Monday, June 18, 2012

At West Park Pool


In the beginning there was the usual scene with the usual mix of people. In the roped off area a woman was attempting to swim laps while various tots and their misdirected projectiles strayed into her path.

Over by the diving pool, a chubby, generously freckled boy positioned himself on the lower of the two diving boards. Head down, arms extended he leaned forward as if to execute a dive, then apparently changing his mind, straightened, pinched his nose, bounced twice and jumped, plunging feet-first and creating a torpedo-sized splash . He did this three times in succession, so perhaps it was all part of a ritual he'd made up.  A diving board ritual.

On either side of the long ends of the pool two men, in furious competition, hurled splash bombs back and forth. One of the men was very pale, bordering on chubby, and wore American flag swim trunks. His light hair was shaved almost down to his scalp. The other man was swarthy and hirsuite and somehow less obtrusive. Or so I thought.

Young men and women in life guard attire issued occasional warnings:  no running, no flippers when you dive, etc.

The big clock on the wall near the dressing rooms showed quarter to one when the very old woman arrived. She was clad in a one-piece dark blue bathing suit, the kind that serious swimmers tend to prefer. Her legs and arms were incredibly thin though she had a slight paunch due, probably, to long- expired stomach muscles. She wore a bathing cap covered with plastic hibiscus flowers in various lurid colors.

With the aid of a walker, she made her way cautiously down the ramp from the dressing room and around the side of the pool that led to the diving boards. Even children, who rarely look where they're going, managed to stay out of her path as she maneuvered around lounge chairs,  ice chests, spread-out towels, and various swim parphenalia.

She progressed all the way to the diving board, discarded her walker and began ascending the ladder to the lower board. A look of abject horror took possession of the life guard's face. He rose from his perch, his body poised for action, but said nothing. By now, at least half the people at the pool were staring at the old woman. "Hey, lady!" the man with the American flag swim trunks shouted, but the woman proceeded as if she hadn't heard him. And maybe she hadn't.

"She's planning to commit suicide right here at the pool," I thought and covered my eyes.

When I looked again the woman was in mid air having just executed a forward somersault. She made contact with the water head first, creating a modest splash. She swam over to the ladder, then gestured toward her walker. Her demeanor had the force of command and someone -- a teenage girl -- hurried to retrieve the apparatus. The old woman nodded her thanks and proceeded again over to the ladder.

This time she performed a perfect swan dive.

People began to compete for the retrieval of her walker and when the old woman executed a reverse double somersault, three-quarters of the population of the pool applauded.

"This is impossible," I thought. "This has got to be a dream. What about heart failure? What about osteoperosis?"

"She dives like an eighteen-year-old," someone commented, admiringly.

"Like a professional," someone else amended.

Positioned, once again, at the tip of the diving board, the old woman paused, glanced at her audience and made a gesture with her hands. Within seconds, I realized she was using sign language and that what she was telling us was that she would do one more.

And she did. Another perfect swan dive.

After that she floated on her back for awhile, facing skyward. The expression on her face suggested both utter weariness and total euphoria.

On her way back to the dressing room, people attempted to approach her but she waved them away.

Clearly she had done what she had come here to do and now...

now she was ready to go home.

Pool And Diving Board



  1. I'm so glad you wrote it! It's wonderful! And I glad you didn't have her die in the story.

    1. I think maybe she did die, after she went home, but at least she didn't do it at the pool. That would have been too much of a downer.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks. The image of the elderly diver kept popping into my mind every time I was at East Park Pool, so I finally had to write about her.