Harold takes one last swim before he and his mother close their summer house. While he swims, he calls for Talley, a young friend of his. They had both been playing in the lake together last spring, but Talley went out too far, and "the lake would not let her return." Her body was never found. Though they were both only twelve years old, Talley and Harold had loved each other with more than a childish love. They had often swum for hours in the lake together, and they had made serious work out of building sand castles. Now, as Harold swims, he calls her name again because without her, a part of his life has died.
The story then moves forward; Harold is twenty-two and is married. He and his wife, Margaret, have taken a honeymoon trip back to his hometown. While standing on the shore of the lake, he sees a lifeguard step out of a boat with a body in his arms. Although it seems impossible, Harold recognizes it immediately as being Talley's. The water has given her back to him after ten long years. She is still young and small, and she still has golden hair. "She will be forever young and I will love her forever," he grieves. He then goes back, walking along the beach to where a strange woman named Margaret waits for him.
"The Lake" is another of the stories which exhibits Bradbury's strong affinity for the carnival. Here he describes the summer's end as if it were nailed into a series of coffins in traditional sideshow fashion. The merry-go-round's music is the wind, and the lake water is like a magician, sawing in half anyone who wades out in it. Water imagery, however, holds the dominant place in this story. When Talley drowns, an integral part of Harold's life is taken away from him. Even as a child, he seeks this life within the lake's waters. Years later, when the lake finally returns Talley to Harold, he pledges his everlasting love for her. At this point, however, the waters are actually destroying the life that Harold has begun with Margaret. The life-giving quality of water is not meant for Harold. The lake has taken his love away from him, returned it, and now he is alone.