Excerpt from The World:
One-two-three-four, The Artist mounted the low diving board. He took a few steps and heaved a sigh. He adjusted his goggles so that they could endure the impact of his dive in place.
In my Mind, there echoes the irritable and protracted debate of a sleepless parliament :
The dramatic, sincere Representative for my Heart holds his own against vociferous foes:
“He will work it out. Her assent is most important.”
“More important than a car? He has no Driver’s License,” a woman scoffs. “More important than money? He was fired — remember?”
“He must find out how she feels first.”
An old grouch rises.
“She is too young. She is just a child.”
He throws his coattails back and drops into his seat.
“Age makes no difference. Two years! No time at all.”
“She’s moody and stubborn.”
“Isn’t Mom? Aren’t a lot of women? She’s sensitive. She has backbone,” I hear my own voice say.
“She is sheltered and spoiled, a Country Club girl.”
“It is natural for Dr. Larkin, for any father or husband to protect his daughter or wife from the harshness and dangers of the world.”
“I bet she doesn’t read too much,” objects a young, narrow-shouldered fop, puffing on a cigarette holder.
“He will teach her about books and languages, about Ireland and Art. It will bring them closer together.”
“How do you know she’s interested?”
My Heart’s Representative lays out his argument part by part, pacing like Perry Mason across the shiny floor.
“A. She approached him on July the Second.
B. She lent him her ball.
C. She showed him a new way home.
D. She cheered for him.
E. She Explored the Deep with him.”
The old grouch interrupts with a snort:
“These things may not be meaningful.”
But my Heart’s Representative will not be deterred.
“F. She told him about The Shining.”
G. She helped him to give children flight.”
“Could mean nothing,” the grouch reiterates.
“He can’t live without her.”
“You watch. Soon he’ll be sitting next to her in a darkened theater, watching The Empire Strikes Back.”
“How do you know?”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I leave you with one final question, ‘Would God arouse such longing in his heart if it were not Destiny?’”
The Artist walked to the end of the board. Claire picked up something — he was trying not to look — and put it in her Holy Child bag. It was true: he really did love her. He took a single bounce and sauntered back to the ladder. ….
Where? Still packing up. She was the most beautiful girl at The Pool. The most beautiful girl at Hilltop. The most beautiful girl he’d ever known. The most beautiful girl in the world. She was an outstanding student and athlete, too. Such fun to be with. And she was a good girl — Kalos Kagaqos — no matter what he’d heard. That Hansen guy put his hands where he wasn’t supposed to and she told him where to go — plunk to hell! A wholesome Catholic — Irish Catholic — girl. Virtutem forma decorat. And she always dressed like a young lady: attractive, casual, athletic, modest. No cosmetics. How he had found such a girl he could never explain.
Back at the end of the board again, The Artist took another bounce and turned around. Claire was wiggling her hips into her white shorts. Falling heavily over her head and shoulders her wet blonde hair shone like a precious metal ... The top half of her green and white suit ... Her bountiful form in the shrinking patch of sunlight on the lawn ... She was not silver or bronze: she was gold. God! God had broken into his life! He thought of the oldest word he knew to name this power and whispered it, “Dios.”
The Lord hates a coward, loves a fool. This would be one of the hardest things he had done in his life. The Artist made his approach, leapt, bounced, and flew over the blue water and the squirming black HCC on the bottom of the pool. He tucked his head down, his chin almost touching his chest, to protect his goggles. As he glided under the rope, he lingered over the bits of gravel kicked up by his passing-over. They looked like dustclouds in a windstorm. A long pull brought him past three of the black lines on the bottom.
Claire had covered the top of her swimsuit with her navy Hilltop jersey. There was a white Hilltop insignia over her heart, white trim around the neck, along her shoulders, and around her sleeves. The Artist crouched so that only his head appeared above the water, rinsing the lenses of his goggles. She walked toward the Ladies’ Locker Room. Her shambling gait had become so familiar to him from observation and from dreaming that it was hard to tell if what he saw was real or imagined. This was doubly true today since he’d gotten so little sleep last night. She paused to look for something in her Holy Child bag. If only he could rush over there and find it for her! Whatever it was. A comb maybe. But patience. Resist. Quiet resolve. Endurance. Now she would comb her hair, retrieve her things from her locker, and come out through the breezeway. If only he could stay underwater until she left! But she would be heading to the bikerack. Alone! He could not pass up this God-given opportunity.
For a week The Artist had been composing mental drafts of what he would say to her. Even now, at the last minute, he could not rein in the urge to review and perhaps rewrite:
“I noticed that The Empire Strikes Back will be playing at the Eric at Pilgrim Gardens next weekend and I was wondering if you would like to go see it with me.”
