The Local Pool
by Emma Neale
Turn a corner, into air tangy with chlorine. The smell removes memory’s stopper and an anxious genie swims out. What about the turquoise of a small town pool? What about concrete, dark with Rorschach marks that wet bodies left behind after boys egged on and watched?
Police, phoned by a passerby: the next day, when their own girls cried, ‘See ya!’ over pop-radio falsetto, did the cops saloon-door from their bathrooms, half-Santaed with soap, then gruff up quick hugs, foam-chins hooked over their daughters’ shoulders, to hide fuel-lines of dread in their eyes?
The mothers of the pool-girl’s friends: did they slash open packets, shove cupboards shut, slam on about hemlines, and torn black tights peep-showing lucky pennies of skin, because grown women can’t just wish-link pinkies, to ward off a suburb’s sons?
The girl’s friends, asked by social workers to tell when she skipped classes, because she had to get back on track, mustn’t let one summer dusk haunt her with that boy crisping her open, peeling her back like the winding-key on a tin of imported sweets — did those friends stop reporting because tears skirred free as she begged please don’t? Or because they learned she’d agreed to meet the boy again, at a bus shelter’s cold bunker, and the red folded mystery of how a wound could drag her back to its own start was too confusing? As disorienting as the acrid smoke they heard about later, when a schoolbag, schoolbooks, stockings, wasp-striped school tie, were soaked in art-room turps and set alight, as
a girl prayed for flames to leap a pine plantation’s firebreak, hive for the new subdivision and one blue house, its yard junked with bikes and a boy’s outgrown clobber, slung into trash bags slumped limp as drunks.