the canoe I watched her scratch the back of her calf with her bare foot, trilling in bird language. You’re doing something wrong, shrieked the whistle. Everyone is doing something wrong.

I paddled to the dock, ignoring the protests of freckle-faced Todd Donahue and spindly Howard Merkle. “One more lap,” Todd begged, but instead I clambered onto land and paced the reedy grass at the edge of the lake, deliberating as to whether I should confront Ingrid. Each blare of the whistle made me jump. This was an abuse of power, maddening. A fat book rested at the foot of her white wooden chair, and I wondered what it was. For camp that summer I had brought The Hobbit, and I liked hobbits, how they ate six times a day. They were shy but courageous. Could I be courageous? Lunch would begin in fifteen minutes, and I needed to tell her to shut up before I lost my nerve. I needed to know why she was doing this, what she hoped to achieve, whom she was targeting, what she was reading. I returned to the dock, where Todd and Howard still sat in the canoe.

“Hey, Simon,” Todd said.

I turned to him. “What?”

“Can we flip this thing and go under it?”

“Why would I say yes to that?”

“Because you’re cool.”

I felt a swell of self-assurance. I loved these kids, all knobby knees and elbows, and it didn’t cross my mind that they could hurt themselves trying to pull it off, that the lake was disgusting, possibly diseased. I would give her a reason to whistle.

“Yeah,” I said. “Flip it. Just go out a little farther, so you don’t hit your heads on the dock.”

They obliged me, paddling unsteadily. Once a short distance from the dock, they started rocking, flipping the canoe within seconds. Their hoots of pleasure rose to a cacophony as Ingrid’s whistle blared, and she flew from the lifeguard tower, reaching the lake as they bobbed their heads above water. She wheeled to face me, taking a deep breath to blast the whistle one more time.

“What the hell are you doing?” she said. “Are you watching them or not?”

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