by Jamey Gallagher
“Okay,” my sister muttered under her breath, “okay, okay, okay, okay, okay. Okay.”
We were driving in our cluttered station wagon, and Sara was wearing her black rubbery bathing suit and blue warm-up pants that went swickswick when she walked.
“Okay,” she said.
I noticed that she was sweating heavily and paler than I’d ever seen her.
“Are you…?” I said.
“Shut up,” she said.
Our mother turned away from the steering wheel briefly to look at me.
“Now, honey, leave your sister alone. She needs to concentrate.”
“Okay, okay, okay, okay,” Sara said.
All of a sudden, I wanted to kill my sister. I looked out at the stormy gray Massachusetts land, with the green leaves all jumbling together with the wind, and tried to concentrate on that.
“Can’t we turn some music on? She’s driving me fucking nuts.”
“Watch the language. This is your sister’s important day.”
Her hair was in a tight bun that pulled at the skin of her forehead, making her look a little like our doctor, who was German and old-fashioned and had a stuffed bobcat in her high-ceilinged office. The examining room smelled like cotton and wood polish and in the waiting room we would sit holding paper bags full of pee cups.
“You look like Dr. Smot,” I said.
She didn’t even look at me. I kicked at a bunch of trash by my feet, scrouching down so I could roll an old coke can with my foot. The can made a sick metallic crunching noise. In front of me, our older brother Tom had his headphones on. He was lucky. Once in a while a snatch of a Tom Petty song would come out of his mouth. “She’s an American girl,” or “even the looosers get lucky sometimes,” then he would go back to bobbing his head. All I could hear from the back was static.
Sara had greased her arms with something- maybe Crisco- and the smell was thick in the back seat.
“Okay,” she said, slower now. “Okay… okay… okay…” Then she gave one last “okay!” and smiled at me.
“Thanks for coming,” she said.
At the Boy’s Club, I tried to follow Tom into the room where they had ping pong and pool tables.
“Uh-uh,” he said, pushing me lightly in the chest.
“Come on, Rich,” my mother said, grabbing hold of my hand. I wanted to kill her, but no matter how hard I jerked my hand away she could hold it. Mom was a nurse and stronger than any of us- even Dad.
The air around the pool was green and damp and heavy with chlorine. Parents sat sweating on bleachers. A group of ten or twelve kids, all my sister’s age, clustered around the diving boards. The smell of chlorine made me feel like retching. I had no intention of ever learning to swim.
I watched Sara with the others. All of the girls looked like her- tight buns, greased arms. A bunch of young Dr. Smots. None of them looked pretty. Sometimes, if she got dressed up on the weekends and put makeup on, Sara could look pretty, but now they all looked like the same person.
The boys smiled at each other, cocky. Some of then had shaved their body hair. I felt like a kid who finds himself at the adult table in the middle of a political discussion. Nothing anybody did made sense to me.
“Oh,” Mom said. “Look. Sara’s first!”
We watched her climb the ladder up to the high diving board.
“Okay,” I thought. “okay, okay, okay.” It was supposed to be a joke, but my heart pounded hard.
Sara stood with toes on the board, facing away from the pool. Then she flipped her body upward and spun out. It happened so fast I could barely tell what she was doing. I was amazed that my sister could make her body do something like this.
Just before she hit the water, the world seemed to stop. She was right above the water. Then she sliced through.
“Okay!” I said. Mom hugged me and we both watched as Sara walked back to the diving board.
Jamey Gallagher’s writing has been seen in places like Monkeybicycle, Diagram, and 3AM Magazine. Besides writing, he leads a dual life as a father in South Jersey, and a graduate student at St. Joseph's, in Philly.