Wednesday’s Words/Fiction: Ernest Makes a Splash

Ernest was a man who got things right. He knew this for certain when at work because he was told so often. He managed a grocery store that had finally found its sweet spot within the hierarchy of holistic grocers. That was his word–“holistic”–as opposed to “natural” or “locally sourced and served” or any number of other words and phrases that somehow didn’t quite meet the innermost desires of customers. In his humble opinion. But “Hale’s Holistic Marketplace” was now its name (no longer Hale’s Good Foods) and since the revamp of appearance, pricing and image, optimistic stats were booming.

How was Marv, the CEO, to have foreseen that this unassuming man, barely hitting the five foot eight mark and weighing in at maybe 150 pounds (if Marv was a casual betting man) could turn things around way under a year? There was a compact quality suggesting deeper strength and energy, but it was metered out just so. A fastidious man, he guessed. The guy had steadily climbed the rungs of  the food business, then suddenly pushed his ideas on a store manager. That was four years ago and HHM  had taken over a niche that caters to those with highbrow leanings, perhaps even instincts, but won’t admit to it. The added corner bookstore/ lending library was a hit, for example, because their consumers were a literary–academic, even– type. This meant that soon to follow were paper products and writing utensils, then intricate, bold maps (why did they love maps so much, he didn’t know) and so on, Marv had lost track but they sold.

The guy now at a helm was a genius at marketing as well as overseeing the latest store. No one disagreed. But not everyone liked him; some sneered when they saw him coming but smiled over their judgments. Ernest was a stickler for details, unerring and demanding. He had some patience and tolerance for others–he was not unkind –but it didn’t show well, as he tended toward a poker face. This was a feature developed after childhood when his mother constantly told her smart, string bean of a boy to not be such a crybaby, life was rough so toughen up. He found hiding feelings was half the battle at repelling taunts–especially after he became a fine swimmer. One could not see emotions when submerged in the water. He became a smooth muscled, aquatic creature, fast and adept and best of all, free. Cheering crowds made no difference; he had found his physical element and it complemented his intellect.

The swimming pool still did the trick. If work grievously rattled him or his wife, Lynette, got on his nerves too much, he was in the water for a good hour. That’s what he told her–“Time to refresh and keep my physique in good shape”–when she complained he was gone too much. The lap pool welcomed him every time; the forgiving water flowed about him, a shield of light-filled mystery and power, and he was made stronger with each stroke. Lynette, on the other hand, had tried it three times with him and failed to see the value, much less joy in it. The chlorine, the chilly depths, the need for goggles since she wore contacts. She stank of chlorine for days and her fine hair rebelled. Let him have it, she was meant for mostly sunbathing by their own tidy pool. Oh yes, they had a pool, now, but he could not swim real laps or execute a good dive there, so he left backyard indulgences to her and Sammy, their preteen daughter.

He thought he had done well so far in life. He made good money now and Lynette was happier than the first ten years of marriage. But it didn’t stop her from finding fault. Daily. That he wore bow ties when getting dressed up; the tiny limp he retained from an old hiking fall; his rumination over this and that, quietly to himself; his unfortunate choices of jewelry for her gifts and his lack of insight into Sammy’s moods. His smartness surely rivaled hers and sometimes they sparred for the wit of it, but it could cross a line. It could get dangerous, words like swords.

His size always vexed her–she was two inches taller. He thought she was attracted to him so she could diminish him further by saying he was a “tidy guy” or a “cute shrimp” yet give her a sense of more control, as well. When she pulled herself to her full height, he thought of a giraffe and smiled as one might at such a curious creature. But he thought her rather sexy, anyway, though who would know it lately.

“My Queen, forgive my stature but adore my income,” he would say when really aggravated by her demeaning way, and peck her hand. It was not kind, no, but he did have his limit.

“Be a proper man, stand taller as if you mean it, Ernest, you are such a slouch sometimes,” she insisted and swiped at his head with her palm as if he was truly her subject. Whereby he’d back away, out of the room, head bowed. As he turned to go, he would throw her a scowl, a fierce look, a warning (though of what, really?– just a look)–she couldn’t mistake that feeling in any case.

If anyone at work saw this they would have a field day. Even Sammy waffled between sniggering and looking away, embarrassed for them both. Ernest and Lynette had had better days when younger, living simpler with few worries. They had not mellowed; they had soured.

He would leave for the pool if it was finally enough. It often was more than enough. What else did she want of him?

What was it that made him happy besides monetary success and being right and swimming? So little else.


“I hear you swim,” she said as she stirred creamer into her mug of coffee.

Ernest looked up from his own steaming, bitter mug-full of caffeine.

She added more vanilla-caramel to sweeten it up and as she did so, she pinned back a sweep of glossy hair with her other hand. To keep it from falling in, it was that long and swingy.

“Well,” he said, surprised, and paused, torn between his agenda and this unknown factor.

“I do, too, used to competitively dive, for one thing.” She laughed lightly. “Okay, years ago. But I still do what I love to do.”

“Oh, I see, nice,” he said and started off.

“Where do you go? I’m new in the area.”

He slurped a little, then studied her as she stirred away, eyes on pecan cookies left from a meeting. She snatched one up and dipped it in her coffee.

“There are several good pools, depending upon where you live.”

“I’m just down the street, Premiere Apartments.” She raised her eyebrows at this as everyone knew they were at best mid-grade. One would rather avoid those long-term. “Just for awhile, we’ll see how this works out.”

“This?” he asked as they left the break room.

“Sorry, I assumed you knew…I’m Celeste, an unemployed accountant who is the new cashier?” She held out her hand, cookie already gone. “Remember? I know who you are, of course.”

“Ernest, yes, and welcome.” He shook her hand briefly and she smiled at him again; he thought she had remarkably large front teeth but the smile was downright dazzling. Great for cashiering. He guessed he did recall her but he had met many over the past year.

Dazzling, he thought as he shook her hand. As he walked back to his office, he mused further. A strange thing to think in the middle of the day at work  after talking with a new diver. Uh, cashier.


They nodded at each other each morning. At times they passed each other in the aisles and smiled if so inclined. They shared a cup of coffee once more the first month. Some mornings she was not there due to her schedule–he might think of it by lunch time when he vaguely wondered if she’d had a break. He heard nothing but good reports, saw good results. Everyone liked her that was clear, both men and women chatted away with her, both customers or employees.

Ernest once had to pull her aside.

“Mustn’t get too chummy, mind on work, keep the pace brisk, not everything is about personal relations.”

Her pronounced cheeks colored the slightest bit as she turned back to her cash register.”Yes, sir,” she agreed amiably but she was quieter, at least when he appeared.

He felt he might have made her commitment to the store more tenuous by criticizing too soon, so beckoned to her when she was on the way back from the restroom. “You are doing very well, Celeste, keep up the great attitude.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said and hurried on, as if she was only too clear he was the Boss now..

Well, so be it. But he’d  been about to say she could have a day shift exclusively if she kept it up. he heard she was taking classes somewhere and wondered if the change would help. He didn’t mention it; let her seek a change if needed, that was best.

