BARRY GIBB IS THE CUTEST BEE GEE

Fall 2012: Issue 92

Sheryl Monks

The lawn chairs are still cold when we carry our stuff out at ten sharp. I carry a blanket, sunglasses, a hat, a towel for each of us, and an armload of homework on my first trip. Mama has her baby oil and iodine, a cup of coffee, and her cigarette case. She is wearing a white terry cloth strapless jumper she will peel off when she’s ready and flip-flops.

Mama aligns her chair with the sun and adjusts both ends the way she wants: feet down, back up so she can peer out over the subdivision while she sips her coffee and enjoys her first cigarette. Then she lays the chair flat, spreads a towel over it, and strips down. A thin white scar peaks out of her bikini, but her stomach is flat and her waist is tiny. I wear my track shorts until Mama makes me take them off, but I refuse to wear a two-piece. “Your belly is going to be white as a fish,” she says, and I think, More like a whale, you mean. She will finish her cigarette before I get everything in order to suit me, my blanket spread out in case I feel the urge to switch. I carry out a bag of chips and Little Debbie cakes, even though Mama cautions that girls can’t eat this way forever. I raise the window in the kitchen and find a station we like on the radio, turn the volume up, pour a glass of tea, and refill the ice trays. “Want a pop?” I ask. But she doesn’t. “Anything else?”

“Not right now, Tabby,” she says.

I see her through the kitchen window, rubbing down her legs and arms, the fiery red ember of a Winston as she takes a hard drag, and I remember suntan lotion, go back for it because I cannot stand oil of any kind. I don’t like getting my hair and suit greasy, or sticking to my chair. Mama says it’s a small sacrifice. She swears by baby oil and iodine, and she ought to know. Motor oil is good, too, she says. But mayonnaise, now that will burn you good. I stick to my Coppertone 8, which I put on inside the house where it’s warm, hoping it will soak in before I hit the cool air outside. Mama says I shouldn’t even bother if I’m going to wear sunscreen, but I worry about ultraviolet rays.

“Sun’s good for you,” she says. “Clear up that acne.”

I have this gross constellation of zits on my forehead, so I’m willing to listen even though I don’t act like it.

I bring the bottle with me, circle around Mama so she can do my back. I will have to do hers, too, so I grab a wet washrag to wipe Mama’s oil from my hands afterwards. I don’t want to get the pages of my library books greasy.

By 10:15, I am unfolding my chair. I always leave the newer one for Mama, take the one with the busted strap. One of the gears is broken, too, so I have to lie flat on my back. I get everything the way I want and then lie down. “What time is it?” I ask, and Mama checks her watch latched around the frame of her chair.

“10:20,” she says.

“Is that all? God, I’m dying.”

Mama crushes out her cigarette in the grass.

“Want an oatmeal cake?” I ask. She doesn’t, but I do and then I want milk, too, so I go inside for a glass and bring back the coffee pot to refill her cup while I’m at it. I have two cakes and pin the wrappers under a book so they won’t blow away. The sun feels good, but the wind breaks chill bumps all over me. I wonder why it is that we look so white out here, during the day. Even Mama. In the evening, in our shorts, we look dark already. Mama mostly, but I do, too. “Brown as biscuits,” Daddy used to say, “little Hot-Rize Southern biscuits. Nummy nummy nummy,” as he nuzzled his chin behind Mama’s ear and pressed his body up behind hers in a way that made me happy and grossed me out at the same time.

He’s probably at church looking all saintly right now, like everyone in our neighborhood. It is Sunday morning, but Mama and I don’t give a whit about going to church. “We’re pagans,” I tell her. “You know, like the Mayans.” She knows who the Mayans are because we saw an episode on That’s Incredible about human sacrifice. That’s where I got the idea for my paper. It’s my last assignment, and then school is out for two months.

The sun passes behind a cloud and stays there until every bit of heat escapes my skin. I hold my hand over my leg, check for my shadow. “Too cloudy,” I say, shivering. “Look.”

She doesn’t bother, but she knows what I’m talking about. “It’s there,” she says. “Just can’t see it.”

I look again but see nothing. “What’s the temperature supposed to be?”

“Ninety-four.”

“Wonder what it is now?”

“Mmmm’m mmmm,” she says, clearing her mind of every earthly affair.

“Feels cold.”

“Hush.”

“Got to pee. Need anything?”

“Mm mmm.” She grunts this time.

I go inside, let the screen door slap and feel Mama cracking open an eye at me in frustration.

