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Summer By The Pool MAG
It was 95 degrees that day but I shivered as I slowly walked out of the pool, head up and pinching my nose. I could feel the blood trickle from my nasal passage and ooze into my throat. Nosebleeds aren't rare for me during the arid, hot summers. Not even the cool, clear water of the pool could help. I quickly sat down on a sun-baked bench to draw away the curious stares of strangers.
"Are you OK?" questioned Ewa. I shielded my eyes from the glaring sun and looked directly at her. She handed me a small towel, took my silence as a "yes" and began talking immediately.
"Sophie's gonna dive off the board soon. She wants you to come and watch, Annie." Sophie was the dare-devil exhibitionist that summer. In the weeks before, she had choreographed a ridiculous dance to "True Blue" and performed it in front of our parents at Ewa's birthday party. Now, with this dive off of the high board, she must want to impress John. He was the lifeguard that year at the University pool where we dwindled away our uneventful summer days.
Since our parents worked for the University, we got into all the club free. None of our parents ever came to the pool because not one of them knew how to swim. We had all come from different countries where having access to a pool would be an extreme luxury. Ewa was Czechoslovakian so her name is really pronounced "Eva." Mrs. Koriskova refused to change the spelling because she claimed she wanted Ewa to be close to her "mother country."
Sophie Chang had been in America longer than any of us. She had left China when she was five and had changed her name to Sophie. I never stopped to ask her her real name. The only thing that drew us together (besides the fact that we were the only kids in our apartment building) was that we all wanted to stay in America.
I felt the cessation of the flow of blood in my nose so I got up to walk toward the high diving board with Ewa.
"She's really crazy for doing this, you know," I commented to Ewa who nodded in agreement. By the time we arrived, Sophie was already on top of the 15-foot high diving board waving wildly at us. Her thick black hair was plastered to the back of her swimsuit as she stepped toward the edge. I felt a twinge of fear in anticipation of her dive.
"The lifeguard isn't even here!" cried Ewa. I ignored this when I saw Sophie arching her thin back to face the water. She made one bounce with her knees and off she went into the air. It happened in less than three seconds ... her body was arched so much that she did half of a somersault in mid-air and landed flat on her derriere in the calm pool. The splash itself nearly sprayed all the water out of the pool in a tumultuous wave. The sound was like the explosion of 50 bombs. And I thought I got attention from having a nosebleed! In a second she resurfaced and we ran to her side. All she could say was "Ouch."
* * *
The walk home was always a hated one for the afternoon sun would make our chlorinated skin crisp, and the inebriating smell from all the cars during rush hour was enough to make anyone gag. However, today we walked in an uncomplaining silence, methodically taking every step in unison. Ewa did not talk about the "incident" with Sophie for she knew Sophie would throw a mental fit if we teased her. Ewa has always been sensitive to other people's feelings, unlike me. I could not keep my thoughts from running amuck, or my mouth, for that matter.
Finally I asked, "Why did you do something so stupid? That lifeguard wasn't even there!" I was not prepared for her response. Sophie turned on me with such rage and fury in her eyes that I jumped back. For a full ten seconds, she and I glared at each other. She had a peculiar red glaze in her eyes that looked like a cross between weeping and screaming.
"Stop ORDERING PEOPLE AROUND! I'll do WHATEVER I feel like and I don't have to answer to you 'cause you're NOT MY MOTHER!" She yelled so loudly that people were looking at us. I was about to yell back when Ewa intervened.
"Sophie, stop yelling! Do you want to cause a scene?" she pleaded in a whisper.
"I'LL YELL IF I WANT TO, OK? STOP BEING SUCH A SISSY!" With that cry, Sophie ran off in a mad dash toward our building. I was about to run after her when Ewa stopped me.
"She probably wants to be alone." My head was in turmoil as I slowly marched up the street with Ewa. Why was it such a big deal? No one we knew was there and it was just a dive and I was only asking a question, even if in a slightly rude way. She had never acted this way, not even when I yelled at her for switching all our keys to the apartments. Why was she so mad at such a little thing?
* * *
That night after dinner I slowly made my way to Sophie's apartment. The night air feathered my skin and the crickets chirped sedately in the calm summer night. I knocked on the heavy white door that had become so familiar. I wondered about our friendship and whether it would ever by the same. Mrs. Chang answered the door and greeted me warmly. Obviously Sophie hadn't told her about this afternoon. When I walked in, I noticed a lot of the furniture missing and a lot of boxes scattered around. Were they redecorating? I approached Sophie's door cautiously, half expecting it to fling right open and have Sophie charge out with a machete. My imagination was running wild. I quietly knocked on her bedroom door with the gigantic anti-war poster. That was our Sophie, taking a stand on her beliefs. When there was no answer, I quietly pushed open the door and found a muted Sophie looking forlornly out the window.
"I wanted to apologize for this afternoon. It was all a stupid mistake and I just couldn't keep my mouth shut. I know it must have hurt a lot." My sincerity seemed lost on her, she didn't even look at me when I said this.
"Don't worry about it," she finally said, looking at me in a less bellicose manner. "I was a jerk and it wasn't the diving that got me upset." I looked at her questioningly and said, "What do you mean?"
"I should have told you earlier, Annie. I'm going back."
She said that with such calmness that I didn't truly comprehend the meaning. Did she mean to China? No, she must mean something else. However, this would explain the incredible nonsense she has been up to in the past two weeks but my mind was still skeptical.
"I only found out two weeks ago and I didn't tell you and Ewa because I was too sad myself. I only got used to the idea tonight. I guess it won't be that bad seeing all my relatives again. Of course I'll write, and ...
"It wouldn't be the same!" I cried in vain.
She shifted her glance from me to the window again so I couldn't see her tears. I could only look down at the floor to see my own tears.
* * *
The dreaded day came without a real warning, like a storm you could see from afar but didn't imagine it would hit so soon. Sophie, Ewa and I stayed in the bare apartment staring listlessly at nothing. We had said nothing to each other that whole day. Then Sophie suddenly got up and started to walk in a circle around her living room. As if by instinct, Ewa and I got up too and went over to Sophie to join her march. It wasn't a big room so we got dizzy pretty soon. Ewa then started a little giggle which made us all laugh hysterically at nothing. We were rolling on the floor, our stomachs aching with laughter. I couldn't hear my own laughter but instead I heard the echo of their laughs.
That laugh seems to have been recorded into the walls for me to hear always and again and again with a nostalgic feeling of happiness that only lives in the past. n