All was well at Hale’s Holistic Marketplace, and made better by her being there everyone said. he was about to get a decent raise; he was feeling generous and was about to recommend a couple, too.


Water, the water. He slipped into the deep end without a sound and  initial strokes powered him to pool’s center. Slip and slice, rocket through with quiet ease. His lungs were strong and heart steady. His eyes saw legs and feet and hands and arms of others who came for exercise, relief, fun. The color–a rich but soft turquoise, wasn’t this the true and correct color for a pool?–unbound him as well. He felt the sun’s caress although light was primarily overhead lights; he heard the wind in treetops if he pretended long enough. He was entirely himself.

Ernest had lived at a lake for a time before finally marrying Lynette, and if he closed his eyes and floated on his back he was there again. There he was truly liberated from constraint and self-consciousness for the first time, and then various swimming pools were in his life. He was a lucky man to have had them all.

He propelled himself upward and then dove again, slipping through sinuous flow, resistance enough upon his skin to make him work a bit as he sped up. And then–he never imagined or saw it coming– there erupted an explosion beyond his fingertips, wavelets of color with sounds that engulfed him. Someone had dived in, regardless of his presence–though underwater, of course–and forceful bubbles escaped a mouth, legs stirred up the turquoise to a fizzier green-blue.

Before he broke the surface there was a glimpse of a one piece coral suit but then in it was Celeste, her taut, lithe form racing toward air as if to beat him at it. He broke first.

But she didn’t see him, or if she did, she was far more intent on diving. She climbed up, over the edge in one swift movement and strode to the high dive board and walked out like a champ, steely nerves and clear head. He side stroked to the pool edge and watched, hoping to be invisible. Such an elegant form as she bounced once, shoulders and arms clean of line and potent of muscle and legs, too, how all of that moved as she sprang into steamy air. Over and over, a double flip, a clean entry into waiting water and then a quick swim to the edge. And back to the board.  

Mesmerized, he forgot about swimming. An amnesia took him from being too little of this and that and the almighty paycheck and residual emptiness and it was just water and her dives and a stillness he felt, an increasing vibration of stillness that somehow moved him as he hadn’t been moved in too long. Celeste and her diving were extraordinary, he saw this in entirety. It was like being awakened from a habit of common thoughts and the dullard of sighing days, then pulled though another dimension where water ruled and Celeste was this creature beyond all others. At least, here. Now.

He put his whole head in the water, resurfaced, shook it hard, got out and went to the roped off lanes to begin necessary laps. He stayed at it long enough that he thought she’d be gone and he’d stop envisioning her dives. Until he rested finally, breathless and wrung out by the cement edge. It was late. Few swimmers were left as it was dinner time. Celeste stared right at him from the distant end, then was gone, too. The last of the light shimmied and skidded across the water and put itself out.


The next day, they didn’t see each other. The following days if happenstance brought their steps toward one another they only nodded, as if nothing had happened. He surmised nothing had, yet he felt as if it had. Yet work was work; swimming was swimming. No one else thought anything was different, and when he looked in the mirror he was the same moderately nice fellow who was short but trim, and smart but not blazingly so, he knew that, and he was lucky to have what he had. But there was something…as if he saw things more clearly, and yet exactly what was it he saw?

This question drove him a little mad–as if a well known picture had been altered, but what and where was the slight mark that had changed all? There was the nagging mystery of it, a puzzle. He kept on with all he knew well and studied it less as the days rolled or lurched by. Lynette only glanced at him a couple of times, as if he said something but she didn’t quite catch and wondered what he meant to say. But he was circumspect as ever. And he never asked her what it was that rippled over her face; she didn’t bother further. he lay in bed listening to her gentle snore and thought she was good at heart but her heart wasn’t really even in this. His was still. But barely, his loyalty and hope the few leaves hanging on a low branch; a gust might do it all in.

Near misses, all.

But there was the pool.


Three times a week, that’s how often he swam laps, when she almost exclusively dove. Some days they came in at different times due to her shifts; some weeks they saw each other once or twice. That is, they spotted each other and almost imperceptibly nodded–and watched one another on occasion as they shared brief performances. Eyes sliding toward the far-off form. They were each expert at what they did so others offered appreciation and wide berth. Ernest was a master of stamina, nuance and fluid rhythms. Celeste was a bolt of lightning, a dancer in midair. Everyone knew their names. Yet the two did not cross paths unless there came a flurry of movement underwater and there–it was her, it was him–closer for a passing moment. No words, no touch.

It was, after all, swimming and diving, water slipping about them and empowering them, transforming a mundane day into eternity, and a blessing. They made the most of it. Their movements meant something, but they couldn’t say exactly what part of a bigger scheme, meanings both nebulous and full of heft and beauty. They awakened in the pool, then gave over to the clarifying brilliance of water. And were happy and no longer alone in their happiness. But they always came and left alone.

Ernest began to chat with people at work, to loosen up a fraction and found he was willing to forgive some wrongness of things from time to time. Then Marv out of the blue sent him a memo: “Remember the bottom line, keep high the bar with your expertise.” It shook up Ernest–had he been failing?– but momentarily. He kept to tasks at hand and learned to relax without slipping up. Others gossiped some about it. He, oddly, had started whistling and caught himself just a bar or so in usually. Celeste heard him but denied it to the others as they snickered, and she just smiled to herself, never veering from the rhythm of her job.

Celeste was working more hours, taking another class and still looking for an accounting job; she wanted more in a life. They worked together, one might run into the other in the break room, and then a briefly shared cup and chatter about ordinary things. He had the family, such busyness, and his good stressful job and there were many little things that made things interesting. They parted as people might who worked together but unequally, each being congenial and going on without a backward glance. They kept their thoughts cool and calm and no one else was allowed access to their knowledge.

The pool never came up; that was the other life they led.

When they swam they were aquatic people, a wilder, finer breed. They moved together, though parallel, within different aspects of water’s identity and embraces. It worked perfectly. And for Ernest, that was excellent enough. For Celeste, it was evidence of an alternate reality of pure love.

Saving Graces: One Kid’s Summers in a City Park


The modest one piece swimsuit was made like a tiny sheath of stretch terry. The narrow blue and green stripes appealed to me, colors of leaves and grass, sky and water. I regarded the new clothing article as if a challenge to conquer; it looked fine but would I fit right in it? White washed walls and cement floors of the large locker room reflected waves of laughter and talk. Pleasant in a sharply familiar way, a scent of chlorine infused the air and would soon overtake our skin, hair and suits. The rooms were jammed with bustling children, morphing clots of girls and varieties of adult women. The latter group methodically corralled or instructed their charges or worked their swimsuits over winter-and-spring-pale forms.

I yanked mine up and over twelve year old awkwardness. Grabbed my well-used towel. Then strode around a curved wall, through a door-less opening into the bright, chaotic, beautiful scene of Central Park Public Pool. It was like entering a broad and deep open air stage. I  wanted to find, then claim a place on it. It was that strange summer after elementary school and before junior high school. The in-between time.

