Jenny climbed the first rung of the ladder, bare skin against abrasive grip.
An older girl, two boys from her class, and some fat kid were in front of her in line. The fat kid’s swimsuit dripped on her nose, his butt inches from her face, as he suddenly stalled while she tried ascending higher. The older girl stomped down and sprang off the board, jackknifed in the air, plummeting toward the pool, her hands cutting effortlessly through the water. Hardly a splash.
Next, the two squirrelly boys from her class scampered out on the diving board together. They half embraced, half pushed off each other. For an instant, as they raced to the edge of the platform, it seemed they were locked together, running over the air like cartoon characters, their legs cycling for a foothold as they hovered. Then, instantly, the pool shattered, a girl below them shrieked, and the lifeguard blew her whistle. The water’s bright gash healed around them. Tiny bubbles rose, obscuring their murky outline below its depths.
The fat kid toddled out, patted his blubbery belly, then heaved up with a crack of the board and cannonballed earthward—spray shot up—and the water swallowed him whole. He disappeared.
Jenny’s turn. Next year, she’d be in high school, and fourteen, and next summer her parents promised she could go to sleep-away camp.
She stood on the plank, walked out to the end. The water sloshed and undulated.
A sudden chill. It was the first time she felt her nipples harden.
The noonday swam. Suntan lotion burned her eyes. The kids below her splashed and juked, screeching and ducking, some piggybacking, some blindly sharking underwater as they played Marco Polo. There were kids lined up behind Jenny now, too, waiting their chance to jump. She couldn’t back out. Only forward, only down and further down. The distance magnified, stretching into a great gulf; a cloud passed overhead, and below her the bright space swept into shade. The water marbled; the sun came back, a shock of scintillas. She thought about the smack of water, its chlorinated sting, the sudden possibility of hitting bottom or thwacking some kid who drifted by; banging up against someone in her way; a thick, dark trail of blood diffusing through the pool.
Breath held, eyes closed, she stepped off the board. She could have been leaping off a bridge. The wind caressed her. For a moment she felt unencumbered, before the elements would take her—she fell through dazzled air and dappled water, awaiting the glittering shrapnel, the tiara that would crown her as she penetrated the surface, anticipating the rumbling acoustics of molecules being rapidly displaced, before her body would float back up among the wayward children.