Grandma owned a swimsuit, but she never wore it. She owned other things too, jeans and dresses two sizes small, hanging with tags attached in anticipation of the day they would fit. She wore instead lots of shapeless denim, spent whole days in her dressing gown, loose terry cloth hiding folds of soft stomach.
Tonight, at the church pool party, she wears khakis. She sits under the pavilion with the other women, thin, diminished widows with talcum powder skin who trade recipes for Jell-O salad the color of cough syrup. An evening breeze blows. Glad Wrap flutters around paper plates.
We are in the water, naked legs pressed against the warm gold globes of the pool lights. Across from the waterslides, the boys play basketball. We watch, pretending not to notice how their bodies have changed since last year: broad chests and tapered backs, shining, wet. Tonight is a night of church-sanctioned sensuality, a night when everything is a display—the sucking of a cherry Otter Pop, the upward sweep of a body out of water, neck exposed, lips parted, hair swirling behind.
At the center is the diving board. As young kids we’d fight for spots in line, hungry for the thrill of falling, of water sucking you under. Now it’s a different thrill—the thrill of eyes watching. Boys flip and spin, exploding off the plank, rocketing into water to make the biggest splash. For girls it’s different. For us, no running, no flips, no knees hugged to chests. We walk. We feel eyes on us. We take hold of our tankini hems, and we step, and then we fall.
Someone has issued a dare. The scout leaders—the young hip ones who drive motorcycles and spike their hair with gel—are jumping off the high dive in their clothes. Cheers erupt as they plunge.
Even as we watch, our eyes flick back to the boys. We press fingertips to eyelashes, checking for blackness and curl, worried about running mascara. We suck tummies in tight.
My friend nudges me. “Look,” she says.
I turn around. There is Grandma, climbing the diving board ladder. She’s fully clothed—only her feet are bare. Below, boy scouts explode with glee.
Grandma always wanted to be a dancer. Or a singer, or an actress. She wanted the neon swivel of stage lights, wanted to feel nylon hugging muscles as she moved. Instead she had eight children. Her stomach stretched and loosened, hung like tired elastic. Dishwater split the skin around her nails years ago.
And now she walks the length of the diving board in her bare feet and her khaki pants and her button-up blouse, in front of the bishop, and the church elders, and those fragile little widows who, like her, have emptied themselves on hospital beds, over and over, until their bodies are no longer their own.
Everyone laughs. My cheeks flare red with embarrassment, but I can’t look away. Something about it is delicious.
Amid shrieking laughter, my friend throws herself onto my back, arms and legs wrapped around my torso. She giggles, tells me how crazy my grandma is, how eccentric, and why on earth did she do it? I should have known then that she jumped for the same reason my friend’s body pressed into mine, our swimsuits slippery against each other, her face in my knotted hair. For one moment, I forget the boys, feel only my own muscle and skin, feel only sensation. Soon, my focus will again be in my peripheries, sneaking glances at a future I am told to want, a future they tell me is the only reason to celebrate my flesh. But for now, my body sings itself, and it feels good.
Emerging from the pool, Grandma’s clothes suck to her skin. She covers herself quickly, grabbing a towel and hugging it around her. But for a moment, standing in her plastered khakis, she is exposed. I see her. She is the shape of nakedness.
Alyssa Quinn is a graduate of the creative writing program at Utah State University and her work has appeared in Sweet, So to Speak, Sink Hollow, and The Claremont Review. Her favorite things include Star Trek, vanilla chai, and her pet cat Calliope. She will be attending the MFA program at Western Washington University in the fall of 2016.
Photo by Frank Dina