I felt as if I stood on a precipice. Of course, the sneaky onset of adolescence had already begun; continuous movement forward felt rocky. Also more obvious to others. I was beginning to look different. But what baffled me was that I felt rather unlike myself. I was of two minds about it, at least. On one hand, it was perhaps overrated. The social and emotional lurching about was uncomfortable and at times embarrassing, a new experience. Other moments it felt irrelevant in the larger spectrum of life experiences. Why all the fuss? We grew bigger like every creature, no choice in that. I was largely unimpressed with this while more attracted to more learning and creating things. The arts, exploring the outdoors and athletics, invigorating my brain and enjoying the company of those who shared my interests: this was what felt right. Yes, I was a child on the way to maturity technically, but I did know what I liked. This wouldn’t appreciably change–would it? I felt like the same person, overall, but suddenly less secure in new scenarios. Even old ones, like the swimming pool in summer. It was as if I was slightly off-balance when before I had a solid foothold.

The problem was, there appeared to be curious new expectations. I wasn’t sure what they were, only that they existed. They were discernible in the teens I passed at the pool. The open or closed looks thrown my way or a total ignoring of my presence. Eyes travelling up and down my somewhat curvier yet still shorter length (when would that change?). Every face seemed to hold a question: who was I; how old was I; was I cool or not cool; who there knew me and what junior high was I attending in the fall? Some called out or I recognized them, a relief beyond measure. It was smarter to go to the pool accompanied by friends.

Someone said sooner or later, “Oh, hi, you’re a Guenther, the musical family–I know your dad (or mom, brothers, sisters).” Ours was a public family, in large part due to our father. He was well known in our Midwest town of about 29,000 in1962. I was used to being identified simply as one of that clan–not exactly what I was aiming for as I got older. Like all youth, I longed for my own unique moniker, a separate identity–eventually.

As I perused the pool’s areas, I became acutely aware that I was, well, walking. Leg joints and shoulder and back muscles and tendons tightened as if in a vise. I wasn’t clear why. I was usually in control of my limbs. Walking by the boys sunbathing or engaged in random hilarity and shoving matches on wild beach towels, I could barely nod. It was a tad easier passing clumps of girls as they lounged in changeable, eye catching poses to show off swimsuits and tans, whispering in each others’ ears. Well, that looked boring and silly. Some I knew from my elementary school and neighborhood. Others I recognized from arts’ or academic events  we’d participated in over the years. Some were a curious unknown. But I had coping skills: smile at everyone, nod or say “hi”, and stand tall with head up. The “head up” part was one of my mother’s mantras (“Chin up; hold your head up no matter what”) and it was second nature by then.

But seeing them well and clearly was, in fact, my first challenge of the day. I suffered from significant myopia and had worn glasses for near-sightedness since age seven. These were banned when in the pool, sensibly. One couldn’t see with water on lenses and the glass was a safety hazard. This was long before prescription swim goggles. (It would be two more years before I would be fitted for a first pair of revolutionary hard contact lenses, which I would learn to wear underwater by squeezing my eyes shut, then squinting the rest of the time.) So when I walked out into this public place I moved in a perpetual haze of diffuse light and shadowy forms, and among human identities that felt tricky to acknowledge.

I had by then learned to recognize faces by committing to memory what were previously clear features, shapes and colorations. Voices told me a great deal. If all else failed, I just walked close enough for friends and neighbors to move from blurry to clearer focus, as a camera brought things to the sharper fore. I could get an assist from them as needed, my name called out or a directive to head this way or that. But I wasn’t so self-conscious about it and had only occasional trouble navigating. Besides, unless I was there specifically to join friends, I was there first to enjoy swimming. Or, more to the point, to dive. All this I did by sensing my way about, by trial and error.

There was a high diving board and a low diving board. The way to start off swimming was to leap from the high board, splash into the fenced-off, deep water diving area, and come up gasping. After arriving at the top of the steps, I paused a moment at the start of the board. Assured myself it wasn’t so far down, then walked fast along its flexible length, made one strong bounce. Jumped. The trip down was always faster than planned and the cool shock of the water better than anticipated. The low diving board was better, as I didn’t think twice about the distance from board to pool’s surface. For a couple of years I’d been practicing swan dives, jackknifes, and somersaults, and hoped to try flips. There was also a straightforward plunging forth, making a slim sheath of my body so as to shoot out and rapidly descend, then slice through that welcoming turquoise expanse. Exhilaration! I was happy, confident on the diving boards, perhaps more so than just in a more crowded aqueous expanse. (I hadn’t learned to float well but I had a strong side and breast stroke and enjoyed laps as well as just swimming about.) After I burst through the surface, blinked with eyes stinging, I swam back to try it again. Someone shouted my name. I waved gaily, not sure who it was until the person swam to the diving platform and stood closer. But no matter; summer was big, bright, voluptuously so. All was well enough.

The evening swim periods were magical. As the twilight gained depth I felt increasingly at ease, relaxed, half-stealthy in the low light. Less apt to draw any attention. The lights in the pool lit up rich blue walls and floors, and darkness enveloped us, sky opened to mysteries above. I floated and dove and slipped swiftly through the deep, entered a world of silent, seemingly mystical properties beneath the known surface. Life felt even more intense. Peculiar and lovely.

The acreage of Central Park was like a second home for me and hundreds of others. That summer perhaps more than usual as I plotted my way through the contradictions of childhood versus teenager-hood. I needed familiarity, the constant of old routines, comfort of getting what I expected–even, for example, getting the pleasure of swimming after paying twenty five cents for pool admittance. I knew every portion of that park, the public spaces for gatherings of many sorts and more private ones where I could sit and dream within the shade of huge deciduous trees. There was always something to do if I wanted to do it. Even play tennis, although Dad, a tennis lover and energetic player, despaired of me improving significantly after several lessons and work outs. “It’s that darned ball moving so fast; I have to run this way and that to meet it”, I complained. I was afraid it would hit my glasses or my eyes and then what would I do? I’d rather play volleyball or basketball–“Mom’s sport in high school”, I reminded him. I could see those bigger balls coming and this alone guaranteed an environment far less risky.

The city park took up a huge area and was three and a half blocks from my family’s house. Spread over eighteen acres, attractions included four tennis courts, a softball field, an outdoor ice skating rink and a summer bandshell where Dad conducted a city band during each June and  July. There was also, on the other side of the park, a large and shiny community center that held an Olympic-sized indoor pool, exercise rooms, gymnasium, table tennis rooms, dance and martial arts classrooms and arts and crafts sections. Plus meeting areas. I’m sure I am leaving things out–it was a large, well-designed modern building, well funded.

Surely, my neighborhood’s Central Park had about everything a kid would want for entertainment those days. There were even (supervised) Saturday afternoon dances set up at different times for younger teens and older youth. Ultimately, I found those well worth the wait to get in, as I was a dancing nut and there were those boys who had become more interesting.

