A woman who claimed to be a chimera called the library most Tuesdays, on the old line they never got around to disconnecting after the renovations. The call went straight to a yellowed phone hung on... [+]
“Huh,” Eddy said, “maybe it turns into a robot or something.”
Eddy test done Jack finally had solid conclusion. The diving board was the most boring thing he had ever seen in his life. And the pool had been closed a week just to install it. The summer before first grade didn’t last forever, didn’t the pool people have some consideration?
Eddy and Jack had gotten together to come to the pool the day after it reopened, as was tradition in both their houses. Neither liked the pool and its loud toddlers or crowded waters, but tradition was tradition. Now the two stood watching the diving board do nothing over the deep end. As if it wasn’t enough that they had added a useless white board to the pool, they made sure that no one could find a good use for it. As long as it leaned over the deep end, no child would touch it.
So, the two kids, upon finding a lack of stimulation, headed back towards the shallow end of the pool. The shallow end was a crowded place full of loud crying and complaining and adults who had an expression Jack now realized was the epitome of human suffering. It was not a place Jack was ever ecstatic to see, but every year he came to the public pool to see a few people. That is the friends Jack and Eddy had not seen since school. Usually the horde of pool-goers was christened with a number of familiar faces, but the delay in opening must have discouraged a family or seven, because in the water only two recognizable people emerged: Ali and her brother Jamey.
Jack did not know either too well, he never talked to them, but beggars can’t be choosers. Eddy raced ahead, speed walking to make sure the lifeguard did not yell at him and dipped his toe in the water. The temperature seemed right to him, so he jumped in, too close to a newlywed couple for comfort. Jack did not share his enthusiasm to get into the water and eased himself in, enjoying the feeling of the cool water wrapping around his waist, which almost made the trip to the pool worth it. Jack looked over to where Eddy was now speaking with Jamey, both of whom looked more excited than Jack was sure he’d ever feel.
“Hey Jack. Look, I can do a backflip,” and so Jamey did the both irrelevant and enormously impressive task. Jack couldn’t even do one on land, much less in water. That made it harder, right?
“Bet you can’t do one,” Jamey said when he came up. He was right, Jack couldn’t dream of doing any sort of flip.
“I don’t really want to,” Jack retorted, dodging a bullet, “but if I wanted to, I probably could.”
“Okay, sure,” Jamey turned back to Eddy and kept talking.
Jack turned to Ali, the only person left to talk to.
“Hi, I sat two places over from you in the class circle, do you remember me?”
Ali looked at him, unimpressed. She then went back to splashing water aimlessly. No wonder Jack never talked to them.
“Well I don’t ever remember saying much to you, but you liked playing with blocks, right?”
She didn’t even cast a glance in his direction and gave the smallest of nods. Jack just gave up. He didn’t need to talk to others anyway. Plus, she was a girl. She might have cooties like the first graders always said girls did.
“Wow, the deep end isn’t so crowded and annoying,” I heard Eddy say, “why don’t we go down there?”
“What?” said Jack, “Eddy we were just...” but the group moved back the way Jack and Eddy had just come from, to make the same decision Jack and Eddy had come to moments before. Was Jack the only one who thought about this stuff? But Jack sighed and forced himself to follow his illogical friends.
The water at the deep end was different. Deep and dark unlike the shallow end they just left. It stretched down farther than the eyes had a right to see. He had seen grownups sink fully under. The air itself seemed colder in here. this was no place for Jack. No, Jack belonged to the place he could touch the ground.
“We’re just going to turn around guys,” said Jack when he caught up to find the three staring at the water, "Let’s just save some time and-”
“Woah, are you saying you don’t want to get in the water?” Asked Jamey, “that you're afraid?”
“That is not what I said-”
“I think it was. I think you are a fraidy cat,” Oh no. Oh no no no.
If you were wondering, the one thing kindergarteners can’t stand is names, especially, “fraidy cat,” Eddy repeated.
“Hey you couldn’t get in either-”
“Excuses, you couldn’t do a backflip earlier and now you can’t jump in.”
Jack was amazed. He had just been backed into the worst corner of his life. In fact, even Eddy had turned on him. Jack looked at his companions and took a breath.
“Okay, you’re on. I will jump into the water, in fact I will jump in from the diving board.”
“Then do it,” Jamey said.
Jack turned to the pool, and then he realized his mistake. He, the deep end, jump in. Those words all of a sudden dawned on him, the beginning of a disaster. He started walking, looking at the ground as he did so, wondering if he would ever see it again. He thought about getting down and kissing it, but decided it would be unimpressive to his companions, opting instead to think of the many times he had taken such a beautiful thing as the grass on his feet or the clicking of shoes against linoleum for granted. Things he never thought he’d miss, like ant hills, or the little plastic toys he sometimes stepped on in the yard. All of that was a reminder of a bygone era of walking and running and skinning knees and cartwheels and picnics and muddy footprints and...
Jack put his foot on the step, having to stretch a bit to get to the top. Clearly this was made for adults. As Jack’s foot left the pavement, he felt a moment of panic. How could he let his last step on solid ground go by so fast? How could he abandon his last comfort in this life so easily? But he did.
As Jack, beloved son, may he rest in peace, approached the end of the diving board, he began to realize he would truly be dead soon. No mere child could exit this water unscathed, sometimes not even adults. But for the first time since he foolishly agreed to do this, he accepted death. He had allowed pride to carry him to this watery grave, had it been worth it? No, it had not. But now upon reflection he saw that he’d fated himself to this, and knew that whatever came, he would not be a fraidy cat.
The water felt more like ice to Jack, as it snapped around his body. It made Jack wonder as he sank, why, exactly, had he come here? As he drew in a breath, ready to fight until the last drop of air, he caught sight of his friends watching him. Eddy was in a pure panic, as Jack would’ve thought, but he was surprised to find that Jamey and Ali also looked scared. And Jamey's face was that of a man who realized that someone else was braver than he. A look of defeat. Almost made the pain worth it.
The blue depths swallowed him then, in a cold clamp like the angry death rattle of an Eskimo.
But then, as Jack sank, he remembered his mother’s words, a lifeline to his waterlogged body, “Just keep kicking Jack, that’s all swimming is.”
Jack broke the surface, drinking in the sweet air, and kicked his way to the side. Three shadows fell over him, and his friends called out, their voices frantic and amazed.
“Did you think you were gonna to die?” asked Eddy, “or, are you dead?”
“No, he’s breathing you dimwit.”
And finally, in a voice that was quiet but, seeing how it was her first words to Jack, incredible, “that took some guts.”
“It was pretty cool,” Jamey's humbled words were sweet.
Jack pulled himself out of the water, it’s grasp seeming to fade away.
“Really dude, what happened?” asked Jamey, awed.
Jack paused. Right there, he decided that he had almost died. And that’s what he told them. That when death arrived, he punched it.
Eddy and Jamey believed him, but Jack could tell Ali didn’t, yet she didn’t say a word.
Jack liked to think that maybe she decided that he earned a little glory.