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The little river is cool, filled with fresh spring water, but the air around it is hot. It's July in Orlando, and the river is filled with mosquitoes and no-see-ums, and people, who turned out in hopes that a tiny, icy spring could protect them from the sticky, relentless humidity of the Florida summer.
Maxe is sitting in a raft with her two brothers, trailing her fingers along in the water. A minnow swims by an begins nibbling on her finger, and she giggles, a bit.
"Maxine!" her mother calls, from the raft behind her. "Maxine, don't do that! You'll fall in and drown!"
"I'll be fine, Mom. I'm not going to fall in. Besides, the water here is too shallow to drown in."
Her mother squirms a bit, but there is no comment she can make, and goes back to talking to Maxe's two young sisters who happen to be in the raft with her.
Maxe just goes back to trailing the fingers in the water as her brothers row, staring down at the minnows, at the frogs and rocks and sand. The bottom of the little river is so pretty, she only wishes that there were less people there with her. Like, maybe how nice it would be if it was just her, all alone, no sisters, no brothers, no parents, and no strangers. Or even how nice it would be if the rafts weren't almost bumper to bumper with fifty other rafts. She turns to look back at the raft her mother, father, and sisters are in.
Jeanine is having a blast, laughing at the minnows, and so is Jennifer. Her father is calmly rowing the raft, and her mother is panicking about something, as usual, and Maxe goes back to simply staring over the edge of her raft, and listening to her brothers argue over something that probably involved war and guns.
Maxe has lost herself in a daydream, something involving mermaids and fish and birds and fairies, when she hears a splash from behind her.
"Max! Max!" her mother is shrieking. "Max, be careful, I'm going to fall in!"
"Marilyn, you're fine," her father reassures her mother.
"Max! I'm falling, I'm falling - "
And then the boat tips and Marilyn falls into the water, dragging six-year-old Jeanine with her.
Marilyn automatically begins shrieking.
"Max! Max! Save me! I'm drowning, I can't swim, I'm going to die! I'm drowning my daughter!"
"I'm drowning my daughter, we're both going to die, I can't swim, save me, Max, save me! Get Jeanine first! You save our daughter, Max! Save her-"
"Save her, she's only six, she's too young to die, Oh, Max-"
"MARILYN! The water only comes to you knees! STAND UP!"
And Marilyn stops screaming, and stands up.
"Yeah, oh. Get over, here, Marilyn. Come on."
Marilyn wades back to the raft, slowly, and Maxe laughs out loud. Surrounding them are tons of families, and they all look over and laugh at this woman who thought she was drowning in barely two feet of water. Maxe leans back, and turns to ask her sister how exactly she would have managed to save their mother, when she can't swim herself.
Jeanine shrugs, looking slightly ashamed, and goes over to her twin, who is laughing relentlessly at the silly antics at her mother and sister, and Maxe goes back to day dreaming.
All too soon, the tiny river comes to an end, and Maxe finds herself stepping out on the dock, and walking barefoot back to the car. She doesn't look back, doesn't think about the little Orlando river, with it's chilly, shallow water, and curious, hungry minnows. After a year or so, she stops thinking about the mermaids, and fairies too, as her thoughts turn to music, and boys. Soon, though, those thoughts, too, are erased and are replaced with what to cook for dinner, with her son's fifteenth birthday, with her daughter's last year of high school.
Maxe no longer laughs about her mother's antics, and instead worries about whether Marilyn will eat that week, or if she will be put back on a drip.
And then, all too suddenly, she finds her self on a raft.
A tiny raft, with her son, and her daughter, and all the other people who had the same idea as them and decided to float down the Ichetucknee river to get away from the slow constant of the Florida summer.
Her children are chattering on about something that she does not understand, and does not care to understand. Something silly, involving the possibility of building something involving deep physics that she doesn't understand (and she's willing to bet her kids don't, either, despite their professed knowledge of everything) out of a hairdryer and a piece of string, and maybe a banana or too, something like that, when she hears a splash, and the shrieking begins.
Maxe laughs, and offers out a hand to help her daughter back into the boat, and Kirsten reaches up for it, grinning, ever so slightly, (this grin is familiar to Maxe, but she doesn't draw her hand back) and, bam, they're all three in the water, Kirsten deciding at the last minute that she wasn't just going to pull her mother out of the boat, she was going to make damn sure that if she was wet, everyone else was, too, and they stand in five foot deep water (this comes up to her and her daughter's chin, but barely hits her son's shoulder, laughing, as the raft drifts down the river, which is actually a river this time.
That evening, when Maxe visits her mother in the nursing home, she tells her about her trip down the river, how Kirsten flipped the raft, and it floated away, and Marilyn laughs, and tell Maxe about the time she went down a river, more like a stream, actually, and fell out of the water, and thought she was drowning, but the water was too shallow...