My 12th summer, following others like it, offered not only  a couple of hours at the pool. There were also musical evenings to enjoy. It wasn’t what most young people would get excited about, perhaps. This was a night devoted to old standards, Broadway tunes, easy pop music for general audiences and older people. The June and July concerts were held on an open air stage called the Bandshell, with rows of benches on a gentle hillside. Dad, the Chemical City Band conductor for many years, carried forth the program. It seemed one of the things he enjoyed the most having once been a big band saxophone, trombone and clarinet player. By that summer, I was the only child left at home, so I was next in line to help him with preparation and distribution of the music folders, set up of music stands and chairs, participation in a sound check. I also tore down the set-up and helped sort and re- file sheet music later. This work with my father was treasured time though the chores were tedious.

During the concert I often sat in the audience with my admiring mother. We both loved the tunes performed, humming along. At times Dad would invite the audience to join in and the hillside would be alive with music. He even sometimes sang one especially for Mom, his eyes and warm voice emanating love for his industrious, outgoing, attractive wife. They were in their early fifties then and year after year this continued. Watching them was a lesson in friendship and romance.

The city sky grew darker as music played on. Constellations above seemed on full power, more lustrous. I imagined what it must be to hear such lively music waft across the park and into residential blocks as people sat on their porches and in their backyards. Listening.  Free music for all.

Sometimes there would be a dance after the band concert, held on the tennis courts. There was a DJ; the tunes were current. Entrants allowed into this activity were eighteen and older. I pressed my fingers and nose against the chain link fence, watched fresh-faced young women attired in summery dresses, young men debonair in crisply ironed short-sleeved shirts and slacks. The circled each other, nervous creatures, then chose partners, started each dance with all manner of hopes flushed with excitement. They were so beautiful with their secrets and fascination, perplexing desire, laughter light and sweet on a humid breeze, their dancing like a rite of passage far beyond my reach. But I was content to watch, wait, dream, knowing my time would come, too. Wondering over it, what it might bring.

At twelve, I was still a kid and I felt quite at home in the world those evenings. I ran back over the hill, sweat sliding down my spine, sandaled feet flying. There were my parents down below, Dad opening a cold can of his favorite Squirt and both of them chatting with friends. Ready to turn out the bandshell lights once more. Many lingered, reluctant as I was to be released from a music-filled hour. To move from graceful open spaces into hot houses, leave behind an ease and reassurance of ordinary life lived well. Each week the groups shared camaraderie,  the neighborly news. Simple courtesies exchanged in a moonlit night.

I remember that summer before junior high school, before the thrilling, unnerving leap toward thirteen. It was part of a bridge from one age to another. We all embark on certain passages dictated by age, even gender; by family ways, religious traditions and cultures. And without a community to school you, to provide a framework within which to tentatively move and grow, it must be so much harder to accomplish. We each keep close certain people, times and places which have lit the path for us. That grasped our hands and cheered us as we searched for our fledgling adult selves. I was given invisible life saving aids even when I wasn’t aware, when I slipped, flailed and sank beneath other, more deadly surfaces than water through the years. Because all that time I had a refuge, a playground that was safe and inviting, with neighbors and friends close by. Those good times were as real as terrible times.

Optimism and liberation were encouraged in Central Municipal Park long ago, and still does. It’s rituals and recreation, its people and design. It’s taken me years to fully understand its power in my life, from childhood day camp to private figure skating lessons; lazy days at our equitable pool to music given voice in velvety dark. It was an active arena within which to also discover stories, small magic gems amid ordinary rock piles. I learned how to work and play better with others thanks in part to adult guides found there. And the beauty of a small city in mid-Michigan opened itself like clockwork each season. All I had to do was take myself into its bounty and participate. These things helped deliver me to myself that year and many others.

Every child needs a place to call freedom. Opportunities to find an expanded life. A good public park is one accessible place; their summer programs improve countless lives, I am certain. More youth and children ought to have their curiosity awakened, their bodies challenged. Perhaps more adults can recall the possibilities in the simplest of leisures –or create new ones. Why not put down technological distractions a few hours each week or even–stride to the edge of change!–daily, the rest of this summer. Find more to enjoy and bring it into your life.


Central Park Swimming Pool, 1964
Central Park Swimming Pool, 1964

Serita and the Bogus Life

Serita and the Bogus Life


It’s the start of my first week-end of summer vacation and it’s so hot the hairs on my arms are fried. I can feel them crackling. I wonder if the hair on my head–it’s to the middle of my back, a blonde that looks bleached but isn’t–is doing the same. I go inside to get a hat. On my way back out to the patio again I hear my mother talking on the phone and stop at the sliding glass doors.

“Of course, Dorrie, you know you can count on me in a pinch.” Pause. “Yes, this is definitely more than a pinch it’s a…wound for you, of course. I understand. The week-end will be fine, if you need more days let me know immediately. And I’m so very sorry to hear of this.”

I start again, then circle back to the kitchen and grab a sparkling water flavored with lime from the eight pack in the frig. Head back out.

“She can have the guest bedroom, tell her to bring her own pillow if she doesn’t like firm ones.”

One foot out the door, I stand stock still. Beads of condensation from the aluminum can gather in a tiny pool on the fleshy bridge between thumb and forefinger. I slurp the moisture, open the can with a fizzy pop and drink. Mom is still on the phone. I want to sit by the pool and read my entertainment mag and drink my water but first things first.

Who is Dorrie? Who is taking our guest bedroom to and why? The one where I like to practice pieces on my wooden flutes?

Mom says goodbye, puts down her phone, pivots toward me. She presses her palms into air as if to fend off any questions so I drink some more, waiting. I put my straw hat on. Maybe I heard wrong.

“It’s an emergency,” she says. “I met Dorrie Kane-Kamarinsky at a luncheon awhile back and we’ve become friendly, you know, a fund-raiser, another lunch or two, bridge once.” She runs her fingers through her even blonder short cap of hair and makes a huffing noise. “Well, they moved in six months ago on Trevine Street, a fine and proper colonial, they have the biggest chestnut tree on the side yard. Her husband–Martin–is a hotshot lawyer–he’s as bald as they come but with the brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Dad already knew him from somewhere, I forget. Dorrie is a sweetheart once you get to know her; on the surface she’s frosty, you know, like blue blood runs in her veins, which it does, I think.” Her finely arched, well-plucked eyebrows rise a little. “She has three children, one left at home now.” She stares out to the pool, lips pursed. “I should have run this by your dad.”

Details. My mom loves the endless details more than the point. But she forgets some of the important ones, like asking dad stuff. “Mom, who is coming and why?”

“Oh, right. Serita. Her daughter. She goes to a boarding school somewhere but is out now, too, and she’s only a year older, fifteen. Or sixteen? She’s coming over tonight to stay a bit.” She smiles and as usual it makes her prettiness so sweet you want to immediately trust her.

I sort of shake from head to toe. Mom frowns at me but it’s involuntary, maybe it’s the cold can in my tingling hand or a burst of air conditioning sweeping over the area. It’s just a medium jolt, it happens at times. But come on, this is a stranger coming to our house. That I have to hang out with.

“How can you invite a stranger here? Right down the hall from me. A girl who I’ll have to entertain on the first week-end of my summer vacation? Lin and Travis are coming over, maybe more, tomorrow night. And why does she need to be here?”