“Mesoamericans built pyramids,” I recite from my book, “such as the Pyramid of the Sun, located in San Juan, Mexico, the place where men became gods.”

I spot my Magic 8 Ball on the TV, turn the ball over in my hands, and consult it about Daddy.

Better not tell you now, it says. I hate that one.

On my return to Mama and the sun, I make a quick pass through the kitchen to scrounge around for something else to munch on. There’s leftover bacon and canned biscuits under a paper towel, so I make up two and carry them out. “Want one?” I ask and this time Mama takes one and sits up.

“You drinking that tea?” she asks.

I hand it over and we share sips between bites. Now the sun is out again and higher in the sky, inching its way through its orbital path.

“Ready to flip?” I ask.

“Sun just came out.”

“I’m dy-ing,” I groan, my vision still blooming into purple halos from staring into the sun and then walking into the dark cave of the house. I wonder if I can go another hour, flip anyway.

“What about this, Mama?” I ask. “Indian priests read the stars like we might read a tabloid predicting the end of time. No,” I say, striking the sentence. “Maybe this: People in the ancient world believed the sun had lived and died many times, always to be replaced by a new sun identical to the one before it.” I like the way I sound in papers, a different me.

I gaze out over the backyards adjacent to ours that are strewn with bicycles and blow-up kiddie pools and old croquet sets I’ve never seen anyone using. The other neighborhood tanners won’t be out for another hour. Mama and I are usually outside way before anyone else. Kimberly’s mom is the darkest person in the neighborhood, but she gets most of her sun at the country club, where she is learning to play tennis with her married supervisor from R.J. Reynolds.

Kimberly is my best friend. We play jacks on her cool kitchen floor to keep out of the heat. She plays better than anyone I know. She can do her sets without touching another jack, even when they’re stacked. She can do her elevens or nines, even when they’re spread halfway across the kitchen. She has a nice way of skimming her hand over the surface of the linoleum, too, very lightly. It’s all about timing. And practice.

“Did you know,” she told me once, studying one of the jacks as she held it up between her fingers, “that armies use these to maim their enemies?”

I shook my head.

“My uncle told me.”

“Which one?” I hoped it wasn’t Tim.

“Donnie,” she said. “Only instead of jack rocks, they’re called punji sticks and they’re dipped in poison or smeared with poop, so whoever steps on them will get gangrene and die.”

“Eww, that’s gross.”

“I know.”

If we’re not playing jacks, we’re choreographing dances like those we watch on Solid Gold. I am not a natural like Kimberly, but I do take after Mama and can usually get the steps down pretty fast. With the strobe lights going, we look like we’re being struck by lightning. We are brown as Indians. Our teeth are white as stars. The rhythm of the music pulses in our temples, our hearts, and we feel our blood gushing around inside us like a volcano.

On Sundays like today, not another soul is in the neighborhood until Kimberly’s uncles come to mow her yard. Mama is already tanned enough, but she likes to be appreciated, too, she says. And Kimberly’s uncles do seem to appreciate Mama.

Every week, they come with gas cans and a cooler filled with Sun Drops and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Donnie wears mirrored sunglasses and cut-offs without a shirt. His hair is slightly longish and strawberry blond like his mustache and sideburns, and undeniably, he is the more muscular of the two. He is Mama’s favorite. Aunt Jonie’s, too. I imagine him walking carefully over punji sticks in the only vision of Vietnam I can conjure, a rainy jungle tangled with kudzu, no sun, no sky in sight, signaling men behind him with hand gestures, talking without words. Hand up: stop! Hand down: careful.

I myself prefer the leaner, cleaner look of Tim whose hair is shorter but yellow as a peach like his brother’s. Mama thinks Tim is too saintly looking, but she likes the way he fills out a pair of Levi’s all the same, she says.

Aunt Jonie arrives with her lawn chair. She is wearing a string bikini under a little white wrap tied merely for ornamentation around her bony waist. “Girls, have I missed them?” she asks, opening her chair, sliding it next to Mama’s.

“No,” I say, and she grins with her tongue between her teeth and skips around all hot to trot, not like a grown woman should, I think. She considers herself the classiest, sassiest woman alive, and that’s about right, I guess. Her hair is a dark brown-red, only a shade or two darker than her skin is by the end of the summer. Her fingernails are heart-stopper crimson, she calls it, and stay looking wet like the commercials advertise.

