Missy parks her clodhoppers in the middle of the room, right in front of the television. These are her shoes; they are big, size nine, which are two sizes larger than her mother’s shoes. Sometimes, her mother calls these shoes “boats.”
“Why don’t you park your boats in your room?” Or sometimes and most often, she calls them clodhoppers. “Get those clodhoppers out of the middle of the floor.”
Missy carries them into her room. She stares at her own feet as they spread across the floor. The massive dots of pink nail polish on her toes remind her of fat women in floral dresses. The floral dresses, like the pink polish, are hiding something that no one wants to admit.
Kicking violently, Missy forces her shoes under her bed where she hides all her shoes. Shoes that fit her and shoes that don’t. Often her mother “spring cleans” the house and fills large bags of household items to donate to charity: out-of-style or too small clothes, out-grown toys, scratched and dented pans, purses, belts, and shoes. One of the major stops is Missy’s room. Cleaning was often a sign that her mother had completed some major project at work and was yet another step in the slow upward clawing to middle-class. However, there has not been any cleaning in over a month and Missy is worried. Nudging all the heels and the toes that poke out, she hides these clodhoppers with the rest. Her mother dislikes them and so must she.
Under her bed, her shoes sail across the carpet circling a moat of dragons and serpents, like floating plastic ducks, but larger or like boats in a harbor, but less subdued. Missy imagines that if she were to look under her bed, she’d have to come face to face with something that both she and her mother are denying. If the carpet were the sea, her clodhoppers would make a storm, splashing waves all murky brown.
Sitting in front of the television, Missy flips channels, settling on nothing particular. She watches music videos, reruns of Buffy, portions of old movies, the weather channel, interviews, infomercials, and sitcoms. But nothing is on. She picks up the phone and calls Chelsea.
In the kitchen, her mother is banging pots and chopping vegetables. This is the signal that Missy better come and help soon, or else. There’s not a moment to spare. Not a second of lying around or lulling on the couch entertaining one’s thoughts. Every breath must be an exertion of production; this is her mother’s philosophy, thinks Missy.
Chelsea is chipper, “So, are you coming with us or not?”
“I haven’t asked.”
“Well ask. The worse part will be the sailing, but mostly we can lay-out or swim.”
“I’ve never sailed before,” says Missy, picking at her toenails as she scrapes off the polish that missed her nail and left her skin streaked with pink. “I don’t know if I can. I mean, what if I fall in?”
When she was little, Missy took swimming lessons in a clear pool where the bottom was marked by corners. The deepest point was a drain like a large mouth waiting to suck her in. Missy liked learning how to swim, pushing her arms through the water, and looking at the soundless half bodies around her. Sometimes, she would sink beneath the surface to play tea party alone and wait to see how long she could hold her breath. Seconds would tick by and she would be in absolute solitude with her thoughts. In her class, she was the student who was always able to stay under the longest.
After each set of lessons were completed, Missy was allowed to proceed to the next level: tadpole, minnow, eel, walrus, swordfish, dolphin, and then shark. Her mother would give her a hug and say, “Congratulations! I bet you can’t wait to start the next level.”
As Missy listens to Chelsea explain sailing and the limited possibility of overturning the boat, she knows she is supposed to be an achiever. Like her mother, she should never show weakness or fear to others. Her mother has no fear and never cries. When Missy cries, her mother calls her “scaredy baby.” But Missy can’t help it. In the shower, with the radio on, Missy cries alone.
“Listen, Missy, if you can swim, you have nothing to worry about. Besides, we might even get to go snorkeling,” says Chelsea. Chelsea is a born and bred beach girl. Her parents used to own property in a small tourist town known for its quiet beaches and perfect sailing harbor. Several weeks after her parents moved to the big city, they began spending each weekend back in the town.
“I’ll call you back,” Missy hangs up and heads into the kitchen, plucking carrot chunks from her mother’s freshly made salad. Sitting on one of the stools, Missy munches as her mother stirs the sauce for the pasta.
“I have big plans for us this weekend,” her mom begins, as she sips red wine from her glass and absentmindedly wipes her hands on a towel. “I thought we could check out that new craft store on the north side of town. I’ve heard they have an exquisite selection of fabric.”
Her mom continues raving about the craft store, as she adds mushrooms and green onions to the sauce. As an afterthought, she pours straight from the bottle a generous helping of red wine into the bubbling burgundy concoction.
