I fell in love with her first. It was a small and careful love but it was love alright. It was almost boring the actual moment it happened because it was so hot, the heat so punishing that anything else was boring in comparison.
I was eating a Sunnyboy – an all-Australian flavoured ice block well known for its distinctive tetrahedral shape and my third one that day already. There were four types and they had flavour-related names: Orange Explosion (or original Sunnyboy like mine), Razz Raspberry, Zap Lime, and Glug Cola. They don’t make them anymore but I hate getting nostalgic. It’s no good thinking things were so much better back then and that they’re total rubbish now. Yearning for the past is rat sack to the present.
She was sitting on a wet towel too small to lie out flat on. I had rolled up my skirt and shirt and was sitting on them because you could fry an egg on that concrete and I’d forgotten to bring a towel. Mum would kill me when she saw how wrecked my clothes were when I got home.
On real stinkers like these we’d get the tram to the pool and then go back home hours later wearing just our bathers and reeking of coconut oil. The boys had their wet towels like fur stoles around their necks and the girls tied theirs around them like they’d just got out of the shower. It felt great for about 10 minutes but then once you started drying off it got miserably uncomfortable all over again. It was debatable it was worth going to the pool in the first place.
She had curly hair the girl I fell in love with. Mine was dead straight but hers reminded me of Charlie Brown’s friend Frieda’s with the ‘Naturally Curly Hair’.
I first noticed her when she’d dived off the high board like a real pro; something I would never do. Mum used to say that I was brave alright but in all the wrong ways. What she meant was that I would no more jump off a high diving board than fly to the moon but that I would talk to anyone and say anything before rehearsing it in my head first. I was that kind of brave. She also used to say that I wanted everyone to love me and that I took too many emotional risks.
The girl looked about fourteen too but curly hair like hers can make a person look younger than they are.
‘God it’s hot.’ Her voice didn’t sound like she looked. It was louder. And even though it wasn’t exactly the most inspired opening line, it was nice she said it.
‘Yeah I hate it’, I said. ‘I hate summer.’ My rejoinder wasn’t all that inspired either.
‘I like your ankle bracelet,’ she said.
‘You’re a really good diver.’
‘Sorry. I have to throw this thing away before it melts all over me. It’s really sticky and disgusting.’ I chucked the rest of my Sunnyboy in the nearby bin and could feel her looking at me. I wished I’d worn my other bathers. These ones had kind of baggy bottoms.
When I came back she’d gone.
‘Over here.’ She was in the pool and waving at me. ‘Come in. It’s cruel out there.’
I sat on the side of the pool showing off my pink toenails, relieved I’d thought to paint them last night while watching television.
‘Come on,’ she called again. ‘Get in you chicken.’
I slid off the ledge into the water. It wasn’t a cold as I’d expected. Maybe the weather was just too hot and it was so crowded that between the wee and the the bodies the water had no chance staying cold.
She held out her hand for me to grab. Then she pulled me towards her. It was an expert move on her part. ‘I’d say race you to the other side but it’s so bloody crowded we wouldn’t get far.’
So we treaded water and talked and every so often one of us would indicate to the other it was time to hold our noses and go for another duck dive.
One time when I resurfaced I got confused and couldn’t find her because I’d moved such a considerable distance from our spot. Then I heard her. And I saw her again.
‘Don’t go so deep next time,’ she laughed.
I smiled loosely. I was hooked. Line and sinker.
As I scrambled and splashed my way towards her she held out her hand again.
‘Thanks,’ I said.
‘No worries. You’re not such a great swimmer are you?’
She was holding my hand under the water or maybe I was holding hers. Then I looked up at her face and suddenly I knew where I was.
And that was the exact moment I saw her fall in love with me and so now we were even-stevens.