had we world and time
Anna always used to think of swimming as an escape. When she was thirteen she won a medal for her breast stroke. But now the sea reminds her of nothing so much as death.
had I made it home in time
Charlie had extended the business trip to Chicago for an extra day. To spend time with Helen, selfish of course, and he would always have to live with that. Anna could spend an extra day at the beach house with the boy, swimming and playing in the sand. It seemed innocent enough at the time.
had I put it to an an end
In his professional life, Charlie was never a second-guesser. You made a deal and you followed the path you chose. If it was a mistake you tried to correct it, learned from it, and moved on. You drew a sharp line between the past and the present. But he had an orphan’s sense of guilt in his personal life, and he couldn’t avoid swimming in contradictory regrets when it came to the mistakes he made in love and family matters.
had we a different hand
Fate might be the last refuge of all broken people. You can convince yourself, if you try hard enough, that it was not your fault that the boy chose to go swimming at that precise moment, that you had no control over the movement of the water, the sudden shifts of the tides, the undertow, the negligent lifeguard, your own distraction. Cosmic forces are at work, grinding us down to slivers of bone, to shadows.
had we some way out of this
There are limits to Johnnie’s self-destructive impulses. Whatever he is doing is slower and less permanent than suicide. There is always the possibility of an escape or a phoenix-like rebirth. He is not completely lost, but he is swimming in waking dreams of fire, not quite hell but close enough.
had the play not come to an end
Helen and Charlie were still young and their lives were uncomplicated. Driving through New York State for a weekend at Niagara Falls, taking country roads. She wanted to go swimming. An idyllic lake, no one else around. Somewhere west of Syracuse. Strawberries they bought from a roadside stand. Birthday suits and playful splashing around. The sun warming droplets on her pelvis. Just watching her lying nude on the shore, her ribcage rising and falling. He thinks of it still, that afternoon that should have gone on forever.
had the change not come
You can’t rely on some eighteen year-old boy raging with hormones sitting in a tower on a beach filled with seventeen year-old girls sunning themselves at his feet, untying tops, applying lotions, calling out to him for the time of day or with information about parties in which fires will burn on the beach and light beer will be drunk from kegs, to notice a four year-old boy swimming off into nothingness. You can’t rely on such boys to save the life of your child from the suddenly angry sea.
had the before not have been so long
Sometimes a storm from the day before, two hundred miles out, will lift up the waves and come crashing down on any who happen to be swimming, the undertow powerful enough everything back to out to sea.
had we not work to do
While Kent was never particularly wanted and certainly not needed at a work site, he loved to be there when the big yellow machines, bulldozers, cranes, and power shovels were at work. Any excuse to put on a yellow hard hat and look over unrolled blueprints with the smell of diesel fuel in the air, swimming in childhood nostalgia and the feeling of being a grown boy among men.
had the men not been so mean
Johnnie is unusually attracted to anything to do with fire, bonfires and torch-dancers, fire-eaters and oil refineries, lighter fluid and charcoal briquettes, wildfires and roasting chestnuts and automobile accidents on the interstate. Pulled towards and repulsed, something primal within him, swimming in adrenaline.