Last night, Missy woke up at three and as she willed her eyes open, the sounds of the kitchen drifted into her room. Her mother often stayed up till dawn perfecting some assignment for work. Sometimes, there were other voices, male or female, in hushed tones laughing. In the mornings, Missy would get up first to find empty wine bottles in the sink and red spills dried on the counter or her mother’s work carefully packed up and ready for the day. Missy had learned not to ask direct questions because if she did her mother send her away or told her to mind her own business.
Cloistered in her bed last night, Missy did not hear those signs of her mother’s life; instead she heard sobbing and glass shattering on the tile. Because her mother was not a crier, she lay breathless unable to move. Each sob further pinned her into bed while she tried to convince herself that this was not her room and this noise was not from her mother. In the morning when Missy hesitantly got up, there were red sticky spills throughout the house.
Watching her mother prepare dinner, Missy looks for signs of explanation of last night knowing there will be none. Pulling breadsticks from the oven, her mother beams through her tasks and takes long pulls on her wine. Clutching the edge of the stool, Missy hangs on, refusing yet wanting to see something out of the ordinary.
Missy knows her mom is an amazing cook; her friends “ooh” and “ah” at meal while her mom beams and asks them what kinds of meals their parents cook. Missy yearns for macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, grilled cheese or take-out pizza, but what she gets is vermicelli flan, taliarini with gorgonzola, and marinated eggplant on a bed of linguine. Missy could spend hours in the kitchen learning to cook and working recipes over until they are just right. She could be perfect.
“Missy, you can knit a mean scarf. I think it’s time for an upgrade. I think this weekend we should try for a cap. You can knit and I’ll make new curtains for your bedroom. Won’t that be fun.” Her mom says the last sentence as a statement rather than a question. She always tells Missy how to feel, how to understand, when there is fun, and when there is not.
Carrying the salad to the table, Missy realizes that it’s her mother or Chelsea. The sounds of last night’s sobs reverberate in her head. “Mom, Chelsea’s parents are going to the beach this weekend and they want me to go.”
“Oh,” her mother begins.
“I want to learn how to sail and Chelsea is the only person I know who knows how.”
Rearranging her salad with the dressing now added, her mother stabs at a green pepper and examines it without eating. “What time would you be leaving?”
“Tonight, at eight.”
“Oh, Missy, I just don’t think….”
“No Mom, you don’t understand, sailing starts bright and early in the morning and we are going both days. In two days, I’ll be an expert. They’ll call me Captain Missy. And her dad is really into danger scenarios. He’s always asking: ‘If you’re on a life raft in the middle of the sea and you have no drinking water what do you do?’ or ‘If a storm comes up out of nowhere and your sail is up, what do you do?’ It will be an education. I need this, or I guess I could stay home and watch television. There’s a Buffy marathon on this weekend.”
Her mother raises one delicately pruned eyebrow and pops the green pepper into her mouth. She chews evenly. “You will have fun. You can go, but you have to pick up your room before she gets here.”
In Missy’s bedroom, it is eight o’clock and her room is neat if not clean. Her mother’s green afghan is spread on the bed with the stuffed animals her mother made propped against her hand-stuffed pillows. Missy tucks the last essentials into her backpack: swimsuit, sunblock, a book, sunglasses, and a towel. Carefully toeing the edge of her bed, she pulls out two pairs of shoes: white sandals and rubber-soled sneakers.
On her feet she puts on the large white clodhoppers; sandals that do not hide her enormous feet but rather accentuate them. She wishes they were black, because Chelsea says that black makes you look thinner. Missy’s feet have gone from seven to nine in a year. At this rate what size will I wear when I’m eighteen, Missy wonders.
Missy wishes that other things could grow in this fashion: her skill at crafts or
schoolwork. If she could only will something into perfection, make something just happen without having to try and work at it. Missy knows her mother worked hard and struggled at new tasks, but she always acted as if everything were a breeze. When her mother lost sixty pounds one year, her aunt asked her how she did it and Missy’s mother had said, “Oh, you know, it was just so easy. I just changed a few things, cut this and this out of my diet and voilà. It was magic, the weight just disappeared. It was really no work at all.”
