Featured in Colorado Review
Published Summer 2017
That summer we hardly ever left the pool. We dropped stones and shells into the water to make a real ocean floor. We pinned fern leaves to our hair. We dove and shot across the surface like mermaids on the run, squeezing our legs into long tails. Some days the pool was Atlantis, or the lake of Excalibur, or the River Styx, or the Sargasso Sea and its sunken ships. All the magical places we’d read about in sixth grade that year. Other days it was a sacred spring. We were two vestals, hooded priestesses collecting water for the temple under a clear blue sky. Sometimes we pretended you were the priestess and I the inductee. You poured water over my scalp as I tilted back my head and promised to be devoted forever and ever. We decorated the pool ladders in daisy chains, dandelions, and black-eyed Susans that got torn off by the high school girls, then wilted and dried out on the concrete. We belly flopped into the pool, splashing the high school girls on purpose. We dove to the bottom of the deep end, our ears exploding from the pressure. We played Olympics, spinning in somersaults off the diving board and judging our performance. We leapt off the white plastic chaise lounges, the picnic tables, the pool ladders, our legs splayed and long like frogs. We floated in the pool so still, our long hair fanned in feathers. We looked up at the sun with our eyes wide open. Back then we didn’t care how we looked in bathing suits. We were afraid of nothing.
It was the summer we worked for Stephanie at her camp. Stephanie Bullard was a star. She had made it to the finals of a huge tennis open in New York City when she was only nineteen. For a year after that she couldn’t even walk through our little upstate town without people stopping to congratulate her. We treasured the Sports Illustrated with her on the cover, her face all golden in sunlight, her arm, long and tight in muscles, reaching up to the S of Sports as the ball launched from her palm, a superhero ready to fly off the page, the issue date September 7, 1983, a launching pad. We knew the story inside by heart. How her mother died giving birth to her. How her father, Ron, raised Stephanie on his own, teaching her how to play tennis in the parking lot of his car dealership. That summer the magazine was five years old.
Our mothers were secretaries at Mr. Bullard’s car dealership. They loved to tell us the story of how they became friends all those years ago, and we loved to hear that story because it was the story of how we became friends, too. How my mother fixed your mother’s broken typewriter ribbon, and how once they started talking they couldn’t believe they both had girls the same age. But in the telling they left out the part about how our fathers both left—yours when you were a baby, mine when I was three—and the part about how both our fathers never came back, because no one liked that part of the story, not even us.
Mr. Bullard was the one who suggested we help out at the camp, and our mothers thought they had won the lottery.
“You girls are so lucky you get to be Stephanie’s helpers this summer,” our mothers said as they dropped us off that first day late in June. “Can you believe it? You girls are going to be working for the greatest tennis player in America.”
We couldn’t believe it. Especially those first two weeks of summer vacation. They went by slow and fast. When Stephanie talked—even when she was just telling us what to do—time shot past us. The sound of her voice slipped into our ears and ran up into our brains, translated into instructions for chores, but our eyes were darting, seeking out the details that defined her. Her diamond stud earrings, her black sunglasses, her tennis dress with yellow piping on the hem, her short blonde hair, the freckles on her arms, her bitten-down nails, the scar on her heel that ran up her leg, the muscles on her right arm twice as big as the left. Each piece of her a new treasure we’d discuss later in the pool when time slowed down and stopped.
We had a routine. Every morning after our mothers dropped us off, we cleaned the pool. Leaves and debris were everywhere. We dipped long nets. We filled huge plastic buckets with rotten leaves that blew in from the woods. Grass, petals, and twigs stuck to our bathing suits, our toes, our calves, our wrists. Then we waited for Stephanie. We scooped water into tennis ball cans we found in the trash, whispering pretend prayers at the diving board, a converted altar, to pretend gods who lived in the trees, in the sky, in the water.
We watched Stephanie as she walked down the path to the pool from the big house, where she lived with her father, her blonde hair glinting in the sun, too bright to look at for long. She leaned against the diving board, and as we looked up at her, we saw ourselves reflected in the plastic lenses of her sunglasses, two girls looking right back at us like two different girls we couldn’t believe were us.
She gave us instructions. Check the pool’s filter traps for frogs that got stuck inside. Scrub the picnic table umbrellas with the stinky cleaning fluid that smelled like chemicals and roses. We sighed and pretended to complain, just to get her to stay and talk to us more.
“We were just about to dive in before anyone gets here,” you said, looking at the empty pool, the water flat as glass, and I copied your voice when I said, “Please, just five more minutes.” We loved looking at Stephanie up close, the tiny diamonds that floated in her earlobes like singular stars.
“Come on,” Stephanie said with raised eyebrows and a smile, tugging gently on the ends of our braids. “Pretty please?” Her sweetness washed over us like warm water. Stephanie looked at her watch and went inside to her office. We went back to the pool and scooped up warm, slimy frogs from the filter traps, their bodies panting in our palms, so fragile we were afraid of squishing them to death.
Samantha Storey was born in New York and raised in London. She works as a news editor and a fiction writer. Her journalism has appeared in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and the Seattle Weekly. She has been recognized with an Emerging Writer Fellowship from the Center for Fiction. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family, where she is currently at work on a novel. "Voices Underwater" is her first published story.