Waiting Canals – 6

The park was a long succession of unattended squares of land packed with oak, beech and walnut trees, with narrow and shady paths that connected the street on one side and a docking area on the other side. Walters used to cross the park and sit down on one of the wooden benches at the waterfront, right under the trees, ignoring the passersby along the quay and the boats tied to the dock. He would look at the water, at the ripples endlessly disarranging the surface, the reflection of the sun creating dancing sparkles. He liked the fact that four canals met at this point, at the Cross Pool, creating one of the largest bodies of water in this section of Memphis. One of those four canals was the one that flowed under his balcony, the one that he saw every morning while sipping his coffee. When he didn’t feel like going to other sections of the city, but he still had the urge to dive, he would slip from his balcony into the water and dive to the Cross Pool, where he would wander very close to the bottom, leisurely, with no goal or destination, parting the overgrown algae here and there hoping to discover something memorable that would have been waiting for him.

But there were also those days in which diving wasn’t going to be the answer, the remedy, and he would leave the house and roam in any direction, normally ending up on one of those benches overlooking the Cross Pool. From any of the benches he couldn’t see beyond the opaque surface, one had to stand directly over the water to even see anything within the top three feet.

From the bench, he would survey the water for a while, like a gull flying in circles searching for a fish close to the surface. Eventually, he would concentrate his gaze on a particular spot. It could be where a buoy or a plastic bottle was bobbing in place on the surface, or where a gull had finally descended and poked the water, or where the visible end of a fishing line thrown from the other side of the Cross Pool was silently waiting. Then Walters would close his eyes and dive from that same spot on the surface to the bottom. Only then, when he was under water, was he able to remember with total clarity the last time that he had been down there, he saw again the beer bottle lying on a bed of brown algae, and a school of tiny fish scurrying away, then returning and passing through him. He would move five feet in the direction of the feeble current, and there was the decaying plank of wood. He had carefully turned the plank over and seen a layer of pink eggs attached to the underside. After slowly replacing the plank to the same position in which it had been before, he proceeded towards the closest wall. He knew where it was, even if he couldn’t see it yet. The most interesting findings were always along the walls. His light started to flicker, but with a couple of energetic shakes the flickering stopped. Most waterways were murky, loaded with sediments and even during sunny days he needed to use a light. There were some shallow canals in the touristic sections of the city that were relatively clean and you could effortlessly see the shining green of the wavery algae blanketing the bottom and you could even tell apart the dimes and pennies from the foreign coins. Walters avoided those canals, although in a few occasions, after midnight and with a muffled light, he had, coin after coin, collected a tiny treasure, more emotional than financial: every coin that he placed in his pouch triggered an electric déjà vu that he couldn’t decipher. Later, in one of those occasions, he wrote in his notebook “I cannot remember what it was, although I’m sure that this has happened before [check previous notebooks]. Picking each coin was a fleeting rattling of a door that remained closed but that during that instant could have slammed open.” His entries tended to be succinct and dry, but at that time he felt that the importance of that slippery remembrance required a door as a metaphor, something physical he could obsessed about from then on.

He reached one of the walls at the Cross Pool, mussels and red algae clinging to the bricks and to the thick rope dangling from the nearby boat. Clasping the rope with both hands, he propeled himself to the surface. Walters opened his eyes and saw that the spot where he would have broken the surface was now occupied by a small sail boat with the sail awfully rolled and tied to the mast. Very close to this boat and to the left there was a blue gondola with deep scratches on the sides. Walters closed his eyes again and, from where the gondola bow was, he went directly to the bottom. It was two feet away from the wall and there was a  bike tire, with all the spokes already colonized. Even farther from the wall, a catfish was reposing half buried below algae. Walters got closer to pet it but the catfish waggled sideways, trying to dig itself under the sediment, so he desisted and swam backwards a little. He stayed there, floating in place, studying the catfish stillness, until he noticed a motorboat coming his way. Instead of dropping to the bottom and possibly scaring the catfish he shifted several feet to the left and then descended, swimming for a while without disturbing the sediment but caressing the algae.

He would stop then, and just to evaluate his memory he would go up and emerge while opening his eyes, still on the bench, and yes, he was proudly sure about where that emerging point would have been in the Cross Pool. At some distance, four ducks had landed on the water. Walters would choose one of them and from there plunge to the bottom and indulge once again in the memory of the most irrelevant details.

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