“Her grandmother–Dorrie’s mother–had a stroke this morning. She and Martin are flying out tonight. They prefer to leave Serita here since she just got home Wednesday night. Leave her in the neighborhood, that is. She doesn’t know the city or kids since she’s been in school. And you’re just her age!”

She smiles again and nods as if this is serendipity, this is a grand alignment of stars if I’d only see it. Mom tends to think in magical terms.

“Who wouldn’t want to go see their grandmother after a stroke?”

She set her head at an angle and appraised me. “I guess Serita doesn’t feel that way. Not like you. Anyway, please make sure the bed has that sage cotton blanket folded at the foot and check her bathroom for supplies.” She picks up the phone and taps the screen hard. “I’m now informing Dad.”

But I don’t go upstairs to do her bidding. I take myself out to the pool, lie down on a chaise lounge and watch the swan floaties bob about in the pool. It’s so sizzling I last about five minutes, then dive in the deep end and glide along the turquoise and royal blue tiled bottom. My own world. When I come up Mom is standing at the edge above me, still talking on her cell, then moves her mouth away to address me.

“Upstairs, now. She’s due in a couple of hours. Then you both get to swim while I cook. I wonder what she eats?  Oh, I  have to remind Dorrie to have her pack her suit.” She moves away. “Yes, Dennis, I know. But it’s important to help others out and Dorrie–”

Her voice fades away. I know what dad is saying. Another  impulsive, generous act on your part. What do I have to do to get more peace and quiet around here? But he’ll also say he adores her anyway, one of these days he’ll have a sainted wife. He’s what you call an enabler, I guess, of my mother’s schemes.

It sort of makes me want to heave, her eager pleading, his caving in. Plus Serita… Kaminsky, Kamrewska…whatever. Where did such a name come from, the Serita bit? But I climb out and grab my can so Mom won’t note its presence later and remind me to “keep it pristine.” Pristine. As if it ever was.

But Serita doesn’t arrive that I know for sure. I hit the bed around ten. We ate and I helped mom clean up and waited around by the pool, slipping in and out to pass the time, then talking to my best friend, Lin, until she had to get off the phone and still no Serita. Then her mom called mine to say their flight had been delayed until eleven-forty so they were just off to the airport, was that too inconvenient? Yes, I said under my breath and headed to bed. Mom and Dad didn’t hold it against me but advised I be prepared to get up at a “decent” hour, by nine. I later hear an idling car, one door then another door slam, but it never occurs to me that a kid, namely Serita, would take a cab from her home to our place.


“Caroline, up and at ’em!” Dad orders with a rap on the door.

I get myself somewhat together and go downstairs but I hear her voice, louder than what I would say is necessary and the lower side of the vocal register. A big voice so I expect a bigger girl as I enter the breakfast nook, but what I get is a thin, long-legged girl with a wavy mop of shiny ebony hair.

She’s nearly breathless. “I’m trying to wrap my mind around it. Grandmother Kane was a marathon runner until four years ago and now she’s so ill. She must have given it her best shot long ago so is just ready to go.”

“Hmm, a rapid assessment but maybe so, sorry to hear it,” Dad says.

“There you are, Caroline, come meet Serita,” Mom says, wiping her hands on an apron I’ve never seen, like a pert Betty Crocker.

I sit down opposite Serita. “I’m Caro,” I say and she nods at me as I reach for the plate of sausage and scrambled eggs.

“Hello, nice to meet you.” Her eyes are steady, surmise something of me in a fast second.

“Yeah, likewise.”

She is holding her mug full of steaming coffee close to her nose and sniffing it delicately, as it testing its bouquet, its vintage. Then she takes a long drink as if she’s dying of thirst.

Mom and Dad talk about politics and recent headlines which seem to catch Serita’s interest but she puts her mug aside. Stares blankly out the bay window. I imagine she’s thinking of her grandmother and wondering why she isn’t there with her parents. Why she’s here with me and two adults she’s never met.

“Want to swim after breakfast settles a few?” she asks me. “It already appears steaming hot.”

“Sure,” I say. “You have your suit?”

“Do I have a suit?” She whispers. “Wait till you see it!”

She excuses herself as I finish up. Mom asks what I think. I tell her she’s okay and sort of skinny but what do I know? Could be that’s what boarding school does to you so maybe I should try it.

“Very funny, fat chance,” snorts Dad.

“No puns!” I say.

“Go,” says Mom.

When I get outdoors Serita is already at poolside, in the suit that she has indicated was more than just a swimsuit. In fact, there is less to it than I have ever seen up close, a halter design that circles round her neck, then barely drapes over her unimpressive chest and falls over her trunk so her waist is fully exposed on the sides then thankfully covers all else. But the suit is half see-through mesh. And it’s black. Her skin is so white against the suit it glows like moonlight. I’m surprised by all this. I thought she would be tanned, for one thing, as in Mediterranean or Caribbean tan, I guess, being rich. But I also thought she was a sporty type, a runner like her grandmother, maybe, and would wear a comfy tank suit.

“I like your blue two-piece,” she says. “If I had a shape, I’d wear one, too, but no such luck so I have to go for fancier options.” She laughs with her head tossed back, a guttural burst of giddiness. “So tell me about your life. Is it interesting?”

It takes me aback. I ease into the water and walk about, arms afloat by my sides. “Not really. I finished eighth grade so now I get to go to ole high school. My grades were good but I’m relieved it’s summer. I play flute, that’s something, I guess. I have two best friends who are coming over tonight. The greatest part of summer is I can swim every day, something that really matters. I want to be on swim team next year. What about you?”

“I don’t do sports if I can help it–please, the effort strains all my nerves and brain. And I’ve been going to a boarding school the last three years. More or less. Right now I’m glad to be here. I did not want to go see Grandmother Kane. Not right now. She has too many expectations–it’s a family defect– and she’s been disappointed in me. Like, she wants me to run, too. And be a star student. But all I really like is being social and a little outrageous when I can. Mother dear says I have what may be a fatal interest in theater.”

“But don’t you worry about her?”

“I guess, sure. But we haven’t been close for a while. I’ve been gone–and Grandmother lives in Vermont. I used to visit her in summers but… I don’t have the rosy, cozy family you apparently have. Guess I can’t have it all!”

“True, all my grandparents live a hour or two away. I guess I’m lucky.”

She jumps in the pool with a giant splash that crests over me. I splash her back and she gives it back and this goes on until we are drenched in water and sunshine, laughing like idiots who have known each other far longer than a few hours. Mom and Dad poke their heads outside and then retreat, relieved, no doubt, that Serita and I have no problem.

When we settle down and climb out to dry off in the June breeze, she wipes down face, arms and shoulders with my big fluffy towel. Then she says in that low, stout voice of hers, “And guess what? I’m a drug addict.”

Mom bursts outdoors to join us and I endure a good hour of chitchat that Serita manages with surprising ease, then my Dad comes out and takes a swim and invites us in. I keep looking at her and she throws me an oddly amused glance, then says we sure have a nice little pool and lovely swan floats while I just am dying to hear what else she has to say.