This is not the case for me, I have to work at everything, Missy thinks. Everything except the growth of my feet; my feet are in the lead and I’m losing. Just then there’s a honk and Missy flies out the door, yelling goodbye.
The next morning, Missy, Chelsea and her parents are out on the harbor by eight. Chelsea gives Missy a motion sickness pill and Missy is relieved. She feels slightly calm and the rocking sea is almost unnoticeable and wishes that she had a pill for fear; instead she has her mother. In her mother’s life there is no such thing as fear. There is no time for it. As the waves rock the boat, Missy remembers the slick terror of diving. The long board, the wet rough sandpaper texture, and the vibrations each step made. The wind whips her hair, like the wind up on the high dive and a chill sends shivers along Missy’s skin.
In order to become a swordfish and finish the level, each student in the swim class had to learn to dive from the high dive. Missy made the mistake of telling her mother she was scared. A week before the final test for the class, Missy’s mother took her to the pool on the weekend. In the car ride over, her mother informed her that she would learn to like the high dive and that they were not leaving the pool until Missy had dived from that board several times. Inside the gates, kids played everywhere. Six life guards sat in their chairs and surveyed the mayhem, occasionally blowing their whistle or kicking a kid out.
Tears mulled in Missy’s eyes. As she smeared lotion on her arms before approaching the pool, her mother said, “Don’t be a scaredy baby, you’re embarrassing me. Diving is easy. We’ll be here until you’ve learned how to.” Walking over to the showers, Missy drenched herself thoroughly before climbing slowly into the deep end.
All afternoon, Missy swam and dived, but never once from the high dive. She avoided her mother who sought her eyes, but when Missy glanced at her, lying on the chair and oiling her body, her mother shot her disapproving glances and finally just ignored her altogether. With an hour to spare before closing time, her mother appeared as a shadow over Missy as she floated on a pink noodle.
“Get out. Now,” her mother whispered in her you’ve-gone-to-far tone. Missy did as she was told. “Now, to the diving board.” Missy walked just in front of her mother watching her feet make the water spread on the wet pavement. Following and nudging her all the way to the top, Missy’s mother forced her out onto the high board.
Missy turned, the wind chilling her skin. “Mom, I can’t do this,” she said.
Her mother had the smile for strangers on her face: happy, normal, and as slicing as broken glass. “Yes, you can. I don’t have time for this behavior.” Glancing at the lifeguards and other parents, her mother raised one eyebrow and gave her daughter a push.
“Please,” Missy begged.
With another shove, her mother said, “This is for your own good. Now jump.”
Closing her eyes and counting to three, Missy bounced and then stopped. The water below reflected the sky and looked dark and depthless. Bodies noiselessly splashed and watched her like an audience, knowing she’d lost her lines. The sound of her breath was raw in her mouth, like she’d been screaming. Her eyes felt puffed and dry from the chlorine, and the breeze made her skin sticky as she stood unable to move. Behind her, her mother was talking but the words were not audible.
Almost by accident Missy jumped and as the air whizzed by she pressed her hands together in the diving position. Closing her eyes, she held her breathe and dove into the water. Rising to the surface once, she regained her breath and sank below the water, the only place she felt safe. Under she stayed, watching the bubbles float along her body. Her mother’s body whirled by from a perfect dive, not seeing her. Below, there was nothing, only silence. A void so complete, Missy was unsure if she was dreaming, if she was real.
When Missy resurfaced again, the pool shrieked into sound, like a crowd at a game. Everyone was talking but nothing made sense. Laughter, cries, and shouts bounced along the water and pounded into her ears. Way above her, the high dive pronged into the blue sky and like a tongue it wiggled, launching each diver into the water. For several minutes, Missy held onto the edge of the pool afraid that she was still up there, clutching the hand rail unable to dive.
As Missy watches the waves of the ocean around them, she feels like she is about to dive. With each glance back at the receding shoreline, she feels her feet on the rungs of the steps to the high dive. Missy tells herself she doesn’t have time for fear.
Chelsea’s parents stay below as the girls sit in the front by the net. This boat is more of a catamaran than a sailboat. Two large runners keep the boat afloat, with the cabin mostly above water level. In the front, suspended between the two runners is a black canvas net. Waves splash over it occasionally, but mostly run below it untouching. They spread sunblock on each other’s back and watch the coast line recede and the ocean envelop them. The sky is partially cloudy, which makes the ocean not blue and not green, but a slate gray. The farther they move from the land, the more white caps appear.
