A short story by Sarah Leipciger
Ten metres up she’s peering at her toes, at the grip her toes have on the edge of the gritty concrete diving platform (which she cannot actually feel, all sensation seems to have left her feet). But her toes are knobbly and white; the grip is firm. Ten metres up the big old arms… the big old granddaddy arms of the oak trees in full summer leaf are shushing about in the wind, the same wind that catches her wet swimsuit, chill fingers across her skin. Ten metres up she looks down at the spot where her family has camped for the day, towels askew on a hot pool deck. One child is unidentifiable in a blue pool full of arms, full of sunburnt flesh, each splash like a singular scream; another child, the little one, has waddled off towards the drinking fountain, which she knows he can’t reach without help. Her husband on a faded green towel, a pink starfish lacking the heart to stretch to its full capacity. She cannot tell from up here if his eyes are open, if he sees their child who has wandered off. The boy makes it to the fountain and grabs both sides of the cistern and tip-toes to his full height and strains towards the spout and goes down again on his heels then tip-toes and strains again and repeats this two more times… gives up. She can’t see but imagines the tight pucker of his waiting lips. The unquenched desire. The boy stands dejected, toddler-taut belly protruding over striped swimming shorts.
Wake the hell up, she thinks. Her husband doesn’t stir.
The oak trees are a whisper of love in the ear. From here she can see across the lake, sailboats frozen on the horizon.
“You gunna go or what?”
Irritated, she looks over her shoulder and in that backwards glance nearly loses her balance. Her hands reach for something, find nothing, and a phobic wave tumbles through her stomach. She finds her centre of gravity and is steady. A boy, aged ten or so, arms like knotted rope and wet hair plastered to his square-ish head, stands at the top of the stairs that lead to the platform. A tuft of fluffy hair pokes up arrogantly from his crown; it too is blown by the wind. His apple-cheeked face is like something you’d expect to see on a 1950’s bag of rolled oats, or something. He still believes the world will deliver whatever he asks for.
“There’s three of us waiting,” he yawns.
She calls her husband’s name but it’s no use, the wind carries his name across the tops of the trees towards the lake, catches a lift on the wings of an urban-grey pigeon and is gone.
The water in the diving pool is darker–you could almost say richer–than the water in the other pool, the pool where her elder child battles the Saturday melée for a few inches of kicking space. This water ten metres below her toes is like cold blue glass. It shifts sluggishly, waiting to catch her tired body which, she expects, will fall clumsily, heavy with fear. Light refracts through to the bottom of the pool where the tiles seem to fold and bend and she considers what it might be like to observe the world from that particular vantage point, her back to the tiles, looking up through five meters of water to, and beyond, the surface. All she has to do is jump, release her breath, sink.
“Can we just go before you?”
No one’s ever died doing it. They wouldn’t keep it open to the public if it were a hazard.
She looks down at her sleeping husband. Wonders if he wonders where she’s got to. If he even realises she’s not there lying next to him. The child who was at the water fountain is no longer at the water fountain. She scans the pool deck, eyes alert for the black and white stripes of his swimsuit, well-trained to search crowded areas for her children by the pattern and colour of their clothing (the same details the police would use in some sort of report, she supposes, if the inconceivable were to ever really happen). Where the f is he? The numbness in her feet travels up her legs, carrying with it that rootless, bottomless thing she gets when she loses sight of this kid. He’s not back at the towels, not at the entrance to the changing rooms, nor is he at the umbrella where they sell drinks and chocolate bars. It’s like a lightness, like her feet are leaving the earth and when she’s about to fly off into a real panic she spots him. Where a second ago he was not, he now is. He sits crosslegged by his father’s head.
The water rushes up to meet her surprisingly slowly. There’s time to be surprised and somewhat nauseated by the inertia of her organs; time to be pleased by the way her body takes to this flight so naturally. She’s veritably aerodynamic. Given another go, she thinks she could fit a somersault or two in there. And though the landing is rough, with water shooting violently up her nose and into her sinus cavity, and though her swimsuit wedges itself tightly into the crack of her bum, she is filled with something much sweeter than all that. In a word, she’s thrilled.
Her older child meets her back at the towels with watery blood cascading down his chin. Someone belly-flopped on his head, causing him to bite his tongue. The small one proudly shows her a very neat pile of toenails he has harvested. Food for the ants, he tells her. Her husband pries open one eye, shields it from the sun. She positions herself so that her shadow falls over his face and he might be more comfortable.
He puts a warm hand around her ankle. “Where’d you get to?” he asks.
“Toilet,” she says. She’ll keep this one for herself.
Sarah Leipciger’s debut novel, The Mountain Can Wait, is published by Tinder Press.