Drowning Lessons

Drowning Lessons

PETER SELGIN
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46n553
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  • Book Info
    Drowning Lessons
    Book Description:

    The stories in Drowning Lessons engage water as both a vital and a potentially hazardous presence in our lives. "You can touch water," says Peter Selgin, "you can taste it and feel its temperature, you can even hold it in your hands. Still it remains elusive, ill-defined, shaped only by what surrounds or contains it." With empathy and wit Selgin introduces us to characters navigating the choppy waters of human relationships. In "Swimming" an avid swimmer fights the stasis in his marriage by prodding his out-of-shape but contented wife to take up the sport--with near-disastrous results. A pond is the setting of "The Wolf House," which tells of the reunion and dissolution of a group of high school friends brought together for a funeral. "The Sinking Ship Man" chronicles a day in the life of an African American caretaker in charge of the only remaining survivor of the Titanic disaster. In "El Malecón" a toothless old Dominican tries to recapture his lost dignity by "borrowing" a shiny Cadillac convertible and aiming it down the coastal highway toward his childhood village. In "The Sea Cure" two travelers in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula confront death in the form of a mysterious woman living in an abandoned beachfront apartment complex. In all thirteen tales in Drowning Lessons, Selgin exhibits a keen eye for the forces that push people toward--and sometimes beyond--their very human limits, forces as intrinsic, elemental, and elusive as the liquid that makes up two-thirds of their bodies. These stories remind us that of all bodies of water, none is deeper or more dangerous than our own.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3969-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. SWIMMING
    (pp. 1-19)

    HE PLACED THE OARS in their locks and the floating seat cushion on the backseat. He wrapped his goggles in the towel and dropped it between the forward seat and the bow, where the aluminum hull was dry. He pushed against the bow and felt the stern go buoyant as it splashed into the lake. When the prow touched water he gave a last shove, then climbed in and began rowing, eager to get to the float, his private place.

    The water, except where he defiled it with the oars (and where insects frayed across its surface, making fern patterns),...

  4. THE WOLF HOUSE
    (pp. 20-40)

    THAT SUNDAY MORNING when I told her, “Mrs. Wolff is dead,” my mother groaned, cocked her head, pursed her lips, and said, in a voice barely loud enough to hear, “Che peccato.” The next day she lay in her bed, sick, calling to me in her Death Voice, “Alberto? Albert? Sei tu, Alberto?”

    Of course it was me; who else would it be? Not Geordie, my twin, who preaches in Vermont. I stood at her bedroom door, like I’ve always stood there, like I’ve stood there my whole life, helpless. But this time I did something different. “That’s it,” I...

  5. COLOR OF THE SEA
    (pp. 41-63)

    At one forty-five in the morning, the sky, the sea, and the horizon were all the same greasy black. Andrew Shields lay stretched out on a life-preserver casing, smoking a Lucky Strike, the diesel-tossed wind curling his hair, the ferry’s engines throbbing below him.

    Other passengers slept indoors, on stiff chairs, on carpet stained by sea salt and cigarette ashes, in sleeping bags, their clothes rolled up into pillows. Andrew felt separate from them all, as if he belonged to another landscape, a world belonging to the stars and the sea.

    The Brazilian woman—Karina was her name—slept below...

  6. DRIVING PICASSO
    (pp. 64-87)

    PICASSO CANNOT DRIVE. He finds cars too amusing. I chauffeur him in a lagoon blue open-roofed ’37 Fiat Topolino “transformabile” (two passenger, four-cylinder, top speed fifty-five miles per hour). From the sinkholes and mudslides of an unusually wet Hollywood, we make our way south, more or less, toward the Colombian Andes with their terrifying switchbacks (which my boss won’t find terrifying; switchbacks amuse him, too).

    The year is 1952. I am thirty-two years old and already convinced that I have botched my life. The ad in Variety said, “Artist seeks driver for journey of unspecified duration. Should be fresh faced...

  7. SAWDUST
    (pp. 88-99)

    MR. BULFAMANTE SMELLED like oil of wintergreen. I swear he greased back his gray curls with the stuff. He had a chunky head and cauliflower ears and carried a ball-peen hammer everywhere, as if it were the key to unlock his days. That hammer: a dainty object of brass, so small it disappeared inside his fist. He’d been a boxer in the French navy, he said, and carried his shoulders scrunched high, as if warding off imaginary blows to his ears.

    On weekends starting the summer before my junior year of high school and continuing through winter break, I worked...

  8. OUR CUPS ARE BOTTOMLESS
    (pp. 100-112)

    HE ROSE, SHOWERED, SHAVED, put in his bridge.