I ask her again for the thousandth time how she got her nails so long and she says, “Tabby, I’ll tell you,” in that tone that signals a story is coming. “Your Aunt Jonie was born with fingernails this long.”

Mama lifts the wet rag on her eyes and says, “With three rings on every finger and an emery board in one hand.”

Aunt Jonie cackles and shoots me a clicking wink and says, “Damn straight, darling.” Then she adjusts each one of her rings and stretches out on the lawn chair next to Mama.

“What time is it?” I ask. “I am burning up.”

“You’ll live,” Mama says.

I move over to the blanket spread out in the grass. It is a soft, wooly thing with reversible images on either side: a panther on one and a wolf howling at the moon on the other. It will burn me up shortly, too, but it is better than a thin sheet that would let the hard, stalky grass poke up through and stab me. I open my book to a fantastic drawing of a pyramid, read the caption beneath it: Children were ritually sacrificed in the cave wells beneath the pyramids to appease the rain god Chaac. The real pyramid, shown in the inset, looks more like a pile of rocks.

Aunt Jonie opens her cigarette case and digs out a Virginia Slim with her long nails. She spends a lot of time at a bar called Coyote Jack’s, even though she is a married woman, and I suspect she dances and God knows what-all with men she meets there. Now that Mama and Daddy are in a “trial separation,” Mama goes to Coyote Jack’s with her.

That is where she met Tam, at Coyote Jack’s. “That’s his name? I don’t like calling a man Tam,” I told her.

And she said, “You don’t like a lot of things, Tabby.” Then she said, “His name is Talmadge, if that suits you better.”

He is the biggest drip that ever lived, I reminded her. “He has varicose veins on his face.”

“Don’t be ugly, Tabby,” she said. “And they’re not varicose veins.”

She is slightly embarrassed to be going out with him, though, and anybody who knows Mama knows it. Talmadge is not Mama’s kind of man. Donnie is Mama’s kind of man, muscled and tan and hunky. Daddy is Mama’s kind of man, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and deceitful. I see it all over her when he comes to pick me up on holidays. “You look good, Jesse,” she tells him, smiling that way she does, chin down, looking up at him. And he says, “You, too, sweet thing,” the heavens breaking open above him, and we both give into his charm, forget what a con he can be.

Across the way, Kimberly’s uncles finally arrive in Donnie’s battered Datsun pickup. Tim steps out of the passenger side, and my heart skips, like he is coming to pick me up for a date or something crazy like that. Mama and Aunt Jonie stop talking once they spot the men, and we all three sit there quiet in our own heads, dreaming the same dream. And what we dream is this: we dream that Donnie will woof at us and smile big and wave and say, “Hello, la-a-dies!” And Tim will laugh in spite of himself and shake his head in embarrassment and go on around to the bed of the truck and start unloading push mowers and weed eaters.

I’ll imagine standing before him, waiting for him to kiss me, dying from his slowness, tortured and loving it, dying and smiling to draw him out. And what Mama and Aunt Jonie will imagine is the same, I figure, only a little grosser and moanier, though I don’t worry a lot about the details I know I’m surely leaving out. It is all the same thing, one dream between us, and it paralyzes us like a poison, all three of us sleeping stubbornly to a beautiful dream we want to go on forever.

“Somebody put a note in my locker,” I tell Mama and Aunt Jonie after Donnie and Tim move out of sight to the other side of Kimberly’s house.

“Ooooh,” they say. “Who?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “A secret admirer.”

Mama raises up on her elbows, lets the washrag fall from her eyes to her greased-up breasts. The look on her face causes my heartbeat to quicken, and I don’t know whether to go on or to make up something juicy that’ll make her happy.

“Let me guess,” she says. She has studied my yearbooks, knows all the cute boys at school. “Jonathan Rivers?”

I shake my head, no.

“Ben Clonch?”

“Nu-uh.”

“Well, let’s see it,” she says, excitedly. “Hand it over, baby.”

I pull the note from my library book where I’ve been saving it for her. I don’t know if my heart is racing from the heat stroke I’m having or if it’s because of the glorious smile on Mama’s face. She unfolds the letter and squints against the white glare of the notebook paper. She squints harder and harder until her eyebrows stand down and her lips ease into a worrisome bunch.

“This is a girl’s handwriting,” she says.

“What?” I snatch the page to have another look. “No, it’s not!”

“Look at all them curlicues,” Mama says.

I study the writer’s handwriting for clues, and she’s right, the script is loopy and very well practiced. The letters are prim, and I wonder what that says about the writer’s personality. Could the letter actually be from a girl? I’m more baffled than before when I thought my suitor was a boy.