Over a bowl of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches and cream–our impromptu lunch– she talks to me like she hasn’t talked in ages, so she says. I am trying not to stare at her with mouth open but it all sounds crazy. Then less crazy as she goes on. More sad.

“It started with pot at eleven, then alcohol, then it was more or less Oxy–you heard of it? Pain pill, Oxycontin? I broke my ankle playing tennis, took a hard swerve and fell harder. Soon that wasn’t the problem. I liked being high, not feeling much, that’s the benefit. The rest isn’t so great. I ended up in rehab twice. The first time it was an accidental overdose on my prescription. The second time it was just…well, I couldn’t take enough to get high enough, it was just trying to avoid withdrawal, trying to stay well as we call it. But I go sicker than a dog…It was fast, the addiction. It’s the drug. So back to treatment, last time for six weeks and went back to school again. Soon I was called into Headmistress’ office and told I can’t come back next year. This was just last week. So now I have to go to public high school here unless they get me into another boarding school with a big bribe–a nice donation, they call it.”

“Gosh. Holy cow.” I feel confused by her outpouring, shocked. Then bad for her. She seems so smart and funny. But I hardly know her. This openness is intense and I don’t know what to do with it. So much truth sits there like a third person.

She laughs. “That’s the best you can do? Holy cow? I didn’t even know people said that in real life.”

“What can I think of it? I’ve tried beer a few times and I knew of someone who got deep into bad herbal pills from online for weight loss–stupid, if you ask me–but not this kind of thing. My friends have been around my whole life. They’re like me, I guess. I know them so well it’s always the same, not much drama. Their parents know my parents. It’s pretty tame, no one in terrible trouble, nothing worth a headline other than a few things the grown-ups do…” But I am starting to become nervous, like there’s this overload of thoughts and I just need to keep quiet now. I feel, I realize, a little scared.

Serita  pushes her bowl far away as if she has eaten too much.”I’m not from this everyday Smallsville, Caro, it’s different for me. I am supposed to have it all, right? My dad’s work as a corporate lawyer has taken us to different countries. I get private tutors  to learn at home sometimes. We live in–alright, it’s true–gorgeous houses. I never played flute, though, or even ukulele for that matter, never had slumber parties unless my mother threw fancy parties for my birthday with kids I barely knew. My mother runs an interior design business that caters to big names I don’t even feel like dropping. Neither of them are around. Now I’ve been gone awhile, what do we say to each other?. I’m not sure what it feels like to miss people. Probably it’s messy. It’s sure inconvenient and embarrassing that I’m back home….but I don’t really care.” She nearly glares. “I do not care.”

“Well, you’re drug-free, right? Your parents must be so glad, Relieved.”

“Yep, clean as a whistle, how’s that for a corny saying? You’d have to ask them what they think; they’d rather not talk to me.”

Serita looks across our pool, into the back yard of a house where the twins are playing with a cascade of water from a hose, screeching, running around, their dog barking at their heels. Tim and Heather, the seven-year old twins, make me smile. I babysit for them sometimes.

They annoy her or maybe life annoys her as her eyes narrow and turn darker. Her face seems to age, seems haunted, or maybe it’s just changed by the telling of her story. She runs to the pool, dives in deep. I suspect she could swim well if she wanted to– she has that long lean torso, broad shoulders. I, with a body fuller thus heavier, have to labor to power the muscle and slice and slip through water like the dolphin I once wished to become. But she doesn’t care about swimming. Right now I’m not sure what she cares for but it’s been a weird day. I already know too much to act like I don’t when my friends come over later.

I join her in the pool and we swim around and about each other a few minutes like playful creatures cooling off on a summer’s day. Then I start my laps as she dives again so it seems we’ve moved on when she climbs out and takes off with a small wave. I do five more, then lie back on the swan, close my eyes. Think of my predictable friends and a dance next week at the golf club. Think about my mom and dad, what life will be like this summer. And I wonder if Serita regrets telling me. If she will stick around. If I even would want that.


Travis and Lin each bring other friends, Grant and Maddy, so it’s an even six. This makes playing pool volleyball that much more fun. We go to it as Serita complains she may sink her team and she does, eventually. But she’s in a lighter mood and laughs it off.

“It’s summer!’ Travis shouts and rushes me with his awesome butterfly stroke. We’ve been good friends and a little more than friends but lately it’s friends again.

“What’s she all about? I mean, I know the basics–but is there something more? Like, does she have a boyfriend?”

There’s the barest sting as his words hit me. “Ask her. She is very open.”

“Yeah, don’t be shy, Trav,” Lin agrees and pushes him toward her.

He gets out of the pool to sit near her on the other side. She’s talking up a storm with Grant and Maddy; I try to overhear but they’re acting jokey so all must be well. I decide to shelve the earlier conversation unless Travis decides to fall in love. Lin and I swim underwater and come up under all their feet.

Serita is stunning in that suit, skinny or not. Grant and Trav hang on her words.

“Boyfriend? I have had dozens–just ask my classmates at my old school. Really, quite impossible since I was at an all girls school. I’ll have to make up for lost time. If you want I can start with you–or Grant!”

“Great–how about the golf club dance next week?” Grant offers.

“You guys are trouble. Be forewarned, Serita,” Maddy says.

“Oh, good!” She claps enthusiastically and jumps in, followed by the boys.

The lights around the pool and above the sliding doors come on as the sun lowers swiftly. I can hear the distant staccato sound of voices from the living room overlooking us. It’s early, I think, but it is Friday night. I walk over to the patio area but when I get to the living room, it is quiet, the room empty but  heavy with something. I think about going inside and seeing what they’re doing but the boisterous sound of my buddies lures me back. Still, I go in and find a big bowl of chips. I load a few sodas onto a tray, balance it all and start back.

Then it comes.

“Cassandra, stop. We have a whole pool of kids and Caroline will worry, be embarrassed. We have Serita here! Can’t you–”

“Can’t I…what? Can’t I be an even more efficient mother and wife? Can’t I be more hard-working and more generous with time and affection? Can’t I can’t I can’t I…oh come here, handsome…”

I cringe. I hear her stumble and his muffled words, then a door shut. A frisson rushes up my spine. I hold chips and sodas carefully, exit the house.

We’re eating and drinking, talking about our summer plans, the lake cottage that Travis’ family owns but we all visit and how Lin and Grant and I love to camp. How Serita will spend time at her family’s summer house in the Adirondacks “that is, if my Grandmother stays alive, well, I hope she does but she’s seventy-two and this stroke…” but though there is a hint of deeper sadness, she quickly moves on. Then we submerge all together in the cool of silken water again. The darkness around us is a balm.

And my mom is coming in, too.

I hear her calling my name and my dad calling hers before she reaches us. She’s put on her new long coral sun dress but this doesn’t concern her. She runs, stumbles, almost catches herself, leans backwards and I think my dad will get her but then there she goes, forward motion into the inviting water.

“Grab her, honey! Hold her up, Caro!”

