By Dave Gregory -
Bryan Jarvis was trespassing. I knew the word from signs on trees and fence posts along the highway but it applied to forbidden things – dusty corrals, abandoned fields, and densely wooded lots, not baby blue swimming pools. I didn’t mind him. He lived down the road and was my older brother’s best friend. Martin and his sister should have warned Bryan away because their father, Cornelius, for reasons unknown to me, had banned Bryan from the farm – and especially from the brand-new, above-ground pool.
I’d spent the morning with my brother and the landlord’s two kids, on my knees in the dirt, picking tender, ruby-red strawberries. The hot sun burned my fair skin, sweat leaked from every pore, yet my mouth watered with the promise of sweet, juicy berries for lunch, covered in cool, whipped cream.
In the afternoon, we took turns jumping from the white steps of the pool’s single ladder. Bryan’s dark form appeared from nowhere. Before anyone asked him to leave, he said, “If everyone runs in one direction along the pool’s edge, the water will spin so fast, it’ll get shallower in the center. Then we can raise our feet and keep spinning until we’re sucked into the whirlpool and everyone collides in the middle.”
Eyes wide, my brother turned to Martin, whose mouth hung open, “Let’s try it!”
Martin shrugged at his sister, “I guess as long as Dad isn’t here.”
Soon the five of us were running underwater, roaring with laughter, splashing water forward, hoping it’d spin faster. I planted my feet to test the current and was pulled under. Stinging chlorine leaked into my mouth, erased the lingering sweetness of strawberries, and flooded my nostrils, masking the stench of manure coming from behind the adjacent barn.
I surfaced, coughed, and struggled to catch up with the liquid rotation.
When gravel crunched beneath car tires speeding down the driveway, we froze, although swirling water propelled us in a circle. All except Bryan. He recognized Cornelius’s cream-colored Oldsmobile and leapt over the side to collect his shoes from where he’d left them on the grass.
We shouted, “Stay down.”
That caught Cornelius’s attention.
“Bryan Jarvis,” Cornelius barked after parking the car. He was blond and muscular. The pool, so deep to us, barely reached his waist.
Bryan rose, silent, head bowed, trembling, eyes wider than my brother’s at the first mention of a whirlpool. I floated closer to where Bryan stood. Water leaked from his brown afro, blue T-shirt and cut-off jeans. The unlaced tennis shoes he’d wedged his feet into were already soaking. He wore no socks.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Cornelius reddened.
No one answered. We bumped against the siding and continued drifting. Bryan was wrong about being drawn into a vortex.
“Bryan, I know you were in the pool.”
Before he exited my swirling view, the edges of Bryan’s mouth curved upward, his eyes narrowed, and I saw the first strain of the bullied rebel Bryan was destined to become.
He wrung a thick stream of water from his shirt, raised his chin and, as if talking to a mouthy, younger kid on the playground, said, “What was your first clue?”
Bryan never looked back as he strode across the field. After we climbed out, the pool water continued spinning for thirty minutes.
A dozen years passed before I grew brave enough to craft retorts with half the sass and sting of Bryan’s reply.
Dave Gregory is a Canadian writer, a retired sailor, and an associate editor with the Los Angeles-based Exposition Review. His work has most recently appeared in MORIA, Reflex Press, & FreeFall. You can find him on Twitter @CourtlandAvenue.