“Stay away from them lizzies,” Mama says sternly.

“Maybe it’s just a joke,” I offer, to make her feel better.

“A sick joke,” she says.

“Maybe it’s just a prissy boy who writes like a girl.”

“Prissy boys are worse than lizzies. You stay away from all of them. Your daddy would have a heart attack if you brought home some little fairy-tailed boyfriend.”

I am sorry I brought up the letter at all. I wipe sweat from my face with Mama’s washrag, consider saying, Well, what about a grown man named Tam? That’s pretty queer sounding. But she would just cock that sassy attitude, wink and smile, and say, Oh, I beg to differ about that man, little girl, not saying what she’s saying loud and clear. And besides, that’s different. You’re young. Your whole life is in front of you.

Then in Tam’s defense she would say, There’s just something about him, which is what she always says about men I’m “too young” to appreciate. Trust your mama, she is always saying. 

And I do. Most of the time. But I know that this “trial separation” is just code for something more permanent. I have seen her lying in bed for days too often lately, and at times like that, I am glad for Talmadge, glad as I can be. He is a nice man and gives Mama anything she wants, takes her out to eat. Invites me, too, often as not, though I never go. Tam is alright, I figure then.

I run my eyes over each character of my secret admirer’s curvy handwriting.

“Maybe the letter is from someone trying to cheer me up,” I offer again.

“Cheer you up about what?” Mama says.

 

It rains all week, so Kimberly and I are trapped inside playing jacks. I usually take all three throws before I toss a spread I can manage, but Kimberly has shown me how to work with whatever cluster of little metal stars comes my way. To practice, she makes me pick the jacks out of her hand. If she feels anything, even the slightest touch, I have to start over. We play in the kitchen where her mom has been trying all summer to root a houseplant in a glass of water. Mother, Kimberly calls her. She is the only kid I know who calls her mom Mother that way.

In her room we lie on her bed and look at magazines with foldout posters of Eric Estrada and John Schneider. We measure our chests with the measuring tape from her mother’s sewing kit. We prime the roller balls of our lip gloss with our fingers and then smear gobs of sweet-smelling, chemical-tasting gloss over our lips. We want desperately to kiss someone.

Outside it is gray. Steam rises from our sidewalks, our driveways, even from the grass. Mama’s tan is fading. “Rain is so depressing,” she says. But I like it; I like the air before it rains, swirly and damp. I never really tan anyway. I am still peeling long runs of skin off my shins. Kimberly scratches at the pieces I can’t reach on my back with her neat fingernails. I bite my nails, so I have to use the sharp point of a jack rock to bring up edges of dead skin that I can grab hold of.

“My uncle saw a man skinned alive in Vietnam,” Kimberly says.

“Which one?” I ask.

“Tim,” she says, and my heart hammers behind my training bra. “But they couldn’t brainwash him,” she says. “They never could.”

 

The next weekend, I am flicking a big black bug off my blanket and picking away grass and little gnats that have stuck to my sweaty legs when TJ Frazier strolls up to us in the yard. I grab my towel, standing, wrapping it around me, pretending I am about to go inside. TJ is a boy in the neighborhood, a couple years older than me, a dropout whose eyes are permanently glassy from smoking pot all the time. He is cute, though, and I have always had a crush on him, so I don’t know what to do when he stops and says, “Hello, foxy mamas.”

Mama and Aunt Jonie fawn all over him; they could just eat him up, you can tell, even if he is just a kid. Precisely because he is just a kid. He makes himself at home, flops down in my empty lawn chair beside Mama and says, “Want me to rub lotion on your beautiful body, Mrs. Lambert?”

I snatch the bottle of baby oil from him. “Grow up,” I say.

He laughs and Mama and Aunt Jonie grin in cahoots with him.

All of you,” I say.

TJ reaches for my oatmeal cakes, unwraps one.

“Tabby has a secret admirer,” Mama tells him.

“Mama! God!”

She looks at TJ with her spell-casting eyes and says, “Wasn’t you, was it?”

He shoves the whole cake in his mouth, smiling dreamily, and I throw a book in front of my face and curse the day I was born. I am standing there with a big Marvin the Martian towel wrapped around my body, my legs and arms prickling from the smoldering look I know TJ is giving me. And he says, “The world is supposed to end in 2012.”

I screw up my face behind the book, which is, I realize, what he’s referring to.

