Waterbaby

We’d got in by squeezing through a hole in the fence. We hang back, under the house, watching the pool guy as he wades through the lake of newly-poured concrete. It sucks at his white rubber boots, like a girlfriend that won’t let go. I know what you’re thinking. You’ve got your head tilted in that fuck you way, arms folded across your skinny chest. An untipped French cigarette burns, unsmoked, between your fingers. Blueberry spikes where there used to be a strawberry-blonde ponytail, the skin-art, the metal—you look quite the rebel now.

The guy calls out, trying to flirt. You flash a look at me. Don’t say anything. He tries again, scratching at his crotch as he speaks. You lift a middle finger towards him and your expression never changes. He shrugs and laughs. ‘Suit yourself.’

For fuck’s sake, Ellen, the guy’s just trying to be friendly.

***

Remember that summer, when your mother took us to the pool every day because she was scared shitless to leave you on your own with your pig of an old man again?

Remember the wooden stalls with the half doors like they had in the saloons in those old cowboy movies? How we’d scrunch up on the seats, wooden boards polished smooth by years of backsides, trying to hide so the boys couldn’t see us as we changed?

Remember that swimsuit? The hand-me-down from your cousin that was two sizes too big for you? Your mother made a skirt out of some material that she’d cut from one of her old dresses ‘to protect your modesty’. You pleaded with her for a new one, but she told you to stop complaining and said you’d grow into it.

Remember that time you let Bobby Madsen put his hand inside it?

Remember how we’d fool around, playing Marco Polo or diving for coins? Then I’d hang from the side of the pool, the pebbledash rough against my skin, as I watched you swim laps. Always backstroke, eyes fixed on the sky. Short, quick strokes at first while you got the feel of it, then longer, reaching back, until eventually it looked like you and the water were one.

Remember how we’d just lie there, floating, letting the sun do its thing? How you’d lift one arm and trace the outline of the clouds with your finger? Where you saw a marshmallow, I saw a shared pillow, but I never said.

Remember what I used to call you?

***

The guy smooths the concrete till it gleams like burnished metal and puts up a sign that says ‘Wet’. You wait till he’s back at his truck and then you walk over to the edge of the pool and look down. I know you won’t be able to resist. You take off your clothes and fold them neatly at your feet. You climb down the ladder, extending first one tentative foot into the concrete, then the other, getting the feel of it. You lie down, your arms splayed out behind you, a naked sun angel. I watch as you sink slowly into the liquid warmth. You’re beautiful. You look up, raise an arm to the sky, and smile.

First published in From Arthur’s Seat (Eggbox 2016)

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