In the distance, a ferry is crossing from one side of the harbor to the other. “Watch for dolphins,” says Chelsea from sunglasses and a boatman’s cap, complete with the local beach logo. “They like to play in the wake.” Her golden curls pull and flatten in the sea breeze. Taking off her cap, she loosely plaits her hair while watching the waves. As they near the slow moving ferry, four dolphins swim through the waves. Their long dark bodies jump and move, disappear and reappear closer or farther off, like they are herding the ferry and the boat into the right direction. Missy watches her sneakers soak up the seawater as it splashes. She wears jean shorts and a tee-shirt over her bathing suit, which she knows isn’t nearly as cool as Chelsea’s surf pants and bikini. Missy creeps closer to the net and lets her whole leg rest there.
The water is warm and surprising; each splash is as expected as it is not. Missy had anticipated it to be icy and sharp. The water soaks into her jean shorts and spreads in shapes like the red spills in her mother’s house and while watching her legs, she expects blood to run from the places the water grazes. On several occasions, Missy had wiped up the wine stains from the floors and counters. After rinsing out her dishrag her hands would bleed where slivers of glass made ribbons of flesh. The blood would seep, following the creases of her palm, making tiny trails and drop into the sink. If she washed her hands, the blood would come again and she learned to wait until it dried to gently dab the red away. As Missy watches her legs, she imagines blood continuously trailing down; it blackens once it hits the water and is sucked below into the ocean.
Chelsea’s dad comes up behind them and watches the sea. “We’re making progress, in another twenty minutes we’ll be in the best place to sail today,” he says this to both of the girls and to no one. It’s like he’s telling the ocean the requirements he has of the day and nothing more. In front of them, the ocean plunges ominously, a flat line stretching across their view. Out there, no birds skirt the sky. Clamping his hand on his daughter’s shoulder he speaks again, mostly to himself, “You can take the girl out of the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean out of the girl.” His brow furrows as he squints into the sun beaming between the clouds. “Twenty minutes.”
Missy bounces her foot on the net as little droplets of water jump and fall, like shards of glass. Missy’s gray sneakers stain in the water, brim over with liquid. Like when painted by the dirt and wear of time, they will never look the same. Ruined. Garbage. Chelsea probably has no such word attached to her body; Clodhoppers, thinks Missy, what a horrible word. Clodhoppers. Dirt jumpers. Mud fliers. Trench climbers. Outdoor runners. Rock bouncers. Dust fleers. Hill sailors. Mountain ascenders. Flat splashers. Tundra travelers. Brown attainers. Black racers. Ocean fearers. Missy feels like a frog or maybe a pig, rather than a dolphin or a Chelsea. The label sounds like an ad for a distorted version of the cool new shoe for boys. And she’s not a boy. She’s a girl with clodhoppers and boats on her feet.
Watching the water, Missy tries to imagine the sea as a swimming pool, but she can’t. In the pools she has been in, Missy could always see the entire pool, every edge and corner. From every angle, Missy could see all around her while sitting with her feet dangling in the water and could watch stray leaves float along the bottom of the swimming pool. Looking out into the waves, Missy realizes that the ocean is not something she wants to touch; it is something she does not want to sink into and look around.
They sail. Or to be correct, Chelsea’s parents sail as the girls hold on and watch from the boat, the wind flying in their face. The father holds the rudder and calls out orders. Chelsea’s mom moves back and forth, switching lines, pulling in sails and letting others out. The tiny boat dips into the sea while salt water soaks every inch, waves suck the sides and the wind snaps the sails. Hanging onto the middle of the boat, Missy sees the ocean as thick and menacing. The water is like sludge or quicksand that once under the surface, there is no getting out. The ocean is a huge blanket, a wall, and everything that goes in is trapped forever under.
“This is great!” says Chelsea, slowing making her way to Missy, who has her arm wrapped around the metal steps.
“I don’t feel so well,” says Missy with fingers gripping the grooved metal.
“I always used to get seasick, too, until I got my sailing legs. Do you want another motion sickness pill? They’re great.”
“Thanks,” says Missy, swallowing the pill dry.
“I take them sometimes for fun,” Chelsea winks, “They make me feel floaty. This one weekend, when I was younger, a huge storm crept up on us and I took two. I think I would have just died without the pills. I was so scared.”
