“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.
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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.
Archived at http://lit.konundrum.com/prose/gallagj_diving.php