by Felicia Hodges
by Felicia Hodges
"Can you swim? " my gym teacher Miss Bergen asked. I was sitting with my classmates, other seventh-grade girls with arms folded across, under- or over-developed chests, feet dangling in the water, preparing to get this stupid "water safety skills week" over and done with already. When I looked up from the chipped purple polish that dotted my toes, I realized Miss Bergen was talking to me.
Whenever I hear that, I wonder if the person asking wants to know if I can do the front crawl, which I can. I've always hated to see people move their arms like they're doing the front crawl when they're really only doing that side-to-side head flip stuff. That is not swimming. It can't be. First of all, it's almost impossible to see where you're going in the water if you don't even get your face wet and how can you do anything without even seeing where you're going?
My father swims like that. At least he did that time at Sebago beach, before Mom's operation. I remember him moving across the lake, his yellow swim trunks riding the surface, his arms and rapidly flipping head leaving a trail of white water behind. I had learned to swim the summer before at camp and I knew that only front crawlers passed the deep-water swim test. My father would have never gotten to go off the diving board swimming like that.
"Why does he do that thing with his head?" I'd asked Mom. She was sitting on the blanket next to me in a red one-piece that had a little ruffled skirt at the bottom. The suit's white horizontal stripes made her small chest look bigger than it really was.
"What thing?” she'd asked. She was leaning back on her elbows, her long legs bent slightly at the knee. Her slender toes dug into the sand as her hair danced in the summer breeze.
"That thing," I'd pointed to her husband. "Why doesn't he just stick his face in and blow bubbles, then turn his head to the side to get more air?"
"I don't think he likes water on his face. Even in the shower he faces the back wall, away from the water."
In my mind, I saw my father lathering up his washcloth with Irish Spring while singing some old Drifters tune to the back tiles of the stall. Then I wondered how Mom knew what my father did in the shower.
"Yuck," I said aloud.
Of course that was a few summers ago. My father works the night shift now, which doesn't leave much time for summer trips to the lake. He started doing the vampire thing around the time Mom found the lump. He and I always seem to be just missing each other lately since he makes it to the dinner table when I'm about to get up to finish my homework or something. He only takes every other Saturday off which he usually spends cat napping on the couch, trying to re-adjust his freaked-out body clock. Sundays are strictly for TV football. Or baseball. Or golf or bowling. Or whatever.
Of course, Mom and I can always go to the lake by ourselves, but who needs it? I don't think she likes to think about how her white stripes might not fit so great across part of her chest and I don't like how my own budding tits, wrapped in a skin-tight spandex one-piece for all the world to see, might somehow upset her. Besides, lake water and sand can't possibly be all that good for fake, plastic body parts. Especially pale pink ones that sit against chestnut-colored skin like neon signs, announcing to the world that the breast that used to be there was lopped off and left to die at the bottom of some pile of medical waste.
"I'm sorry, Miss Bergen. What did you say?"