“I’m not scared to sail,” says Missy.
“I didn’t mean that you were. They’re for seasickness anyways.”
Missy does not hear her last statement; the world is wrapped in silence. The sky is gray with slivers of blue bleeding through. The ocean is splinters of slate, carving into the boat and sky. The only sound is Missy’s uneven breath.
By late afternoon, the wind dies and the group munches on cheese and meat on crackers. They sip pop from chilled cans and are gently lulled by the rocking. “If you fall overboard without a life vest, what do you do?” the father asks and breaks the silence.
“You swim back,” offers Missy, high from the pills Chelsea feeds her when no one else is looking.
“You wait,” chimes in Chelsea.
“Ah, you’re both right, my sailing girls,” he exclaims. “If it’s a motor powered boat, you wait. Tread water or float on your back, simple. If it’s a row boat, you can swim back, but slowly. You have to conserve energy and the boat has more power than you do.” Clearing his throat and taking a long swallow from his can of pop, the father says, “Now, what do you do if you start to sink?”
“You die!” Chelsea laughs and throws a fish cracker into her mouth.
The father’s eyes shift to Missy, “What do you think?”
“You take off anything heavy?” says Missy blushing slightly and imagining herself sinking slowly. The opening of the ocean wide, the floor covered in glass teeth. On this floor, there are no sticky red spills.
“Excellent! Yes. Take a deep breath and stop kicking, reach down and take off boots, jeans, jackets or drop bags. Everything is lighter in the water, but many things will pull you down. Modesty or death, that’s your choice.”
“Oh, Dad! You’re so dramatic,” says Chelsea, tilting her head back and laughing lightly like bells. There was affection between them.
“Alright, men, to your spaces. We have one more stop before heading back.”
The boat ambles along and heads to the coast and into a cove. A beach lies empty but wreathed in trees, vegetation and rock. As they enter, the sails are pulled in and the trolling motor is dropped into the water for an easy approach. The water is crystal clear and dark fish dart below. “Come on,” Chelsea says, heading into the cabin and stripping down to her bikini. Missy does the same. She stares consciously at her feet below cloaked in clodhoppers. Chelsea grabs snorkels and kick boards, handing each one to her friend.
“Girls, when you hear the whistle, head back. Remember, I can’t come get you in here, it is too shallow. And watch for feeder sharks.”
“Right, Dad.” Chelsea eases off the stairs and jumps into the lukewarm water and starts kicking off.
Missy gazes at the cove. It is smaller than the ocean, though much larger than any swimming pool she’d ever been in. About the size of football field, it is lined with rocks on the outer edge and a narrow strip of beach on the other. The boat mostly blocks the only way into or out of the cove. Leaning over the edge, Missy looks down into the water and sees the sand and coral below. Shapes waver and change. How deep is it, Missy wonders, could I stand on the bottom? Missy hesitates before jumping in and eyes the father for details. This is definitely not a swimming pool, “I don’t know how to snorkel.” Because Missy feels high, her thoughts float into and out of her mind, as if on their own accord. As the water laps the boat edge and Missy’s feet, she hears her mother’s sobs. The beach far in the distance looks covered with her islanded shoes that were supposed to stay hidden under her bed. Watching her hand holding the kick board, Missy sees the hair on her knuckles glint in the wavering sun. I should shave those, she thinks.
“It’s easy,” he says, “just put your face in the water and kick. Keep an eye on one another and you’ll be fine.” With a little shove, Missy finds herself in the water. Silently blessing the motion sickness pill, Missy gently strokes over to her friend. She holds the kick board and goggles in one hand. This is just a pool, Missy chants to herself, I don’t have time for fear. There is nothing to be afraid of, as she imagines the water pulling her down, pushing her under, and keeping her there. Anxiety is a wet and thick blanket that chokes. On the beach, Missy almost sees her mother holding a dripping glass of red wine.
Kicking fast, she catches up to Chelsea. Chelsea lifts her head out of the water and smiles around the large snorkel mouth piece. “This is fun, yeah!”
Missy giggles nervously, “The ocean or your pills?”
Chelsea hushes her friend with a tiny splash and winks. “You’re on your own now. If they wear off, you probably won’t notice. We can get more tomorrow, though.”