Then he stretches out on my chair and stares up into the wild blue yonder as if he can see the end coming.

Mama and Aunt Jonie leer like headhunters.

TJ rolls over on one side, pulls his legs up in the fetal position, hands under one cheek and says, “But yeah, Tab. It was me.”

He doesn’t even go to my school, but my heart pounds to the song on the radio, “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees.

 

                         Here I lie in a lost and lonely part of town

                         held in time in a world of tears I slowly drown

 

I look like a complete retard standing there, so I drop my hands and make an attempt to glare at TJ, muster my surliest pose, as if to say, In. Your. Dreams.

He sits up on one side of the foldout chair next to Mama with his hands hanging between his knees, looking at me with that stoned smile of his, those lazy eyes that bat in slow motion, and that distant-looking wry expression on his face.

Aunt Jonie starts gyrating in her chair to the Bee Gees and it is X-rated almost the way she writhes and thrusts her bony hips. TJ laughs, says, “Show me what you got, Hot Stuff,” and sings along to the song. Tragedy, when you lose control and you got no soul, it’s tragedy. His voice is too low to stay with the Bee Gees, but he doesn’t care. He stands up, struts, tears his T-shirt over his head, strikes a pose like something out of Saturday Night Fever. His chest is scrawny and white, and he looks more like Mick Jagger, I think. He prances and sings and it is Mick Jagger exactly, nowhere near Barry Gibb, who is, we all agree, the cutest of the Bee Gees.

“That’s horrible,” I say, wanting to laugh, but not wanting to more. Aunt Jonie stands and dances with him; she is doing her “Lay Down, Sally” bit that drives me crazy it’s so funny to watch, thrusting her pelvis and doing that thumbing-a-ride thing. Mama is going right along, singing and hooting at the two of them.

I am the only one wondering if Donnie and Tim are getting an eyeful across the way at Kimberly’s house, and there is Donnie, staring back with his mirrored sunglasses, reflecting a blinding ray of light that makes my eyes tear.

TJ and Aunt Jonie are boogeying around the yard, shaking their tail feathers, doing what they know of the hustle. Part of me wants to show them some moves that are out of this world. But another part holds back, clings to the earth. The sun is blistering hot now, and I feel like I might burst into flames. I read an article about a kid who spontaneously combusted when he had his first wet dream. TJ is stumbling and falling against Aunt Jonie, his hands like golden stars whizzing through the air.

Across the way, Tim is pushing the mower around the playhouse that Kimberly and I used to play schoolteacher in. He has taken off his shirt and turned his ball cap around backwards.

Mama tells me, “Come on, Tab. Live a little.” She is turning over, untying the strings of her bikini top so she won’t get tan lines.

I think of leaving, slipping back inside the house, letting the door slam as I go, sure that no one would even miss me. Then I think of what I’ll tell Mama later, when TJ is gone. I’ll tell her he is a total pothead, and Aunt Jonie will say, “Yeah. But a cute pothead.” As if that settles it.

 

When school is out and the sun is directly above the earth and scorching the Northern Hemisphere, Kimberly invites me to go swimming at a park that has water slides and go-karts. I take the money Daddy has given me for my birthday to buy a new striped beach towel, something mature and inconspicuous, and a bathing suit cover-up to hide my fat hips. I don’t know how to swim, but Kimberly says she can teach me. She doesn’t mention that her uncles are coming or that I will have to sit between them in the backseat of her mother’s Mazda, which barely has room for Kimberly and me. I think of asking if I can ride in the front seat, but I don’t want to seem ungrateful. Kimberly gets carsick riding in the back.

Mama would have a cow if she knew the uncles are coming, not because she’d object but because she would be jealous and think it a waste of a good opportunity for another woman, an older woman like herself. What can I do? I’m just a kid. I hope she doesn’t see us piling into Kimberly’s mother’s car.

Donnie is wearing a pair of short white trunks with a yellow and blue stripe around the middle and a belly shirt that shows the lower half of his hairy stomach. Tim is wearing plaid knee-length trunks and a baggy T-shirt with Mickey Mouse on it, silent Mickey from the old black-and-white cartoons.

I wait until given instructions about where to sit, but eventually I must climb between the men in the backseat who sprawl out with their legs thrown wide open like a couple of Venus flytraps, and I try my best not to touch them. They are hairy everywhere, and my bare thighs prickle with the feel of their legs touching mine. I wrap my towel over my lap and make myself as small as possible. I think of Mama’s spell-casting eyes and the hold they had on TJ Frazier, a boy not even half her age, and feel a surge of power inside me like a burning tornado, a volcano turned inside out. My arms and feet look brown inside the car. My white toenails gleam on the floorboard straddling the hump between Donnie’s sandaled feet and Tim’s sockless Converse sneakers.

