Thursday 7 September 2023

Swimming by Deidre Byrne, strong breakfast tea, milk no sugar

 I thought Batman would save me.


I am nine years old when our parents drop me and my sixteen-year-old brother at our uncle’s lake house for a week. Jake bolts from the car, immediately absorbed by the boys, all high fives and back slaps as they race to the lake. From their slouched postures on the porch, my cousin Emily, and her friend Kat, both 16, eye me, reject me, and saunter after the boys, Kat laser focused on my brother.


            At least I have Batman. My brand-new Johns Bargain Store terrycloth beach cover up boasts the Caped Crusader, sworn to protect and running toward danger. Small comfort as I sit by the lake, cover-up drawn over my knees, watching my older cousins and their friends, envious of their careless cool. Casually leaning together, unselfconsciously touching, pairing up and regrouping. Covered in sun light and self-confidence.


I hate them.


And I hate the way my longing burns inside me. I wish I could swim, wish I wasn’t afraid to be without my glasses. And I wish they would see me. I understand my cover up—stretched like a potato sack—is not the right currency for this crowd, who dive and swim as if born to it. From the large raft anchored in the middle of the lake, they frolic and sun themselves. In the heat, my glasses slide down my nose and I push them up. Again.


            I’m caught by surprise the day Kat speaks to me. She’s audacious in getting the boys’ attention, takes their dares and double dares them right back. I see the way she coaxes my brother to laugh, to engage in conversation. At home he’s closed off and surly. But here he smiles and jokes, someone I don’t recognize, and I wish he would be just a little bit like that with me. How does she unlock this nicer version of my brother? It must be witchcraft.


‘Hey, Jakey’s little sister, come on, join the fun!’ The siren’s call. My uncle’s warned me, that one’s a prankster, but he’s not seen her magic. I am drawn in.  Acceptance at last!! Believing actual swimming will not be required here, I advance.  I see my brother watching from the raft. When she says the race is to the raft I confess, ‘I can’t swim.’ And wait for the rejection.


Instead, her smile broadens; I feel hope glow. ‘Yeah, but Batman can.’ And suddenly I’m drowning. Thrashing, choking, a lungful of water and, it is possible, I swallowed a very tiny fish. Terry cloth weighing me down, mud and silt swirling around me; I’ve lost my glasses and wonder for a fractional second which is worse, death or my parents’ wrath... the glasses are new.


            As if she’d been waiting for this moment, Kat pulls me from the water, triumph beaming from her like Christ’s holy countenance. Oh, she has my brother’s full attention now. While I shiver and sputter, cough and puke over the side of the dock, Batman a smear of black and gray, my brother leaps from the water like a swordfish, jabbing his finger in her face, shouting something that sounded like he cares. Powerless against his fury, Kat simpers, ‘I thought she could swim! Honest, I had no idea.’


            My Batman cover-up was ruined, along with my faith in him, and Jake never said a word to me the rest of the week, but he wouldn’t even look at Kat. Good enough for me!


About the author

 Deidre enjoys life in the Mid Hudson Valley, New York, writing stories and reading all the books she bought during her working years. Her work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, The Avalon Literary Review, Forth Magazine, Down in the Dirt, Literally Stories and the Ginosko Literary Journal
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