Ash Martins and Jonathan Ottke

Jonathan Ottke
Inspiration piece

Diving in December
By Ash Martins

Frank smiled as he watched everyone. The log cabin buzzed with energy during winter break. Have you ever seen such a beautiful family? he asked himself.

Bobby and Christine were his by blood, but he was fond of Damon, though he was Francine and Eddie’s kid. The whole lot of them had gotten together all these years for holidays, birthdays, sporting events, dance recitals. Frank knew he was a fuck-up in a lot of ways, but one thing he was sure of: he was a family man.

His heart still swelled a little when he looked at Francine even though they’d been divorced since the kids were in diapers. She was obviously as happy as ever with Eddie and, he was a pretty great guy, Frank thought. No one knew this would be Frank’s last Christmas at the cabin. The illness was advancing quicker now. The doctors gave him six more months. He didn’t want to burden the family, so he kept his diagnosis to himself.

Georgia perched on the arm of his oversized cozy chair in the corner, drawing Frank out of his thoughts momentarily.

“Bobby wants to go skiing after breakfast. How ‘bout it, dad?” He loved that his daughter-in-law called him dad, though he was her in-law.

“Augh,” he grumbled. “I’ll just watch from the veranda. Too damn cold out there.” He spoke gruffly but with a half-smile. Truth be told he didn’t know if his body could handle the exertion.

“Your loss!” Jordan hollered as he ran by in a pair of cartoon-printed footie jammies with his new ski goggles squishing his cherubic face. That damn kid sure is a handful for only being eight. Wonder what he’ll be like at sixteen. Frank mused. Probably as bad as me. Or worse. He chuckled inaudibly. He felt a little bad thinking that way about his great grandson but couldn’t help it. He knew what kind of kid he’d been. The smoking, the drinking, the cars, the girls. Oh, the girls.

Henry came over with a mug of something-spiced-and-spiked, a family tradition at the holidays, and silently held it out to his grandpa, his amber eyes twinkling with a hint of mischief. Henry was notoriously heavy-handed on the “spiked” part of the drink. Frank took it with a nod of gratitude and held the warm mug with both hands to ease his arthritis.

Frank wondered if Henry would ever marry or have kids. He’d been terribly shy growing up, which Frank found odd. He figured the oldest grandkid would’ve been more outgoing, having gotten all the attention for the first two years of his life. Henry and Frank had a special bond, though. They were men of few words, free of flowery speech and platitudes.

That’s part of why Francine left him, as a matter of fact. Said he “couldn’t express himself” or some bullshit. He told her, “When you fight in two big wars, you don’t come home the same man. You don’t talk about your feelings because if you let those demons in, they’ll consume you.” Well, he didn’t say it in so many words. In fact, he said very little. So, she left him for Eddie, whom she’d met at the tennis club while she was recovering from childbirth after their youngest was born. Eddie could, evidently, express his feelings. He never had to hunker down in the trenches, Frank had thought bitterly in the early days of Francine’s second marriage. Eventually his bitterness had faded as life carried on and took Frank along with it.

Christine shouted over the family’s ruckus that breakfast was ready. She was the more organized, responsible one of Frank’s two kids. Bobby was more laid-back. The go-skiing-after-someone-else-cooks-breakfast type. Frank wondered how his kids turned out so damn different. He shrugged the thought away and shuffled to the table, which Ingrid had set beautifully.

Oh, Ingrid. She’d been through some of the hardest trials in life but was still the sweetest soul. Ingrid was Frank’s granddaughter. At only thirty-seven, she’d already lost her spouse to colon cancer, earned her PhD in biochemistry and was blazing trails in her field, and had had two kids, Jordan, and Karina. When Ingrid smiled at you, it was like being warmed by the summer sun after a dip in a cold pool. Frank couldn’t really conjure that description himself; he just knew that’s what it felt like whenever Ingrid smiled because that warmth reminded him of his yesteryears. Yes, Frank’s grandkids were the apples of his eye. Henry was his sit-in-silence buddy, and Ingrid was his bringer of warmth and joy. Though he truly loved the whole family, those two were something special to him.

