Sign Language

The sign by the pool says, “No diving under five feet,” and I always wonder if it shouldn’t be six. I always wonder if no one should dive at all. But I don’t say anything. I don’t want to disturb anyone, even from getting a cracked head.

I sit there on the edge, staring at the sign, feeling drowsy because chlorine always makes me drowsy. I will probably drown someday if I stay in the pool long enough. Maybe I should have my mom check the box so I don’t have to swim anymore, like she did with gym class.

The others splash about in the deep end. The sign over there says, “Only with a lifeguard present,” and I imagine the skinny high schooler standing up and saying, “I’m present,” when he sees the sign. Of course he’s reading a book, it’s Moby Dick, but I don’t think that’s allowed. There should be a sign to tell him that.

“It’s your turn to swim, Thom,” Miss Myrtle tells me. Her hand is on my shoulder. I don’t like it when people touch me without asking. I don’t like many things, but Miss Myrtle smells like the beach, and I forgive her for it. It’s not enough to make me swim, though.

“Thom, we go through this every Thursday,” she says, when I don’t speak up. I keep my eyes forward, level with the “No diving” sign. It soothes me when I get agitated, which seems to happen every Thursday at this time, for some reason.

“You have on the life jacket, so nothing can happen to you, Thom. I won’t let anything happen to you,” Miss Myrtle continues. I wonder why she doesn’t just stop.

I close my eyes, and listen to the other kids splashing around. They never splash me, even though I know they must be tempted sometimes. I would be tempted sometimes if I wasn’t me. If I was them, and I saw me sitting over here, fair game.

But they don’t play games with me. They never have. Not even checkers. They pretend I’m not here, which makes a certain kind of sense. I pretend I don’t see them pretending not to see me. We do play that game together, but there are no winners, only losers. It’s not a very good game. I don’t like playing it, but I say nothing.

“I’m going to ease you into the water now,” Miss Myrtle says. I forgot she was there. I’m good at pretending until I forget. I’m good at a lot of things, but no one really thinks I can do anything. I see it in their pity, in the spaces between their words that tell me I’m not good enough, even when they smile and tell me I’m good enough.

I look at Miss Myrtle now, at last, and she smiles at me. I say nothing as she slides me into the water and I imagine how beautiful I would look if I drowned.

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