The Bend, Rock Glen 1981

Fiction
Marcie McCauley


Photo Credit: The Cookiemonster/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Tessa left the candy necklace under an up-folded corner of the faded Underdog beach towel.

We’d eaten the purple-coloured beads first; we planned to eat the pink ones next.

I straightened and patted down the towel’s other three corners, not watching their backs—Tessa’s and my mom’s—move away from me.

I didn’t want them to see me watching, see me still wanting, as they moved towards the line for the water slide.

By the time they rejoined the queue and turned to wave, I’d positioned myself exactly in the middle of the towel, on Underdog’s neck.

The grass was springy and thick under the towel, like a mat, but dry and broken beyond the edges of the tree’s shade.

I waved quickly, then resumed flicking bits of dirt and splinters of dried grass off my feet like marbles.

My glasses slipped down my nose and my bangs stuck to my forehead. I stretched my legs out to cool the hot creases of skin behind them.

Not that I was looking, but periodically, sliders burst out the end of the water slide, like a cat coughs up a hairball.

Tessa and I first saw the slide the night before, from the wagon. (“Ohmygod,” Tessa mouthed to me, silently, because her mom had a rule about not saying it, even if my mom didn’t.)

The wagon was actually a flatbed pulled by a tractor through the campground every night. If you wanted to ride, you went to the store at six o’clock, unless it was raining. Any kids who hadn’t known about the wagon before would probably be first in line to board the next night, but the wagon never stopped, so at first they could only watch.

The kids whose families brought their bicycles rode behind, like they were in a parade. Everyone on the wagon sat on straw bales and rode and waved to everyone. The people sitting in lawn chairs and at picnic tables looked up from their books and games and food and drinks and naps, as the wagon approached.

We saw the slide’s silhouette against the slumping sun. There was another side to the campground, farther from the store and the pool, with sites on a ridge, and the slide was taller than that, with only a single bend.

As the truck rose and fell with the uneven surface of the dirt road, I thought about the bump in the middle of the tallest playground slide at Southside Park, that brief moment of weightlessness when your butt caught lift-off on the way down. On a hot day, you had to lift your legs too, so the metal slide wouldn’t burn the backs of them.

That first night, in the dark of our pup tent after we had seen the slide, we guessed that the older kids would sneak in (like skinnydipping, which I’d also never done). We were still and quiet in our sleeping bags, straining to hear the lawless splashing. Made breathless by what we couldn’t see. The seconds tripped over each other until we fell asleep.

Now I was watching. Trying to look like I was not watching. Not sliding. Definitely not sliding.

I unhooked the band which secured my glasses when swimming, and dragged the vinyl cooler bag on mom’s towel closer to me. The plaid bag’s handle was slippery, glazed with the baby oil that my mom rubbed into her arms and legs to help her tan.

I stuffed my band in the bag’s front pocket, with Mom’s sunglasses and her Agatha Christie novel. Tessa’s Garfield comic book was there too. We were reading it together, a few new pages each day, restarting and then reading beyond, until I said to stop.

I was timing it so that we could read the whole book straight through on our last day, which would put something good in that day. The next morning, mom would drive Tessa back to Windsor, where she still lived with her mom and three older brothers.

We all lived in Windsor until my mom and dad got divorced; now, mom and I live in Sterling, where I don’t share my candy with anyone. Tessa had never seen Sterling, but I knew all the places she knew in Windsor.

I also knew that the steps to the water slide had cut-out triangles in rows, and if you pressed your foot down hard, it would leave a faint pattern on the sole. I knew what that pattern felt like with my fingertips.

As I sat and watched, the minutes puddled around me. I knew that at the top of the steps was a long platform covered with a big sheet of plastic like a curtain, its thin ridges like corduroy bunched up in places, allowing the water to gather, shallow and warm.

And I knew about the landing pool at the bottom, filled not with swimming-pool water but dark water. Mom said that water wouldn’t sting our eyes and that there weren’t fish in it because they’d have nothing to eat.

She knew that I didn’t like things sneaking up on me in the water. (The summer before, when we had visited cousins at the lake, I wouldn’t go swimming with the other kids, because they talked about the tiny fishes nibbling at their legs. They said it tickled. When it came time to go swimming, I said that I wasn’t feeling well.) (Every day.)

This landing pool was not like either a regular swimming pool or a lake. You couldn’t see anything beneath the surface. You could not see the nothing that Mom said was down there.

The slide-guy at the top occasionally hollered: everybody had to wait behind the red line. While we were standing on the stairs, I imagined it would be blood-red, but it was actually faint in spots, like a tissue mom used to blot her lipstick.

The slide-guy at the bottom occasionally shouted: everybody must hurry out of the landing pool so that the next mat could come down.

Tessa had latched onto our mat, clung to it like an overstuffed pillow while we stood in line. I poked at it gingerly in her arms, fingering the torn edge, which looked like cottage cheese. Those bits were rough, but other parts were slimy, off-coloured and smeared, like fingerpainting in green and brown and black.

The mats were strong, like the plastic carpets you used for toboggans in the winter, the ones which you could barely flatten when they were new. Even unfolded they curled back on themselves like potato bugs rolled away from danger on the sidewalk.

When we got to the top, I stepped from one puddle to the next behind that scuffed red line, as though the puddles were stepping stones across the Amazon River, which is filled with piranhas, fish that are not nothing, fish that eat people for breakfast.  We could hear another set of riders splash into the pool.

A grandpa-ish man sat down hard on his mat and knocked it askew, but the slide-guy yanked it straight, even while the little boy was still curling up in front of the man like a cat settles on a cushion.

The man used his heels to inch the mat closer to the top of the slide, and in only a moment they were sliding. From behind the red smear, it looked like they were heading straight for a blue wall, but it was only the bend in the slide. From there, they couldn’t even see the pool.

They went forward and I went back. Mom was directly behind me, and she dropped her own mat when she put her hands out to steady us both. It landed between us. Tessa was already pressing our mat down on the ground. When she turned, I wasn’t behind her anymore; Mom told the kids behind us to go ahead and beckoned to Tessa.

When we climbed down, everyone moved aside.

Everyone pressed to the edge of the steps.

Like they were watching a parade.

Two other kids splash-landed in the pool, just as my foot touched the ground.

Now, sitting on Underdog while Tessa and mom climbed, I unfastened and refastened the belt on my swimsuit.

It was my brown-and-yellow-striped one, because my favourite with red stars down one side, was still damp. The whole day before—our first day—we’d been swimming, and it hadn’t dried on the saggy line strung between the car and the tent.

I fingered the green bead closest to the knot of the candy necklace as Tessa and Mom neared the top, and I arranged the bead so that it was perfectly aligned between my teeth.

Green was our least favourite.

They waved again, before they lowered themselves onto their mat, out of sight.

I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see the bend. I shut my eyes and waited for the splash.

When I bit down, the bead cracked into sweet, green dust.

pencil

Marcie McCauley’s prose has won the NOW’s Feminist Fiction Writers’ Award (US) and has appeared in Room (Canada) and Other Voices (Canada), Tears in the Fence (UK) and Orbis (UK), and online at The Rusty Toque and The Empty Mirror. She is equally passionate about writing and reading. You can find her at buriedinprint.com and on Twitter @buriedinprint Email: marcie.mccauley[at]gmail.com