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THE RULES OF THE LAKE / Irene Ziegler WHEN I DIE, I wish to be cremated and scattered among the speckled fish that swim in Widow Lake. As a child, it seemed I could breathe in that water, like the fish that eluded me, and I felt at home there. I believed I could actually succeed at breathing underwater. I got this notion from visiting Weekie Watchie Springs, where I spent many Saturdays in rapt awe of the mermaids. You stood outside giant glass tanks of emerald-colored water and watched the mermaids gambol among the few weU-fed fish they threw in for atmosphere. When the mermaids needed to breathe, they retrieved what looked like a garden hose from the sandy floor of the tank, curled their sequinned taU fins before them Uke shrimp, and tossed back their heads in an impossible arc to receive into their mouths the elegantly descending hose, held at arm's length high above their heads. As they took in the air, thousands of air bubbles sped upward and exploded somewhere you couldn't see. More than anything, I wanted to be a mermaid at Weekie Watchie Springs. I wanted to wear a sequinned mermaid costume and let my hair flow behind me. I would ignore the spectators who waved at me to pose for their cameras while I scoured for treasure among the furry props placed carefuUy on the white sandy bottom. Only I wanted to actuaUy breathe underwater. I was convinced it could be done, without hoses, without strings or attachments of any kind, and I was determined to figure out how to do it. I decided to ask my mother how she would go about this. She used to perform in "The Human Pyramid" ski show at Cypress Gardens when she first graduated from nursing school back in the '50s. My favorite picture of her was propped up against my father's sport fishing books. It shows two muscular men on skis with a third muscular man standing on their shoulders to form a pyramid. My mother sits with her ankles crossed upon the left shoulder of the muscular man on top. She is wearing a white one-piece bathing suit and a sash Uke beauty queens wear diagonaUy across their upper torsos. My mother's sash reads, "Cypress Gardens." In each hand she holds a triangular red flag that streams behind her. She is looking right into the camera. Her smUe is very big. The Missouri Review ยท 189 Another young woman, not as pretty as my mother, sits on the right shoulder of this same muscular man. She is dressed similarly and holds flags as well. The three men clutch tow Unes and are being drawn across the water by a boat somewhere out of the frame. The five of them were very famous for performing "The Human Pyramid." It was very difficult to do. You had to be in top physical form, and, in the case of my mother and the other young woman, light. Dozens of would-be human pyramid performers were turned away each season. My mother was told she could have her job as long as she stayed under a hundred pounds, but she only did it for two summers. She wanted to be a nurse. I heard splashing and knew where to find her. She swam every morning before breakfast, which was against the rules. My father was strict on the rules of the lake, and one of them was, No Swimming Alone, but I guess she figured she could get away with it as long as she snuck it in before he woke up. I got dressed and walked down to the lake. At the water's edge, my father had constructed a waU of cinder blocks four feet high and running the length of our property. He buUt plank steps in the middle, then filled in behind the whole thing with two tons of sand so that the top of the wall was at ground level. Four telephone poles stuck out of the sand in a square formation, a project my father had begun but abandoned when he started driving a fuel oil truck...


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