I know what this means–it isn’t the first time–so I swim fast to her just as Serita gets there too, and we take a firm hold on her wiggling body and then hold her up by the armpits. Travis and Grant push through the side-lit, glimmering blue water. For some reason, I look up to locate the watchful moon for an instant, then look down to find our legs reflecting the watery depths, see my mother’s dress lift and swirl and tangle about her thighs, a brilliant design of fabric and flesh half-drowned. Her breath stinks of alcohol, likely rum. Her champagne-colored hair is plastered to her head and mascara is streaming down her cheeks. She’s batting us away, laughing at me as if I should know better, this is how she can have some real fun, why can’t we leave her alone?

“I can swim, I taught Caro to swim for goodness’ sake!”

They all help move her to the water’s edge, then get out and assist my dad in pulling her forward and upward, out of the pool and onto dry land and into safety.

“What’re you doing? Can’t you see this is the best night? Summer fun! First night, more to come!”

She twists in my dad’s arms and he holds her very close until she quiets, then slumps against him. He walks her into the house and they disappear.

We get out and sit. No one speaks. My friends know my family, know this story. We don’t name it, don’t process it, don’t comment much, anymore. They could. They could tell me they’re worried and care about us and wish they could do something. Or they are disgusted by a middle-aged woman coming undone. I’d listen and accept it. But they have an aunt or a cousin or a brother-in-law who drinks too much–damn it, Grant has gotten drunk and more often. And what can we do?

In a little while, Lin turns on the radio my dad keeps in the modest pool house, just an oyster white-painted shed. It’s music to dance by, and she and Travis get to it, then so do the others. Except Serita.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Stop, please. I just met you,” I say, looking away from her intense gaze.

“That’s not why. I told you my truth. But you sat there and said nothing. You acted like you had it all tied up, happy little home life, the prize family. Like you had no insight.”

Tears slide down my face. My long hair is heavy over my shoulders and I want to lie down but I sit tall. Chin up. “It’s kind of a mess, alright? I hoped tonight she would be okay. Some week-ends she is more okay, even good. All week she’s fine, more or less.” I wipe my nose on the back of my hand. “It’s not the same as you.”

Serita takes me by the forearms and pulls me around to face her. “It’s the same, it’s just alcohol but it’s the same only worse. It can be bought at any store, anytime. And she’s your mother. She’s been at it longer than I have. And she is your mother.” She gave me a little shake.

“I know, I know!” I whisper and put my head down, hair falling forward. I stay there behind the sodden curtain, then fall forward until my head reaches my lap. I feel her hand on my back. It doesn’t pat me reassuringly, doesn’t even move. It stays right between my shoulder blades like a cool rock that holds me in place. Keeps me from falling deeper into the morass.

“Well, we both know some of the reality now, not lies. I’m an addict in recovery, your mother is likely an alcoholic needing recovery.” She sighs as if she must reach deeply to find a breath of air big or fresh enough to keep such talk going. “So how about I stick around?”

I’m not sure what she means. I turn my head and peer through my hair, wiping the tears with a few damp strands. “Can you? A few more days? I’d like that.”

“Yes, Caro. I mean, I get it, right? I’ll be here a long time. And you can be here for me. If that’s alright with you.”

I sit up so straight my backbone aches. “Okay.”

It’s a superior early summer night. There was such promise. It hasn’t vanished, not quite. My friends and I play a last silly game in the pool, keep it easy, light, simple. We’ll all clean up the squashed cans, broken chips, scoop up the towels. We won’t mention my mother’s drinking. They’ll go home; we’ll get together sometime soon again. But when I go to bed and cannot sleep, if the entire mixed up, unhappy truth of it hurtles down upon me–if I lose what’s left of the beauty and I need to scream as the beastliness makes its way into the night, Serita will just be down the hall. I will not be alone with the truth, not anymore.


The Girl Who Couldn’t Swim

Photo by Stephen Shore
Photo by Stephen Shore

The teenaged girl had been overheard saying she couldn’t really swim–or shouldn’t–but frankly, no one cared. The other girls were there for their tans, not getting wet in the aqua water. They’d dip in and out, take a few minutes to submerge, rinse oily sweat off their skin. They didn’t even appear drawn to the ocean yet. They lay about on chaise lounges like lazy, soft-limbed devotees of the sun god. It was vacation, after all. If they could call Florida with the parents such a thing. Being sixteen and getting that urgent feeling every time they stepped on hotel balconies, smelling the rich tropical atmosphere even before it engulfed you. Couldn’t the adults just disappear? But this one hesitated at the pool’s edge. Advancing and pulling back. Ignoring the others for two days.

From the second story walkway, Sharise remembered that heady feeling; it winked at her from two decades past. She’d arrived In Florida at eighteen and here she remained. She’d been working at Twenty Palms Hotel for three years, which was a record. It got old, the cleaning up after strangers, staff haranguing each other, the exhaustion that dogged her all the way home after a long shift. She didn’t like housekeeping but she was efficient, got good tips. Sharise had tried to go back to college after her son left home three years ago but gave up after the second week of classes. She was in her mid-thirties then, looked younger. It wasn’t the fresh faces that got to her, it was the reading. She read cheap paperbacks from Goodwill, or library volumes protected with plastic. She read fast but she did not read things like math or science or culture. It gave her a headache. She worked alot of overtime and that left little energy. She’d fail, that was clear. It gave her a pang to withdraw from classes. Her chest burned the rest of the day; she felt ashamed of her cowardice.

“Oh, you should see those kids, they have all the time in the world and not a tired bone in those perky bodies.”

Turk looked at her sideways as he cleaned the pool. “I know you want to get out of here, Shar. Maybe you could get it done online?”

“What do you know about it?” She smacked his back with her disposable latex gloves. “It’s all good. I get an education here every day, how to get the job done well, how to work with all kinds of nuts, how to let your mind wander when a customer is trying to call you out on something idiotic. Next year maybe I can buy a little shack near the beach at last.”

Turk took off his t-shirt and wiped his face with it. He was colored bronze from being outdoors and fairly glistened all the time. On the stocky side, he had a way with the ladies nonetheless. But not her. She was ten years older and so much smarter she half-intimidated him. Not that he’d say so. She treated him like a kid brother. But he liked her company.

“You’d make a good business woman, so I hope you try again. You could open up a used book store, the way you go through those things. Add a juice bar and you’re all set for the touristas.”


She looked up at the boss, then waved to Turk as she trudged up the stairs. No doubt someone found a bit of lint in the sink. Instead, it was the sheets not being tight enough to toss a dime and see it jump to the ceiling and back. Well, maybe not exactly that, but a woman had complained they had come completely undone during the night and the maid had failed to re-make it correctly. Sharise knew it wasn’t her room but smiled at the guests as she anchored the wandering sheets.

The girl who had said she couldn’t swim was there with, likely, her mother. Sharise noted the older female’s glossy black hair, shell-pink toenails and beautiful coral, one piece suit. Ivory skin, dangerous in sun. She was putting on white hoop earrings. The younger girl was looking out the open sliding door that led to the balcony, a striped bathing suit cover-up pulled close to her slim frame.

She said without turning, “I’m thinking of going swimming later. Might even dive by the time we leave.”

