Saturday 24 June 2023

'Twelve-Mississippi' by Carrie Etter

I was in the deep end thinking forty-six-Mississippi, forty-seven-Mississippi, to see how long I could stay underwater. Mindy Morris was up to seventy-two when I left for vacation, and I wanted to beat her record, beat her.

At sixty I popped up for air. My chest hurt a little, and I figured this was what they called endurance training. Swimmers at the Olympics probably started doing this before they were eleven. Again I wished Mom had taken me to Water Babies.

I looked to the other end of the pool. My sister Joanie, just two, sat on the first step and patted the water. Dad, fully dressed and standing a few feet away, was supposed to be watching her. He was talking to another dadlike person.

I dropped and counted. At twelve-Mississippi, some kid did a cannonball, and as the water rushed, I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I saw across the pool little legs kicking wildly: Joanie.

I rose and looked for Dad. I called, but my voice seemed faint over the sound of kids splashing and shouting. I saw Joanie’s head bob down, up, down.

I swam for her. It wasn’t that big a pool, much smaller than the one at Fairview Park back home. I grabbed her wriggling body and scooped her up. When she coughed, I exhaled. This must be what a baby seal feels like, I thought, wet, slick, and warm.

As I stepped out of the pool, Dad took Joanie and held her to his chest; he cooed and jiggled her as she cried. I stood dripping, staring, and said to myself since no one else was paying attention, “I saved her. I did it. Me.”

Dad took a step toward me, but he was too late.


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