Johnny America


Croc­o­dile Tears


The pool area looked more like a fu­ner­al than the fourth of Ju­ly. There was not a child in sight oth­er than the beau­ti­ful ba­bies piss­ing in the kid­dy pool while their moth­ers were busy play­ing scrab­ble on lounge chairs and drink­ing frozen mar­gar­i­tas, check­ing the scrab­ble dic­tio­nary, and watch­ing their in­fants over a stack of sev­en wet tiles.

The ladies were sit­ting on tow­els talk­ing about vow­els as their chil­dren gig­gled and lost con­trol of their bow­els in chlo­rine-soaked di­a­pers. That was the least of Shannon’s con­cerns — a dozen hun­gry bees were swarm­ing the choco­late ice-cream cone melt­ing in­to the sun­baked pave­ment be­low her life­guard chair. It was an adult swim ses­sion so Shan­non had to watch the pool like a hawk in case any of the el­der­ly swim­mers had a heart at­tack or went under.

She looked down at the bees, now chal­lenged by a line of march­ing ants. The sky was cloudy but re­vealed no signs of stormy weath­er. She gazed at the dark­est cloud in the sky and ex­am­ined close­ly for light­ning… noth­ing. She prayed for thun­der and watched the old ladies do the dead-man’s float. More timid swim­mers held on­to the sides of the pool and kicked slow­ly. One crazy man was rac­ing the length of the pool, kick­ing like a ma­ni­ac with the as­sis­tance of a yel­low foam kick­board, his face blow­ing bub­bles out from be­neath the wa­ter like a wrin­kled sea monster.

The bees were al­ready ag­i­tat­ed when the man splashed Shannon’s feet and an­kles — kick­ing so hard be­side the edge of the pool that he sprayed the wretched bas­tards and made them even more up­set. The ants were swept away by the small pud­dle the el­der­ly man cre­at­ed each time he swam past the life­guard chair.

“Shan­non,” Hope shout­ed from across the pool. She was hold­ing a half-emp­ty wa­ter pis­tol and a Snap­ple bot­tle full of vod­ka; Shannon’s lunch break was about to begin.

“Damn you bug­gers…” Shan­non told them. She was stuck in the chair for a cou­ple more min­utes be­fore she could blow the whis­tle, so she sig­naled for her girl­friend to come over to keep her com­pa­ny and clean up the mess.

“What’s up?” Hope asked Shan­non when she made it over. Their faces sparkled like stars as they spoke.

“Oh, I see,” Hope said with a smile. She want­ed to kiss Shan­non, but this was a pub­lic place — ac­tu­al­ly a pri­vate club — and she could nev­er show her af­fec­tion pub­licly. Their moth­ers would have none of it; their fa­thers would send them to board­ing school.

The bees seemed to calm as the choco­late melt­ed in­to their wings and their eyes glazed over. Shan­non grabbed the whis­tle from the Brine lacrosse string across her neck and blew it as hard as she could. The ladies shook their heads with dis­ap­proval and the old men frowned. A few of the lit­tlest old ladies held their ears and squealed to each oth­er in silent whis­pers like piglets ris­ing from a mud puddle.

The eighty year old re­tired struc­tur­al en­gi­neer, who went crazy for his kick­board forty-five min­utes every morn­ing, pulled him­self out of the pool with his chest like a sea li­on, as a beach ball bounced across the pool deck di­rect­ly in­to his nose. He was sto­ic but com­pla­cent as the ba­bies chased the in­flat­able ball from his face to the pud­dle of ice-cream that swal­lowed it with choco­late and halt­ed its progress.

The bees were swarm­ing around the chil­dren when with­out warn­ing Shan­non dove from the life­guard chair in­to the wa­ter. She resur­faced a mo­ment lat­er, fling­ing the drift­ing kick­board at the ice-cream like a nunchuck and scream­ing at the ba­bies to “Jump-in-the-big-kids-pool!”

She caught three ba­bies one by one and swam them to the oth­er side like a croc­o­dile cross­ing a riv­er. The bees were sting­ing Shan­non, dig­ging their sticky ten­ta­cles in­to her French braid­ed hair and their stingers in­to her head. She pan­icked a lit­tle but laughed it off and told her­self to grow a set of tes­ti­cles, that she was con­fi­dent and coura­geous. She caught some of the bees in anger and clenched her fist around them; they stung her fin­gers as they died. De­spite the croc­o­dile tears, none of the chil­dren were injured.

“Time for my lunch break,” Shan­non ad­vised the head life­guard, pulling her­self out of the pool with the grace of a drunk­en mer­maid, “I think I’ve earned it.”

Div­ing prac­tice had just be­gun and Shan­non sur­prised her­self by climb­ing the lad­der to the high dive and do­ing a for­ward two-and-one-half som­er­sault in pike po­si­tion be­fore run­ning in­to the life­guard shack for some med­i­cine and dis­in­fec­tant. She grabbed a cou­ple bot­tles of bee med­i­cine pre­tend­ing it was Ben­zedrine and skipped away be­hind the lock­er rooms with a rous­ing ova­tion from the en­tire pool area for her valor.

“Thank you,” Shan­non said. She bowed and slipped out of sight. The ap­plause and whis­tles grew loud­er, forc­ing her to re­turn a few mo­ments lat­er to of­fer an en­core curt­sey — an el­e­gant ges­ture — es­pe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing she was wear­ing noth­ing more than a yel­low biki­ni. Most moth­ers agreed that this event was even bet­ter than the fes­ti­val and fire­works yet to come.

“En­core! Encore!”

The sun was shin­ing and Shan­non was smil­ing. A mo­ment lat­er she found Hope hid­ing in that tall grass be­hind the aban­doned cad­dy shack. They caught each oth­er in a wild em­brace and col­lapsed in the weeds, their arms as tan­gled as the stems from the ivy that con­cealed them and com­fort­ably brushed up against the backs of their necks and un­der­neath their fresh­ly shaven legs. The hive un­be­knownst above their heads was the mistle­toe of the sum­mer, as it has been every day since, grow­ing in­to that ed­i­ble moun­tain ash so fast it could eas­i­ly break that branch and all would come crash­ing down.

Filed under Fiction on October 8th, 2009

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