Donnie throws his arm up over the seat behind me, clearly cramped himself, and asks if I’d be more comfortable sitting on his lap. The heat inside the car is a greenhouse trapping the sun. I smell the sweat of Donnie’s armpit and feel myself melting into the vinyl seat beneath me, the sweat of my own legs and the sweat of two grown men running together and pooling in the seat of my swimsuit.

“No thanks,” I shoot back too quickly, feeling the heat rise in my face.

“You guys okay back there?” Kimberly’s mother asks, glancing into the rearview.

Donnie pumps the window down and reaches across me to the other window on Tim’s side of the car.

“I got it,” Tim says. “Watch it!” Heavy beads of sweat have collected in the short hair follicles around his face, and when he leans forward to roll down the window, I see that the back of his T-shirt is beginning to soak through. His shirt is bunched up over his trunks, and I see a dark line of matted hair disappearing into the small of his back.

Kimberly’s mother fires up the Mazda and soon the wind rushes through the open windows, wicking away sweat from the surface of our skin.

“Goddamn if it’s not hot,” Donnie says.

Without a word, Tim cuts his eyes at his brother and frowns, and Donnie says, “What?

The melting lard of my fat thighs pressing against him is irritating Donnie, but I dare not lean closer to Tim or my skin will burn to a crisp. I perch as best I can on the hump between my legs and lean forward between the seats where I don’t have to look at the men.

Kimberly smiles and leans to whisper something in my ear. She turns my jaw toward Tim, pushes my hair behind my ear, and cups her hands to the side of my head. I blush from the nearness of Tim’s face to mine, notice the little whiskers of missed hairs under his lip, and he smiles without showing his teeth. I smile, too, feel a cyclone of bees in my heart, and think that I can almost taste the smell of Kimberly’s Bubblicious bubble gum. There is a dead wasp in the window behind us, a little rubber smiley face on the tip of the car’s antenna rising behind it. My bare back is exposed and I feel Kimberly’s hands cupping my ear, her pink breath forming one word after another.

“My uncle told me you were pretty.”

“Which one?” I ask, the words collapsing in my throat.

Tim’s green eyes soften when I glance at him sideways. And then there is another set of hands around my waist. I feel Donnie’s big thumbs in the small of my back, and then a hard tug up onto his hot lap. The wind from the window whips in my face, steals my breath, and I think I will smother. The pitch of his knee drives my head into the liner of the car’s ceiling and I wrestle as he tries to pull me into a more comfortable position against his stomach. I arch my back and crane my neck, and all I can see are Tim’s calloused hands, palms thrown up in urgency, signaling for Donnie to stop.

“What?” Donnie says. “She’s fourteen years old,” and the mention of my age in Tim’s presence sends hot gasses to my eyes. I don’t know how old he is, but it’s a lot older than fourteen and being with him in the car is a thousand times worse than boring into the center of the sun. I don’t have so much as a pair of sunglasses to protect myself, so when the tears come I bury my face in the stupid new towel I bought with my birthday money.

Over my shoulder, I hear Tim cluck his tongue at Donnie, and it is the saddest sound in the world.

I call Mama from a pay phone as soon as we arrive at the pool. Pretend to be sick. Wet kids with towels draped over their shoulders beg for Pop Rocks and banana popsicles.

“What is it, honey?” she asks. “George?” George is code for that time of the month. It is not George, but I lie and say that it is so she will come right away and get me. She would never want me to be trapped in a bathing suit in public with George.

I wait in the glassed-in arcade, the sounds of pinballs and asteroids circling me as I watch Kimberly’s uncles teaching her how to dive backwards from the spring board. Donnie does backflips and cannonballs, bounding down the length of the board in thunderous lunges. When he emerges, he crosses his hairy brown shoulders in front of himself on the edge of the pool and rests, flashing a smile at the young mothers dipping their babies in the kiddie pool across the way.

Tim walks to the end of the board, aligns his body with his arms extended above his head, standing perfectly still until he is ready to leap. He does graceful swan dives and snappy jack-knifes, his long body folding and unfolding in the sun, slicing through the water without a ripple, swimming the whole length of the pool underwater, his body a shimmering comet tearing through space and time.