“The Empire Strikes Back is gonna be at Pilgrim Gardens Shopping Center next Friday. Wanna go?”
“Y’know what movie’s comin’ to the Pilgrim Gardens Shopping Center? The Empire Strikes Back, next Friday. Do you wanna go see it?”
“Claire, I know you like the movies. I was wondering if you would like to go see The Empire Strikes Back at Pilgrim Gardens next Friday.”
Frankie and the Biddles were fighting in Lane Six. The Artist’s goggles turned them blue. He sprinted down Lane One, flipturned, and came off the wall listlessly. Before he surfaced, another attack of nerves tortured his gut. This one nearly paralyzed him. But he would not give in.
“Enough practicing for God’s sake,” he scolded himself.
The hour had come.
“Give it to us!” Todd honked behind him.
“C’mon! Give it!” squawked his brother.
“O.K. O.K. Here ye go.”
The Artist peeked over the lip of the pooldeck. Not yet.
Frankie faked the boys out again and escaped headlong into Lane Three. Not wanting Frankie to pass him the ball, The Artist breastroked toward the deepend. Reaching the ladder, he realized that it was all right. Frankie had doubled back toward the opposite wall. The Artist grabbed the two poles of the ladder and pulled himself up, to see.
His fists squeezed the two poles spasmodically. There she was. It was time. He suppressed a final tremor of fear and freestyled toward the far end of the pool. He breathed on his left side so that he could watch her walk to the bikerack. She stopped at the water fountain. Oh, the way she flicked a wisp of hair away from her face as she bent down! In the deep end, The Artist stalled, needlessly pulling down, emptying, dipping, and replacing his goggles. But he never missed a shambling step. Claire reached the grass. Please God, help me, he begged one last time. It had been a night and a day full of praying and waiting and wondering. Now he’d follow her all the way home if he had to. Alea jacta est.
With his palms on the dry cement lip, he lifted himself onto the deck. She was at the top of the grassy slope, working to unchain her front tire. He passed the baby pool fence and the yellow and white cabana. His feet threw long snaketongues of water onto the cement in front of him. They led his toes into the grass. Where was the strength coming from?
“Claire,” he heard his voice call as he climbed the slope.
“Oh, ... hi.”
There was cheerfulness in her tone, but she hardly looked up at him.
“Yeah. I gotta be home.”
A softly voiced sigh complained of parental fussiness. Rising, she wrapped the chain under her seat and clicked the bolt back into her lock. She jerked it — 1-2-3-4 — to see if it was secure. She seemed to have no idea. He suddenly felt naked standing next to her.
She backed her bicycle out of the rack. The Artist had to retreat a step .. to avoid having her front tire run over his toes as it came around.
He coughed, “Listen, I was wondering.”
She flipped her bag over her shoulder and started walking the bike.
“I was wondering,” he repeated to slow her descent. Her face turned toward him, her fair eyebrows raised, receptive.
“Would you like to see The Empire Strikes Back?”
Claire continued downhill, casual as can be.
“Oh yeah. I do,” she replied. “I really wanna see that.”
He pursued her. His soul danced with joy for a moment. Could it be that easy? No, something was wrong: she didn’t understand him.
“It starts Friday,” he explained. “At Pilgrim Gardens. I saw it on the sign the other night.”
Claire slowed down on the level grass.
He added, “Ye wanna go see it then?”
She halted completely. She had discovered his meaning.
“Oh,” she paused. Her shark bracelet gleamed as she adjusted the Holy Child bag.
Joy? Shock? Delight? Terror? What was it that was in her face? She’d never expected this. That was clear. But she regained her composure so quickly, he wasn’t sure if he’d actually seen her lose it.
“I don’t know.”
“But you say,” The Artist persisted …with hope in his voice. “You said you wanna see it, though – right?”
Claire resumed her course toward the breezeway.
“I ... I do want to see it but – ”
She reached the deck. Could she now be more nervous than he?
“I don’t know.”
“I think we would have a good time.”
She slowed and turned to have a look at him. Up close, her face was so young, so cute. Then it disappeared as her fingertips, … followed by her hand, …shark bracelet, … and Holy Child bag … rose to curl some wayward wisps of yellow hair back over her ear.
“I’ll hafta think about it.”
“Oh, all right.” The Artist sounded hopeful still. This was something to look forward to.
She hastened around the high dive ladder. He followed right behind her.
“When can you let me know?”
“I’m going down the shore for the weekend.”
Something in her tone said others were near. He couldn’t let her go.
“Can you let me know Monday then?”
“I’ll think about it.”
Her front tire already in the gloom, Claire pulled the back tire of her bicycle into the breezeway. She’d crossed out of bounds.
Gone for three days.
What good is a man, The Artist thought, without guts? What good is doing a thing halfway?