After a Long Hard Day at the Office

Ron Karpinski  ©2001


August draws to a close in the foothills of the Swiss Alps.  For several weeks, temperatures have hovered in the high seventies.  Hardly a cloud mars the deep blue sky.

Sailboats of every size and shape zigzag across Lake Zurich, pushed in all directions by the same warm westerly breeze.  Sun-bathers pack into dozens of parks nestled along the grassy shoreline.  Everyone, it seems, is wearing shorts and sandals.

*          *          *          *          *

At half past six, my wife rushes through the front door, eager to begin her evening ritual – a quick swim in the lake.  After a long day at the office, she craves a workout, anxious to burn off some excess energy, in need of release from the pent-up pressures of her corporate environment.

    In a previous life, Irmi might have been a mermaid.  She is a born swimmer, finding solace in any large body of water.  Once among the waves, dragging her out again is a long slow process.  Every half hour she begs, "Oh, just a few minutes more, please."

    Some people are built of more buoyant stuff than others, and Irmi is one of them.  At a mere five-feet-four inches tall and 108 pounds, she does not have an ounce of fat on her body.  Yet, she can simply relax in the water – go limp if you will – and float like a cork.

*          *          *          *          *

    As always, I accompanied my wife on the short walk down to the lake.  From our home in Thalwil, it is a little over a hundred yards down the hill to the ferry dock; there, a wide gravel path runs along the shoreline.  Benches, spaced every fifty yards or so, provide quiet spots upon which to sit and enjoy the activity out on the lake.

    Irmi laid her dry clothes and towel on a bench and stepped into the frigid waters.  Hesitating only slightly, she slipped in up to her neck and pushed off from shore, leaving hardly a ripple in her wake.

    Lake Zurich (a mile-and-a-half across by twenty-two miles long) is fed by Alpine streams.  Those mountain streams are, in turn, fed by melting snows; hence, the water in the lake is crystal clear, but also extremely chilly.  Swimming here is not for the timid.

    Actually, the top six inches of water – as deep as the sun penetrates at this latitude – is comfortably warm.  It is below that depth where the temperature drops dramatically; but a person would have to be pretty buoyant, indeed, to swim in only six inches of water.

    Aside from freezing to death, swimming in Lake Zurich presents few health risks.  While bathers in other parts of the world live in fear of sharks and alligators, no such creatures exist in Central Europe.  Still, there is that Loch Ness monster, lurking somewhere in Scotland, a place with water about as cold as here.

    Some small nagging feeling broke my reverie.  I looked up and scanned the lake for my wife.  She was nowhere to be seen.  Now, where has that woman gone?

    Off in the distance, a tiny object caught my eye.  A good half mile from shore, Irmi moved in smooth powerful thrusts – a modified breast stroke – only her head and neck visible.  Whoosh, . . . whoosh,  . . . whoosh, she pumped out a steady rhythm. 

    Then, my wife of nearly eleven years did a curious thing.  Instead of returning to shore, she angled ninety-degrees to the right and continued swimming parallel to the shoreline.  Soon, she passed from sight beyond the marina and, one could only guess, paddled on toward the upper end of the lake – and the majestic gray Alps in the distance.

    Obviously, no one could swim the entire length of Lake Zurich.  What was this woman thinking?  Over thirty minutes had elapsed, since she began her swim.

    The poor girl must have been delirious, unable to think clearly, half-frozen and suffering from hypothermia.  How much longer could she survive?  Someone should call the authorities.

*          *          *          *          *

    Back on the bench, I took stock of the situation.  Fifty-four is not too terribly old. There might still be time enough to meet someone else, to start over, to build a new life together.  The payoff from Irmi’s life insurance policy would go a long way toward easing the pain, perhaps even pay for that Porsche of my dreams.

    Glancing back at the lake one last time, I prepared for the lonely walk home . . . and the inevitable mountain of paperwork that lay ahead.  But, wait!  What's this?

    Several hundred yards off shore, a strangely-colored duck bobbed among the waves.  With dogged determination, it forged ahead straight for me.  Closer and closer it edged toward shore, until, at last, it became clear that this was no duck at all but rather my late beloved wife, returning from the deep.

   Irmi lives!  We rushed into each other’s arms.  We embraced.  She got me all wet.


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