Many of you know that I have been working on the manuscript for a novel. The book is called Nice. Here’s an excerpt (taken from the very middle of the book) that I am posting for the prompt by Mary of dVerse Poets Pub on invisibility. The story takes place in the summer of 1968. Photo above is of a light sculpture by Jason Martin. (Sorry for length!)
Every hour on the hour they had a fifteen minute rest period. It was a time when all the screaming, splashing, marco poloing, stopped and grown-ups, with their strange dry strokes, puffy backs and silken bathing caps, swam slow laps. You had to be over sixteen to stay in the water.
Like the other kids, Les sat along the edge of the pool, waiting for the whistle. A boy with red hair, older than her but clearly below sixteen, slipped silently from the ledge across, and ducked beneath the water, his body an expanded wriggle beneath the blue.
She felt the whole poolside watching him, holding its collective breath till he pulled himself up onto the pool’s opposite side, head sleek as an otter, water shimmering down his back. Everyone, in relief and pleasure, readjusted their bottoms, hid their smirks. It was as if they had all fooled the guard.
Then Les felt herself alone again, herself the watched one.
She hadn’t talked to Arne all day, but she knew he had been keeping an eye on her, even as he pretended not to.
What had she told him? Why had she said anything?
It was because of the grass. She’d heard him and Jasper talking about it when she’d been hiding in the bushes beside the patio. She hadn’t meant to hear, she just had, and then when she went down there, she knew they had done it, the way they looked. It was so crazy, Arne smoking grass, Arne, the math nerd.
She’d wondered whether maybe it meant that he was different from what she’d always thought; that maybe he was normal, human, someone she could actually talk to.
But it was stupid to think that. Because he wasn’t any different. He was the same old Arne. And now she had said something to him, something stupid.
Bruce Beebee was at the pool too, Bruce from school. Bruce, who didn’t even belong to that swimming pool, Bruce with a streak of white stuff down his nose, a deep tan everywhere else, sitting on a picnic table at the snack bar with his brother. He was not directly looking at her either; yet she felt his looks all the same, and in his looks, she felt this change in herself, a change that showed as much as his thick white streak, only the streak looked almost cool, and she couldn’t think of herself as cool, not even this changed self.
She answered his not looking at her by not looking at him, crossing her arms over her chest, keeping her eyes down towards the water.
Arne hulked by Bruce’s brother. She had forgotten that they knew each other, and Jasper too, and they were all standing or leaning on the picnic table talking, Jasper eating a frozen Snickers bar, Bruce listening to them, holding his tennis racket between his legs, two palms pressed against the racket part.
She wondered whether Arne was telling them something, telling them what she had said.
He wouldn’t–she knew he wouldn’t–and yet, with the echo of his telling in her mind, she couldn’t stand not looking at them any more, not being looked at in return, and she got up from the side of the pool and walked slowly towards the girls’ locker room, feeling in the boys’ not-looks the pucker of her bathing suit inside her buttocks, and she hurried her walk a little, though she still aimed for nonchalance, not wanting to reach down and tug the suit loose, not with them not watching.
The locker room was immediately cool. It smelled of wet paint and wet toilet paper and dank chlorinated concrete, all tinged with Coppertone. She sat down on a short blue bench by a wall of wooden cubby holes. The surface of the bench was knobby with repeated paint jobs. She ran her finger over a speckled place that someone had already started to peel.
How could she go back to school in the fall? She hadn’t even thought about that part. Her mom might not notice anything, but kids would.
Now two older girls burst in, falling over each other through the bright doorway, the flesh of their stomachs rolling over their bikinis.
‘Did you see that?’ they laughed, ‘what he did?’ ‘I almost died.’
They laughed themselves to the mirror, which for a moment, they seemed to embrace. They were closer there, their warm baby oil seeping over her. Then the dark-haired girl dug into an open cubby and, finding a tube of lipstick behind some rolled-up cut-offs, coated her lips in ghostly lavender.
The other girl, whose hair was lighter, messed with a brown paper bag folded around a half lemon. Leaning against the mirror, she pulled one side of hair back above her ears and squeezed juice over it, combing as she squeezed and picking at the pulp and seeds that clung to the wet strands.
“Jesus, this stuff is shit; does it look horrible?” she said.
“No more than usual,” the dark-haired girl said.
The other scowled.
“Just kidding,” the dark-haired one laughed. “Come on, it just looks a little wet; that’s all.”
They re-tied each other’s bikini tops. As one tied, the other looked at herself in the mirror, trying out a selection of smiles. Beneath the smiles, the floating triangles of cloth re-centered themselves.
Les looked down at the bench, conscious of her own breasts. Nothing like these girls, but different from what they had been, no longer a simple ribcage of breath.
Could she tell them? It would be like telling her friends, only they weren’t her friends, so it would be better. She would never have to talk to them again.
“This really weird thing happened to me–” she could say.
She tried to imagine them leaning into her like they leaned into the mirror.
‘Some people might think it was cool,’ she could say.
Leaning into her, listening to her, not even noticing after a bit that she was actually one of the younger kids.
She would like that.