    He dressed in corduroy and plaid. He went into the kitchen. He saw the papers arranged across the kitchen table, in the shadow of the strongbox. He stood at the sink, dampened some rags, and went into the garage.

    He heard a rustling sound coming from a pile of dead leaves under some old tires. He imagined a squirrel. He rolled the rags into tubes and shoved them into the crack under the garage door. He took the large red can of gasoline that supplied the lawn mower and topped off the...

  9. THE GIRL IN THE STORY
    (pp. 113-132)

    I’D BEEN AWAY over nine months, in the Pacific Northwest, doing nothing important, nothing you need to know about. When the winter rains began, after a long dry Indian summer, I hurried back home to B—, a small town near Hartford, Connecticut, to reunite myself with Claudette. Too late. I arrived in time to watch her unpack two bags full of groceries, none for me. Among other items, a box of Trix cereal and a deli container of something called ambrosia—made with miniature marshmallows and coconut flakes. I thought, Uh-oh. In the bathroom, Claudette had put away my...

  10. THE SEA CURE
    (pp. 133-153)

    SHE WAS THE LAST PERSON off the bus. Clarke stood across the street in the zocalo, watching it unload its cargo of brown-skinned passengers, when she appeared, wearing a flowing dress of pale parchment-colored fabric. Except for the tops of her feet, suntanned between the straps of her white sandals, and her shoulders (visible through a scrim of blonde hair and likewise suntanned), her skin was very pale, as pale as her dress: as pale as the sand Clarke had slept on during the night.

    She opened a small parasol that also matched her dress and stepped into the pall...

  11. WEDNESDAY AT THE BAGEL SHOP
    (pp. 154-166)

    IT’S NOT LIKE ME to wait for people. Ten minutes, okay maybe fifteen. A half hour tops. Any person more unreliable than that isn’t worth waiting for. But for you I’m willing to make an exception.

    One reason, of course, is that I realize it takes you at lot longer to get from one place to another than, you know, the average person. The four blocks from your apartment building to the bagel shop, which would take, you know, a healthy person maybe five, six minutes, would take you at least twenty-five. At least . . .

    Not that you’re...

  12. EL MALECÓN
    (pp. 167-179)

    THE CAR VIVA COLÓN “borrowed” was a late-model Cadillac convertible, the paint of which had faded to a blue paler than that of the sky. He had been walking to his brother-in-law’s yuga de cana stand where he worked, when, stopping to rest against the trunk of a date palm, he noticed the car parked in its shade, and the set of keys gleaming on its red-leather-upholstered driver’s seat. The car was parked about a mile from the bank of the river where Viva lived in a rusty tin shack. His brother-in-law’s red and yellow sugar-cane-juice stand was another two...

  13. BOY B
    (pp. 180-200)

    MY TWIN BROTHER does not look like someone who recently attempted suicide. He stands by the nurse’s station, trim, suntanned, smiling, the muscles of his cyclist’s arms bulging from the sleeves of his canary madras shirt. With his sandals and his gym bag slung by a strap from his shoulder, he looks as if he’s just wrapped up a two-week stint at Club Med.

    “How are you?” he asks shaking my hand, his grip strong and assured as ever, the grip of a college dean greeting freshmen on orientation day. As always, Lloyd’s handsome face comes as a bit of...

  14. THE SINKING SHIP MAN
    (pp. 201-210)

    MY NAME IS Mabeline Noonday Sanford Thurston (not my real name, but it will have to do), and my family tree is so old it has vines growing up it. But we’re not here to talk about my family tree, ripe with the fruits of slavery and suffering though it surely is. Though the particular fruit that’s me rolled far away when it fell, north to New York City, where it became a different kind of slave-fruit, the slave-fruit of a sinking ship man.

    But I’m not about to discuss me. Nossir. Never talk about yourself if you don’t have...

  15. MY SEARCH FOR RED AND GRAY WIDE-STRIPED PAJAMAS
    (pp. 211-234)

    SINCE COMING TO New York two years ago, I’ve suffered from fainting spells. I’ll be standing somewhere, doing nothing, minding my own business—at a street crossing or an intersection, somewhere where a decision has to be made. The first time it happened, I froze at the corner of Fifth and Forty-second, near the public library. I must have been blocking the crosswalk. People kept jostling me, cursing under their breaths. My back broke into a sweat. The moisture crept down my spine to gather at the waistband of my undershorts. My white shirt, the only dress shirt in my...

  16. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 235-235)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 236-237)