After midnight, still eighty-eight degrees and humid, we pulled bikes from the garage of our rental house and headed out, wheels spinning down the same tree-lined avenues we rode when Jeannie and I were twenty. In those dog days of August, we’d cycle after dark in bikinis, with backpacks of beer, hearts full of daring.

“No swimming tonight,” I called out to Jeannie, not far ahead. We were both fifty now, and Minneapolis had more edges.

“Maybe not for you.”

My shoulders tensed at a siren in the distance. Hot nights made for restless streets. “It’s illegal to swim after sunset, and the cops are out.”

“Come on, Beth. You aren’t as old as you’re acting.”

“At least you’re wearing a helmet,” I said, pretending Jeannie’s words didn’t sting.

We pedaled under street lights, moths swarming in their glow, my neck sticky. Music from an open window drifted into the night, Van Morrison searching for transcendence.

“Wild night is calling.” Jeannie sang out into the dark, and I hummed.

Jeannie had been the free spirit ceramics major to my somber degree in history. We lived on opposite coasts now, but still shared a love of European novels and travel. Between FaceTime and occasional vacations, the friendship between artist and lawyer endured.

“Is this the right turn?” Jeannie called, veering onto Dean Parkway, mature oaks and maples arching overhead.


Each of Minneapolis’ chain of lakes evoked a memory. Nokomis was where my grandmother taught me it was safe to put my head underwater. At Lake Harriet we’d build sandcastles; the lake now called Bde Maka Ska neighbored the cemetery with my grandmother’s grave. I followed Jeannie, heart pounding because I knew where she was leading us: Cedar Lake, where, in the city’s deepest, coolest water, rule-breakers swam at night.

I slowed, drenched in sweat, as we crossed railroad tracks and turned a corner. Cedar Lake came into view, quiet and lit by a gibbous moon. The beach had a sign with a dozen prohibitions, black letters painted on faded white. There was no wind to move the air that smelled of algae and leftover sunscreen. No one else was around.

Jeannie dumped her bike on the sand and tore off her sandals. She ran into the water, splashing her arms, sinking up to her neck. “Oh, God. This is heaven. You’ve got to come in.”

I leaned my bike in a clump of shrubs where no one could see it and made my way to the edge of the lake. I took my sneakers off, tucked my phone inside the left shoe, and waded up to my shins. Jeannie was right. The cool water felt delicious. I splashed my face and looked up at the stars overhead.

“I’m a little fishy,” Jeannie said, her voice dreamy, and I remembered being out there with her, past the buoys that marked the swimming area, in the middle of the lake, floating on my back, looking up at the night sky.

“Pure ecstasy.” Jeannie swam toward me, splashing lake water on my shorts and t-shirt, laughing when I chased her away.

As Jeannie dove under the surface, the lake soft and dark in the summer night, headlights shone on the parkway that ran along the shore. They grew brighter, headed in our direction, an engine rumbling. My pulse raced. Thirty years before, on a night as hot as this one, we’d swum at this same beach after a party that ended before we were ready to go home. Flashlights had swept over the water until the cops found us bobbing, hooting and half-naked and drunk. A stern voice had blared through a bullhorn: “Get out of the water. You’re under arrest for—”

“The night’s not getting any younger,” Jeannie called now when she came up for air.

The car idled on the street, close enough that I could hear the murmur of voices, smell cigarette smoke wafting my way. I waded a little deeper, up to my knees.

“What if someone reports us? If I’m arrested, I’d have to tell the firm.”

Jeannie’s shoulders gleamed pale. “The cops have better things to do in this town. But if I’m wrong and something happens, little fishy Beth, we’ll handle it together.”

The headlights swung off behind a grove of trees, onto a side street where they disappeared.

“See? Everything worked out.”

“They could come back. The sign says ‘No Swimming After Dark.’”

“And the world says no joy for middle-aged women. How long are you going to let the world win?”

The breeze picked up, rustling leaves on giant cottonwoods. Somewhere nearby, a door opened and shut, and a dog barked. In the moonlight, I spotted a pail a child had left, small, metallic, with painted purple daisies. I waded toward it.

“Last chance.” Jeannie plunged underwater again.

I stood in the shallows, holding the pail, waiting for Jeannie to come to shore. Something tickled my ankles then, and I didn’t know if it was Jeannie or the minnows that lived in the lake. My grandmother had nibbled my calves once, over at Lake Nokomis, making me squeal and forget to be scared to swim.

Stars shimmered in flashes of white light and golden and sometimes, for the shortest fraction of a second, the palest blue, the palest pink. I tossed the pail on the beach.

“I’m coming,” I called to Jeannie, “I’m coming,” and dove in.

Kristen Ray’s short fiction has been published by Mystery Tribune, Typehouse Literary, Exposition Review Flash 405, WOW! Women on Writing, and elsewhere. Kristen lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she is working on a novel.

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Every Day Fiction