Beatrice drops her towel and runs. From his chair, the lifeguard sounds the whistle and cautions Beatrice to walk. Beatrice does not. She launches, legs tucked, a demoiselle in a string bikini, surfacing across the pool spewing water like a fountain. The lifeguard tugs at his red shorts, leans back into his chair, swats away a fly. I tuck hair into my swimmer’s cap; white plastic petals blow under easy summer weather.
Next, I fold my towel and place it on the back of Mother’s chair, feel the heat from the rough concrete deck under my feet as I walk toward the shallow end of the pool. Overhead, the sky is a lighter shade of blue then the pool water. I sit on the edge, dangle my legs under the two o’clock warmth of the water, smell the chlorine, a burning salty smell, look at the bobbing swim caps. Mother’s watch glints in the sun as I turn to see if she will come into the water. She will not. She is sunning herself on the deck chair, her face turned towards the sky, her eyes closed. Her skin slick with tanning oil. My older sister Adele does the same. I lower myself until water reaches my waist. The pool is crowded with children all legs and arms and teeth and women in brightly coloured swim caps and I lose sight of Beatrice through the splashes, games of tag, swimmers’ strokes. I find her, finally, out of the water below the lifeguard’s chair looking up towards the bronzed man. Beyond her is the diving tank with two boards.
Blond boys walk to Beatrice. They sport matching blue trunks. They stop. Beatrice lowers her gaze from the lifeguard to them. They talk under the shadow of the lifeguard’s chair. I watch as the blond boys’ footprint trail evaporates into nothing.
I press my back against the pool tiles, swish hands through water. Beatrice throws her head back and her laughter bounces across the deep blue diving tank. In line, she places her hand on the tall blonde’s stomach. I don’t understand her ability to turn strangers into friends, touch another’s body, stand so freely with so little clothing on.
I had wanted to come to the pool. Mother had bought each of us a bathing suit for we had none before this day. Only I wanted a swimming cap. Mine, orange, matched the plaid of my suit. This is nice, the water, the laughter, the bobbing. I hadn’t thought I’d spend my time here alone with Adele sunning herself like a mini-mother and Beatrice strutting around in her very first bikini. We haven’t swam many times before, yet Beatrice is almost ready to climb the high diving board. Her bravery is breathtaking. Mother’s eyes are closed, not watching either of us. Even Adele’s face is buried in her arms. This is a big day. First outing to a pool in years. I wipe water off my face, splashed from the little girl swimming by.
I worry my period will begin and gush red from between my legs. Beatrice places her foot on the bottom rung and climbs, walks the plank, straightens her body like a pencil and jumps. One blond dives, the other does too. All three swim for the ladder and drip to the shallow end of the pool, slip into the water. Beatrice sees me, waves, her ponytail a thin line down her back, says, you gonna stay there all day? There’s nothing to it. The wind ripples the surface of the water. The blondes paw, dunk, squeeze, lift, dunk again. Beatrice spits, laughs and swims away. They bounce after her.
I’m only in half in the water and know pool time will come to an end. Mother will have somewhere else to go. She’s now sitting alert watching Beatrice. Adele has turned to sun her front. Overhead, music plays a jazzy riff from the Snack Bar speakers and I play bongos with flattened hands against the water surface. Every time Beatrice is pushed under the water she pops back up. That’s Beatrice.
Mother doesn’t notice me with my back to the tiles, my feet on the pool floor. She watches my younger sister now trying to mount the back of one of the blond boys, the other one trying to pull her off. The lifeguard watches the horseplay, whistle in his mouth. Beatrice is the one in dangerous waters, not me. I step away from the wall, sink in up to my shoulders, take one foot off the pool’s floor. There’s nothing to it, I say, I am a great white shark, I say.
I raise both feet and let the pool water do the rest.