Feeling something brush by her leg, Missy asks, “How do I do this?” Chelsea shows her how to spit into the goggles, how to breathe, and blow water out of the mouth piece.
“The rest is easy. Just kick and watch. Every once in a while, look up and see where you are.”
Missy does this and follows her friend for awhile. Sinking her head underwater and looking through the goggles, Chelsea points to several small bright blue fish swimming near the coral. Missy kicks slowly, going over the coral and watching the life beneath. Constantly, she moves her head to find Chelsea, large silver fish with blue stripes, and clown fish. There are as many fish as they have at a pet shop, but moving with more life and swimming with more velocity. Snorkeling makes her uneasy. She tells herself, look at the fish, look at the fish. Missy wants to be perfect at this, but feels panic. Maybe another pill, she thinks. Touching the bottom here seems very unlikely. The boat is far away. The beach far away. The rocks, like razors. The seaweed, slimy. She sees a large patch of the seaweed moving towards her, coming closer and she swims away as quickly as possible.
Not enough air. Missy raises her head often and scans her surroundings. The snorkel is hard to breathe in and salt water gets into her mouth. Her lungs burn and she can’t get the taste of the ocean out of her mouth. Something passes by her leg, she is sure, back underwater, Missy tells herself to look at the fish. At some point, Missy loses Chelsea and finds herself drifting alone. Lifting her head up, she eyes her situation, her stomach in a knot. The sky is cast with more clouds and the water around her looks gray rather than clear. Across the small cove, the boat bobs slightly. If Chelsea’s parents are on there, Missy cannot see them, but she is close to the beach and could swim there in one breath. She spots Chelsea swimming near the boat. It’s the beach or miles of water, Missy is sure. One long breath and a few kicks. There are exactly four steps on a diving board and exactly two seconds from the board to the water. Fear is the crack of the board. A quick gulp of air.
Taking off her goggles and holding the kickboard, Missy swims towards the beach. For several minutes she stands on the sand, her skin raised in goosebumps in the wind. Biting the inside of her cheek, she wonders if the boat can pick her up from where she is, though she doubts it. As she begins to dry, digging her toes into the sand, her mother’s sobs ring in Missy’s ears. All across the kitchen floor, there had been red stains and glass in various sizes of shatter. While her mother slept, she had carefully swept the glass into a pile and threw it away. Then, on her hands and knees she wiped the sticky spots as best as she could. In the bathroom, it was worse.
Missy relaxes in the warm sun and lies in the sand, shielding her eyes from the sun. Every few minutes, she rolls over to get an even tan. I’ve escaped, Missy thinks. If I just wait here, I won’t have to snorkel anymore. When Chelsea’s father whistles, I will just back stroke to the boat. I don’t have to do this. Behind her, the palms rustle in the breeze as the water barely laps against the sand. The sun periodically winks into and out of the clouds, like it wants to reveal something but can’t, not yet, it’s too soon, Missy thinks.
Finally too hot to lie anymore, Missy walks along the beach ankle deep. She observes shells, but no fish. Wading in a little farther, she ambles along knee deep, and then waist deep. I don’t want to do this, Missy tells herself. She turns and eyeballs seven steps to the beach. Turning again, the boat bobs at the mouth of the cove. Standing still, she stares at the boat. A hundred steps? A thousand breaths? Missy slams her kickboard into the water. How much longer with this distance, Missy wonders, how long till this is over?
Dolphins swim near the boat, their fins and bodies breaking the surface of the calm cove. The parents lean over the boat’s edge, absorbed in the animal’s play. There is no way I can go back now, Missy thinks. I’ll either scare the dolphins off or go back way before the whistle sounds. Letting out a deep breathe, Missy puts her head in the water. Kicking again, Missy glides and aims herself in another direction, towards the other side of the cove. A small trio of stingray shuffle along the sand, leaving tiny puffs in their wake. Watching them, she thinks of a television show she once saw on diving and snorkeling. She remembers the relaxation the divers embodied as they carefully pointed out the underwater life and the way they seemed to let go of the busyness of daily life. Unlike other shows, there was nothing they had to prove to one another. All they had to do was be, to look, and absorb. As Missy swims, watching a school of tiny fish wax and wane below her, something uncoils inside her. There is nothing in her head but what is before her. There is no diving board or swimming pool. There are no boundaries or edges. There is no level to surpass and no one to impress. She feels weightless. Long strands loosen inside her.