The table was set with shimmery charger plates and glittery pine cones. Artfully folded cloth napkins looked like flowers lining the table. The oversized river rock fireplace cracked peacefully with a fire some early bird had lit. Probably Christine. Frank sighed happily as he looked around the table. Eddie patted Frank’s shoulder on his way to his seat. Christine brought her spiced fruitcake to the table – her holiday specialty. Ingrid followed with a bowl of fresh fruit and a plate of sausages and sliced ham with cloves. The scrambled eggs were already on the table in a fancy glass dish. Damon popped open champagne for mimosas, and everyone cheered as the cork ricocheted off the chandelier.

Jordan bounced around Ingrid as she set the food down, asking if he could try a mimosa this year. Karina elbowed him playfully.

“Maybe when you’re thirty,” she teased.

She silently eyed her mom and raised her eyebrows hopefully, as if to ask if she could have one, though? Ingrid laughed and said they both were welcome to enjoy some fresh squeezed OJ in fancy glasses, but that champagne wasn’t for developing brains.

“Typical scientist,” the twelve-year-old chortled.

Now that everybody had gathered, they sat. Except Frank. He wanted to propose a toast. He wasn’t much for words, but in this moment, he wanted to tell them how much he loved them and was proud of each of them. There were many things he wanted to say. He placed one hand on his chest and held up his mug of something-spiced-and-spiked with the other. (“Real men don’t drink fruity drinks,” he had always said. Ingrid always gently replied, “That’s malarkey, grandpa. ‘Real men’ drink whatever the hell they like.”) His eyes gathered a single tear. The family looked at him still standing, twinkle in his eyes, slightly surprised by this uncharacteristic show of – well, whatever this was.

Frank’s chest tightened, he assumed with emotion, though he wasn’t terribly well acquainted with that sensation, even at 82.

“Well,” he began. “H-here we are,” he hesitated.

He wasn’t actually sure what to say. He hadn’t planned this. He looked around at each face at the breakfast table, pausing last and longest on sweet Henry’s, then dear Ingrid’s.

In that moment, Frank felt a familiar, happy rush, like he was back at the neighborhood pool of his youth. He felt cold water shock his head and glide down his lithe body as it deftly sliced through the water – he’d been perfecting that dive all god damned summer. He was a favorite for the state competition next school year, his senior year. He rolled in the water playfully like an otter before surfacing for air and popping out onto the poolside. Frank felt the slightest singe on his tender, pink, summer skin as he laid on the scalding cement. As he let himself melt into the pavement, he heard the familiar crashing of a cannonball breaking the water’s surface next to his head, and a few feet away, the high-pitched screech of the lifeguard’s whistle. Some little shit must’ve been running on deck again. Can’t they follow basic directions? The rules never change. Frank rolled his eyes irritably.

But the haze of childhood memories faded as quickly as they had enveloped him, and Frank found himself back in the family’s cabin, only he was lying on the dining room floor. He looked up to see them all leaning over him in a semicircle, their faces filled with shock and fear. Frank realized in that moment that what he had thought was a cannonball was his something-spiced-and-spiked crashing to the floor, the lifeguard’s whistle was Ingrid’s desperate scream, the rushes of cold and warmth were spasms of his failing body.

Henry took Frank’s pulse and wondered aloud, to no one in particular, if he was supposed to start CPR? Eddie rushed to call an ambulance. Ingrid knelt and clasped her grandfather’s hand. There was so much he wanted to say to her but never would. Frank was a man of few words, even until his last breath. He looked dimly into Ingrid’s honey-brown eyes, noticing how unusually large they were, like a harvest moon, and when he felt the warmth begin to wash over him again, he dove into the pool one final time.



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