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  • Mother May I
  • Gloria Frym (bio)

No, you may not go into the water, mother says as we sit on the lawn outside the public pool, all of us, a rare Sunday during a May heat wave, eating bologna sandwiches, mother her cottage cheese and tomatoes with wheat germ. Look what kind of people you find in public pools, she points, and besides you could get polio. We kids can see perfectly through the low chain-link fence, lying on our stomachs, trying to get a suntan, which my brother says you cannot get until at least an hour after eating. Sister says, ah who needs to swim anyway, people pee in pools. I might let you take swimming lessons, mother says, when your fragile respiratory system, your tonsillitis, and your, she points to sister, strep throat every three months disappears. Do you think I like taking you to the doctor all the time? You, she points to me, are so underweight, you skinny ass, what would you put into a bathing suit? Well, pipes up brother, haven’t you heard about the woman who surfs every day but doesn’t know how to swim. You lie, I say, how do you know? I just do, he says, and if she wipes out, she reaches for the strap on the board, no big thing. An old lady with dugs to her waist waddles by, we follow her with our six eyes until she holds her nose with one hand, flings up her other, and jumps into the deep end of the pool. Did you see that, sister screams, she must be crazy. Nah, she musta been an Esther Williams, mother says, about fifty years ago. Who’s Esther Williams we three want to know, only mother says, sometime when an old Busby Berkeley movie comes on TV you can see her, she was a bathing beauty with a big smile. Mother wanders over to talk to some people sitting at a picnic table a ways off. That lady was really fat, brother says, yeah, sister chimes in, I’ll bet she loves the deep end more than the shallow. Of course, brother says, can’t you see all those dumb little brats splashing around near the steps? I’ll bet I’ll just bet that lady would never sink, even if you put your foot on her head. Are you kidding, we sisters protest, how do you know that? Cause fat floats, learned that in science class, which you may have been absent for. Don’t be snide, sister says, taking off her pink sequined sunglasses and sticking out her tongue, you have a fat head. Yeah, well your head is so tiny it’s amazing that you can even talk, he says. I know a lot more about people than you do and did you know that Indians [End Page 35] in the mountains of Peru can’t swim. I learned that in school, you creep. Yeah of course they can’t swim, they wear everything they own at once like ten skirts and so if they did accidentally fall into a river they’d float like a parachute. Who says parachutes float, sister snips. I say, stupid, listen, I don’t care what mother says, I’m boiling, aren’t you boiling, and brother pops up and runs to the gate of the pool, turns to us and waves and jumps in, right in the middle of the squealing kids. We hear a whistle, and then the lifeguard shouts into a yellow bullhorn, boy in plaid shorts, boy in plaid shorts, out of the pool. Brother is goofing underwater and doesn’t hear him, or pretends not to, but mother does, and we sisters know what hell there will be to pay. On the bus home, we whisper-ask brother why the lifeguard pulled him out, and he says it was because he hadn’t showered first, but we think that is a lie. [End Page 36]

Gloria Frym

Gloria Frym’s most recent books are Mind over Matter (BlazeVOX, 2011) and Any Time Now (Little Red Leaves, 2010). She is also the author of two critically acclaimed...


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pp. 35-36
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