A whistle sounds and slices her meditation back to anxiety. Missy looks up and it calls again. The boat seems so far away and her arm muscles ache slightly from holding the kickboard. If she lets go, she could drown and lay at the bottom of the ocean while fish nibble at her eyes. She could die. Taking a deep breath, Missy aims towards the boat paddling. After what feels like twenty minutes, Missy raises her head again but the boat seems hardly closer. The whistle again. Missy floats silently, not kicking her feet or moving her arms, but letting the water hold her. Missy thinks she sees Chelsea climb up onto the boat and then stand along the edge looking out. Maybe they’ll leave me, Missy thinks, and I won’t have to do this. Chelsea and her family are watching me and expecting me to do this until I have it right. The coil tightens again. She descends.
As she sinks, she sees the floor of the bathroom slick with red. Along the tile, in dribbles and dots drying puddles lead to the open maw of the toilet. The scarlet followed the hexagon shape of the tiles, and looked in places like half completed game boards. In the window, delicate yellow curtains fanned softly into the room. An odor wafted in the small space, like dirty clothes or earth. On this floor there was no glass.
Setting aside the broom and dust pan, Missy gingerly tip-toed towards the white basin of the sink and toilet. The sink was streaked with wine and an unbroken wine glass lay discarded against the porcelain. In the toilet, the water was blood red and pink diaphanous clouds of toilet paper filled the bowl. In the center of the cloud was one dark and thick red mass, just larger than a quarter. For the first time, Missy realized that the stains on the bathroom might not be wine.
Missy drops further underwater, looking at the coral beneath her. She kicks slightly, landing on the sand below. Touching the bottom, it is rippled and solid beneath her fingers. Pretending to play tea party, she looks around. Above, the surface of the water is mirror like, below the coral life breezes along and floats. Animals move gently along, none looking at her or caring what she does. This is where she wants to be, Missy realizes. This is what she wants to feel, always.
Needing to breathe, she goes to the surface and then descends again. A small jelly fish swims just by her face, the center of it is pink. As Missy watches it, she knows that she’s seen something like this before. Something small and alive, floating. Bubbles escape from her mouth in protest. Noticing her own body, she sees that she is still wearing her grey sneakers. Missy reaches down and pulls off her shoes and lets them sink to the dark rocks below. Clodhoppers. They are boats out of commission after a battle. Like wreckage, they lay on the sand forgotten. And with them goes the coil. And without them, she rises without effort. In her mind, she sees the blob of pink tissue swirling in the toilet as she flushed it away. She wiped the floor, until every trace of blood was gone. The wine, the glass, and the blood, gone. Swallowed.
Kicking faster now that she is lighter, Missy heads towards the boat. She sees the belly with fish swimming under it, and as she nears the stairs and sees two feet waiting for her, Missy takes one last look. The sand below, the fish just off to the side, the dark blue expanse melting into itself all around her, and blows out bubbles from her mouth. Sinking deeper, Missy accepts the uncertainty and lack of boundaries. The ocean is not like a pool. There are no edges that she can see and there is no drain. The trio of stingrays swims out of the cove just beneath her, she watches them go and rises.
Raising her head above water, Missy calls. “Hey, now what?”
The father appears, “Quite a show down there. Head around back and climb up.”
“Thanks,” Missy says, as Chelsea’s dad helps her up and Chelsea takes the snorkel and kickboard. Climbing back to the net, Missy and Chelsea looks towards the coast as the boat closes in on the harbor. Missy feels exhausted, but energized. The sky shifts from blue to pink, with purple lining the clouds. Shoeless, she leans against the boat and wonders what could grow and die and what could leave a mark not to be discussed. She closes her eyes and sees her mother sleeping as she did yesterday morning. Next to her mother’s cheek on the pillow is the pink and red blob of human tissue Missy rescued from the toilet just in time before it was swept away. Like a tiny heart, it glistens perfectly.
Laura Madeline Wiseman is an award winning writer teaching in the southwest. Her works have appeared in 13th Moon, The Comstock Review, Fiction International, Poetry Motel, Driftwood, apostrophe, Moondance, Familiar, Spire Magazine, Colere, Clare, Flyway Literature Review, Nebula, and other publications. She is the Literary Editor for IntheFray and a regular contributor to Empowerment4Women.