Short Story Month: “Highlights” – Michael Martone.

This is the first story from Martone’s new career-spanning collection, Double Wide, and one of those pulled from his first collection of stories, Alive and Dead in Indiana, published by Knopf in the Spring of 1984.  It’s a great reflection from a former Olympic swimmer, now working as a dentist.  The title refers to that childrens’ magazine found in every dentist’s waiting room, but also to the best moments of this man’s life – all apparently in the past. 

It’s never made explicitly clear, though – he sits, waiting for a child to come in.  He works mainly with children.  This dentist is thinking about the amazing skill he had in swimming, long ago; the way he was literally thrown into swimming by his father, forced to practice.  Growing up in Bloomington (Indiana, of course) he would watch the other children playing outside.  Bloomington, he informs us, is where Crest did their focus group testing, and we get a connection between watching the pearly-toothed children outside, smiling and laughing – he cannot join them, he has to go practice swimming – and his later post-swimming career choice.

Excerpt:

Could I ever drown?  Could I ever forget that much?  Is it really like breathing?  I am like the cartoon character who has walked over a cliff and hasn’t looked down yet.

I watch all the cartoons on Saturday so I can discuss them with my patients.  To drown would be the only death that would make sense.  The things that makes you, kills you.  The thing that serves you right.  The hunting accident for the hunter.  But I wonder if I could let myself or if the water wouldn’t toss me back.  No, it won’t be the water that I’ll drown in, it will be the swimming.

It’s a great story; lots of nice little details about swimming, a few about dentistry.  Such a good story so early in a career.

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