The mother dropped an earring. “You’re to stay away from that diving board. We’ve had this discussion and I’m not repeating it now.” She glanced at Sharise and then at her daughter’s back. “Of course you like the water–who doesn’t? Enjoy poolside, stroll the beach, Kit. Make friends. Your father will be here tomorrow.”

Kit stepped onto the balcony and bent over it, looking at the scene below.

“Sweetie? I’m taking a nap before drinks and dinner. Take your key if you go.”

Sharise slipped out the door before the guests could test the bed and find it wanting.

It was at the end of her shift, not long after correcting the bed problem, that Sharise saw Kit enter the pool. The other teen-agers waved at her half-heartedly; they were likely drugged with heat and boredom. Two families were gathering their gear, calling to their kids. A lanky middle-aged man dove confidently off the high board, then hit the surface with a loud belly smack. He swam to a corner and rubbed his chest, chagrined.

Kit stood very still, as if the water’s radiance was too dazzling, as if she was waiting to be led forward. Or go back. Turk was putting equipment away and stopped to watch her, too, then shook his head as she dog-paddled from the steps, turned around and went back. He was Twenty Palms’ life saver in a pinch but he cleaned and maintained the pool; he had never had to save someone. The young girls at the far end were laughing, eyes closed as a boy came up and threw a glass of water on them, making them screech.

But Kit was going into the water again, this time floating, legs not even sinking, hair spread out. She was at ease, floated on. Upon arriving at the diving boards, she pulled herself up and sat with feet dangling, studying the boards.

Sharise walked over to Turk. “See that kid? I think she knows how to swim nicely. I just don’t think her mother wants her to. I heard a conversation in their room. Seems mom is scared the girl will get in trouble. No diving allowed.”

“Yeah, she acts worried but this time she went right in. She has the body type of a swimmer so I keep waiting to see what she’ll do.”

“Me, too.”

Kit walked over to the group. They got her a soda from a cooler. Sharise looked up at the balcony of Kit’s room and saw her mother there, hand shading her eyes, searching for her daughter. When she spotted her, she disappeared into the darkened room.

But Kit was just getting started. She dove into the deep end and started a breaststroke, gained steam and at the end turned around for another lap. One of the boys whistled at her.

“Hey, faker, we thought you didn’t swim! If you sink, don’t call us!”

“Stupid kids!” Turk wrapped his sweaty head with a towel, then sat in the shade. “But look at her.”

The girl’s strong arms shimmered in the amber light as her strokes developed strong rhythm. She was rusty but had skills and finished four laps when she finally floated to the end of the pool. The obnoxious younger boy threw a beach ball at her. Her hand shot up and batted it back at him.

“Great reflexes,” Sharise said. She gathered her purse and book. “Gotta go.”

“Just when it’s getting interesting,” Turk said. “It’s like a movie around here sometimes.”

When Sharise reported to work at nine the next morning, Kit was already in the water, doing laps. Sharise pushed the cleaning cart down a walkway, dawdled a moment. The girl was looking good. Kit’s mother was not far away, reading a magazine. A man in a wheelchair was beside her, maybe mid-forties, sandy-haired, already reddening on chest and shoulders. Kit’s father, then?

Kit kept swimming, back and forth, back and forth. Families moved aside as she swam between them with bold grace. One child started to swim beside her but gave up.

Sharise opened up the next room and fluffed the bedspread, changed sheets, disinfected the bathroom. Six more to go. At noon she slipped by to see what Turk was up to on a break.

“What’s the deal?” Sharise gestured toward Kit and her parents.

Turk was sweeping dirt away from a walkway. “Oh, guess her ole man is paralyzed waist-down. Friendly enough, nicer than his wife. Helped him with a bag when he got off the elevator.”

They watched the trio a few seconds more, then Sharise went to buy a tall iced tea with a sprig of mint. She took it out a side door and sat on a shadowed bench, positioning herself so she could see the pool area.

A cry of alarm burst into the soft air, then a small splash. Turk and Sharise arrived poolside and searched for a poor thrashing child.

“Get out of the water!” Kit’s mother was racing alongside Kit as her daughter swam past. Her jewelled flip flops glittered in the blaze of high noon and her floppy straw hat fell into the water. “How dare you, Kit? Get out this instant!”

“No! Leave me alone! I’m doing this!”

The father had rolled closer to the pool. He removed reflective sunglasses, peered at his daughter and called out, “What did you just do, Kit? What was that?”

Kit bobbed at pool’s edge. “You know what I did, Dad!” Then she got out of the water, walked rapidly to the high dive and climbed the ladder.

“Kit! Stop… Kyle, make her get down now!”

The mother was desperate now, face flushed, hands at her chest. But her father was wheeling himself even closer to water’s edge. Kit walked to the end of the board and stood very still, arms close to her sides. Then they glided outward and her body lengthened, all sinew and sleekness. She bounced once, twice; arms rose higher and she jumped, her navy tank a blur. Kit’s mother let out a chilling wail.

Kit executed a perfect flip that morphed into a swift swan dive, back arched, arms reaching for sky, toes pointed. Her body snapped back into form. People were silenced and stood up, even the teenagers. Sharise’s hand went to her mouth, and Turk crossed himself. Kit streamlined her body more, slipped into the water with barely a splash. After a few taut seconds, hands, then head broke through, face ecstatic.

“What the–? That was great!”

Turk ran to the pool to offer Kit a hand but she declined. Sharise went to the parents to make sure they were okay. To Kit, she  just nodded a deep bow with her head.

At the end of her shift, Sharise checked the pool deck and water. It was empty, a simple rectangle that hours earlier had seemed like a theater, an enchanted one. It was still luminous in the unrelenting sunshine. She wondered about Kyle and Helena, Kit’s parents, and if they were relaxing at last. Kit was likely off with new friends, or so Sharise hoped. Kyle had been so proud of her he had bought a round of drinks for all, alcoholic for adults, sodas for kids. He invited Turk and Sharise but they’d declined.

“I was a once competitive swimmer,” Kyle had explained when all calmed down. “A very good diver, as well. And then I dove the wrong way in the wrong place off the side of a boat in the Caribbean. That was four years ago. Kit always wanted to follow in my footsteps, was learning fast, but her mother…well, you can imagine how that went. Kit stopped her efforts. But now, a new beginning!” He raised his glass to the sun, or the future he imagined for her.

Helena smiled a wobbly smile at her husband. He seemed happy, not saddened by memories. She was calmer, a tall Tom Collins in hand. Kit had apologized profusely for nearly giving her a heart attack, then turned back to the diving boards.

Now Turk came up behind Sharise and flipped her ponytail. “Off now?”

“Yep, enough excitement.” She slapped him on the shoulder with her purse strap. “Know something? I just decided to try one college class this summer. See how it goes.”

“Good plan,” Turk agreed. He saw a fallen blossom that was marring the café’s water feature and knew it should be fished out but he liked it there. He whistled a little of an old Disney song, then danced a few beats for Sharise. She laughed and took off. There was a new, used book waiting at home and thank goodness. She had to return tomorrow with mind and body fully intact, ready to work.