Late Afternoon

I returned to the water this afternoon, after weeks and weeks of dipping my toes in to test the temperature, only to find it disappointingly cold. I don’t know what changed today – the water was still cold and the despite the sun, the air was cooler than it was yesterday, when my cousin came over to lay out with me. There was a slight breeze in the air, and I, alone today, plugged my ears with Matt Kearney and fell asleep in the yogic dead pose.

I slept until my skin, on the verge of burning, tingled my nerves. The skin on my thighs felt as though on fire. The backs of my hands seemed ten thousand years older, I was afraid to look. I’m well aware of skin-cancer dangers – but like millions of women who would rather be tan than not, I eat plenty of vitamin c and cooked tomatoes and take my chances.

The water glistened, glittered, batted its watery lashes at me and said, “Today is the day. Come cool off.”

I dipped my foot in and it felt wonderful, the soothing coolness on my hot skin – but years of experience taught me that my extremities were more tolerant of cold than the rest of my body. But I felt like moving. Summer turns me into a semi-athletic human being whereas in the winter, you might as well call me Brown Bear Betty.

The wait is over, I declared. I have been patient long enough. Last summer seems so long ago – between then and now I transformed into a pale office rat. Swimming in the sun is now a weekend activity. I pushed myself up from the towel and walked to the edge of the water. Would I enter the slow, cautious way, step by step? First the ankles, then the knees, then the thighs and eventually, gingerly up to my chin?

The thought of it felt like torture, and a surefire way to never go completely in. It left too much room to back out in cowardice and retreat indoors. I wanted laps. I wanted to stretch out, to kick, to pulse through the water in my best impression of someone who knows how to swim. When I was young I pretended I was a mermaid. I let my hair down and kicked with my legs glued together. But today I was all business. I wanted laps.

I backed away from the edge of the pool. Turned to see my dad sleeping in the living room, the sound of the television playing faintly in the background. Somewhere, my neighbor’s dog barked. A car door slammed. A bird chirped and cars rushed down in the street below.

No more waiting. I ran towards the water and jumped.

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