Arthur had been living six blocks from Lake Michigan for fifteen years of his life, but he has only been up there about five times. Maybe because it was always crowded, or because school cramped his schedule. When he was younger his mother took him to visit grandma Felix on the twelfth floor of the projects on the south side.
While the aroma of pork chops and mashed potatoes wafted throughout her apartment, he liked to sit at the table and stare out of her kitchen window in the corner of the room. From there he could see everything. He saw kids from the other building next to his hang out in the rusted playground below, or play basketball in small the court across the street. Grandma Felix never let him join them because of the shootings that broke out during random times of the day. It frustrated him. He could take care of himself and keep an eye out for suspicious groups or people. When was his grandmother going to see that?
Bored after watching the kids below, he turned his attention to the lake in the distance. Beyond an empty dirt lot ahead of the court, it sat quietly behind other homes, high rises and streets like a predator waiting to take down its prey. Green waves crashed onto the shore, reaching desperately for more land. All it need was one good storm and Chicago would fall to its knees.
Arthur used to wonder what lay on the other side. Was it another city? Or some type of island? Did giant animals like king kong or grape ape live there? He decided that when he’d get older, he would buy a boat and sail across to find out. The thought never lasted long, because whenever his grandmother, a dark stubby woman with gray hair caught him behind the curtains, she would slam a spoon on the stove next to the refrigerator and sink across from him and thump him hard on the head.
“Boy get from in front of that window for you catch a bullet in yo’ eye!” she would yell, resting her hands on her hips, frowning.
He jumped at the chance to join his friends, Darry and Antonio in heading to the beach one warm afternoon in September. He had been sleeping in bed all day and despite numerous calls threatening to “break a leg off in his ass” from school where his father worked, when he got the call to come open his door, he immediately brushed his teeth and got dressed. Arthur could care less about the chores his father set for him.
Fidgeting with their clothes, they leaned against dusty shelves of plants sitting in front of a window in his living room, next to a glass table in the center. Across from them beside a row of couches, Arthur slumped in a leather chair. Darry, a lean boy with braids to his shoulders, clasped his hands together and sighed. “What about Foster beach? That’s not too expensive.”
“It’s far as hell though,” Antonio frowned, digging into his ear. “What’s wrong with the beach close to here?”
“Unless you wanna’ see a bunch of wrinkly old women with saggy tits in bikinis and bathing suits, I say we find another place to go.”
“What about downtown?” asked Arthur.
The sound of a ringing phone interrupted his friends’ response. He reached for it on the glass table in front of him. It was his father.
“Why the hell ain’t you out the bed?” his father’s deep voice shouted over the loud ringing of school bells and telephones when he picked it up. He wanted to strangle his son. He had been trying to reach him all day. It was bad enough he had to deal with a bunch of hard-headed elementary students, but own his son’s disobedience was crossing the line. “You know you got work to do in that house and I swear, if it ain’t done before I get home, I’m takin’ my foot and—“
Arthur rolled his eyes in agitation, removing the phone from his ear while his father bellowed. Whatever. He wasn’t trying to hear anything about chores and wasn’t about to do anything.
His friends slapped their knees, snickered to themselves.
“Do you hear me boy?!”
“Then get to it.” He hung up.
Antonio took a seat across from him. “Yo’ pops sounded pissed. You sure you hang out with us?”
He nodded, deciding not to tell his friends about his chores. He rarely got opportunities to go outside with them and was determined not to let this chance pass him by.
“Cool, ‘cause I think we should go the North Avenue beach. It’s not expensive, like Foster, and it’s close.” Said Darry
“All good to me,” he said.
The summer heat burned their skin and dried up their sweat, sucking all the air from Arthurs’s chest as they entered. The sour smell of fish assaulted their noses, wrinkling and tightening their faces like they were sucking on a lemon. On the sand, elderly couple relaxed under the shade of an umbrella, tiny kids made castles with their parents. Others played games in the lake, with a Frisbee or volleyball. They found an empty spot off the beach on a small hill next a concrete dock. Antonio pointed to the murky waters ahead of them.
“Let’s hop in the lake!”
“In that sewer water? Out yo’ damn mind.” Darry frowned.
“I’ll pass to.”
His friend ignored them and was halfway out of his clothes before they finish their sentences. They could be punks if they wanted, but nothing was going stop him from having fun.
“You guys go look for yo’ balls and when you find them I’ll see you in the water.”
They watched him race back down and dive in. A powerful waves of water suddenly rose, knocking him off his feet before tossing him back on shore like a rag doll. They found it hilarious. Soon Darry was next to throw off his clothes and join Antonio in getting attacked by the lake. It amused Arthur to see his friends get flipped and buried by the relentless waves as it continued its onslaught. He was almost inspired to jump in with them. Instead, he decided to stay and keep watch over their clothes. He would join them when they came back.
“H-holy hell that’s cold,” Darry stuttered, tottering back over to his friend to collect his clothes.
“Lucky you ain’t got a third ear growin’ from yo’ forehead.” He joked, nudging his friend. He ignored him. Antonio was next to return.
“I found a ring,” he shouted, spitting water from his lips. “Come check it out!”
He had a difficult time walking through the sand with his shoes on. Every step he took send sand into his sneakers and socks as his friend led into along the shore line. He then pointed to something glittering in the sand.
“Check it out” his friend.
Arthur inched closer, bending on a knee and squinting. Wiping sand away from it, he realized that it was only a gum wrapper, but before he could speak, his friends were already carrying him into the lake, shouting and laughing at the top of their lungs. He struggled, punched and kicked as hard as he could, but they had a firm grip on him. Then with a sudden jerk of their arms, ice cold water rushed into his ears, eyes and past his clothes, drowning out the loud cries of laughter from various families. Gotta get back to shore.
Choking and struggling to his feet, another wave pulled him back into the water before throwing him onto the sand.
“We got his ass!” Darry clutched his ribs, tears in his eyes.
Arthur could’ve punched him.