Exercise 7: “Write a short story about diving”

Kelly hated babysitting. After that one kid, the creepy seven-year-old boy who kept wanting to do wrestling moves on her on a mattress in the family’s rec room, she’d decided that was it. Before that, she’d been caught at another job with her boyfriend, who had brought his friend over, too. While his friend sat there watching TV, her boyfriend lay with her on the sofa and tried to feel her up and French kissed her roughly till she almost choked. Later, when the parents came home, she stumbled on the explanation for the boys standing behind her, and when they called her at home to ask if she’d lost an earring, which they’d found in between the sofa cushions, she’d lied.

No more babysitting.

But this position was different. This was more like being an assistant, only to a mom who’d just had a baby and didn’t want to stop working. So Kelly would be helping with the baby and also the two-year-old boy at the house, and then she’d look after the baby at the salon the mother owned.

The mother hired her because they went to the same church, not because Kelly knew anything about taking care of an 8-week-old baby. Ida was Italian, with a crew cut, in her mid-twenties. She wore jean overalls and white tee-shirts, and smoked Benson & Hedges Menthols from a tall blue pack, and her salon sold only MAC makeup. A whole wall of it. When Kelly had gone with her to the salon for the first time, all she could think about was how great it would be to have MAC in her makeup bag.

Every day she was dropped off at Ida’s house and Ida taught her how to cook things like seaweed and how to chop carrots and celery on an angle because that made them taste sweeter. They ate gluten-free, even the two-year-old, things Kelly had never heard of before, like quinoa.

Sometimes she took the two-year-old for a stroll. She helped him on the potty, even though he made a fuss and didn’t want to go. Then she and Ida took him to daycare and drove all the way to Vaughn, forty-five minutes away, to the salon. Ida talked about her husband, Joe, about how he wanted sex all the time and how he was obsessed with her breasts because they were so full, but she didn’t want him to touch her, especially because she was sore from breastfeeding. Kelly never knew what to say. She wondered if she’d ever one day tell her husband not to touch her. She couldn’t imagine it.

In the afternoons, while Ida waxed eyebrows and chins and massaged Italian housewives’ swollen feet with essential oils, the baby would fuss and Kelly would put her in the carseat on the drier and turn the drier on. Usually the baby went to sleep. But when that didn’t work, Kelly would take her outside the salon and sit on the grass by the road and cradle her. The baby would want to nurse, and the mewling and sucking noises made Kelly uncomfortable. It was hard work taking care of someone else’s baby. Once, she sneaked a lipstick and an eyeshadow into her purse to make her feel it was all worth it.

One morning, Ida said they weren’t going to the salon and instead she wanted to drive to her friend’s cottage on Lake Ontario. She said she would still pay Kelly even though they weren’t going to work. The friend had an indoor pool, and after a while Ida told Kelly she could go swimming. The friend lent her a swimsuit and Kelly, who loved to swim but especially loved to dive, climbed the high diving board.

It was so high it almost looked as though she wouldn’t land in the pool if she jumped off. But she’d dived a million times before. She took a step forward, breathed deeply, and launched herself off that high diving board head first.

At first she wasn’t sure what had happened, but then she realized, even though she’d never broken anything before, that she’d just broken her hand, landing in the shallow end. She’d dived out too far and now her right hand was broken, throbbing with pain in the water.

Cradling her hand, Kelly walked up the shallow end steps and out of the pool and outside where her boss and her boss’s friend, Grace, lounged on deck chairs by the water. The baby was lying on a blanket in the grass.

“I think I broke my hand,” said Kelly. “I dove and hit the shallow end.”

Ida expelled cigarette smoke and shaded her eyes with her hand to look at Kelly. “Oh, god,” she said. “You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

“I don’t think so,” said Kelly.

“Shit,” said Ida. The friend said she had some Tylenol 3s and she’d get some ice to put on Kelly’s hand.

“I should probably go to the hospital,” said Kelly.

“Fuck,” said Ida. She took another drag on her cigarette. “Listen,” she said. “You can’t tell anyone you were here, okay? You can’t say it happened here.”

Kelly said nothing.

“No, seriously. I mean, please don’t sue, okay?”

Kelly thought she might laugh, but her hand, which was swelling so much she couldn’t straighten it, hurt much more now that it wasn’t under water. It was turning purple. “Okay,” she said between gritted teeth.

“Phew. Great. Okay, thanks. Um, you want a cigarette?” Ida fumbled in the pocket at the front of her overalls for her Benson & Hedges. “Seriously, have one. It might help.”

Kelly didn’t smoke but she took the cigarette anyway and let Ida hold the lighter to it. “You’ll be fine,” Ida told her. Kelly nodded. Her hand throbbed.

“Here,” Grace said, handing Kelly a glass of water and two Tylenol 3s.

“Should she take two of those?” asked Ida. Grace shrugged. “It’s broken, right?”

Kelly popped one pill in her mouth and washed it down with water. She kept the other one for later.

After two hours, Ida was ready to leave and she drove Kelly to the hospital. Kelly’s hand was so puffy it looked as though someone had blown into it to inflate it. Her head ached from the cigarette and she felt strange from the Tylenol 3. No one had offered her any food at the cottage.

Ida sat beside her in the waiting room and nursed the baby. She wasn’t shy about it. Kelly turned her head and leaned back against the wall.

“What are you going to tell your parents?” Ida asked her.

Kelly shrugged. “Just that I dove too deep and hit the bottom,” she said.

“Okay,” said Ida. “Good.” She shifted the baby, whose mouth came loose from Ida’s nipple with a pop. Ida latched her on again. “The diving board was probably out too far, or it shouldn’t have been so high.”

“It’s okay,” said Kelly.

“I’m sorry,” Ida said.

I’ll bet you are, thought Kelly.

Five hours and some x-rays later, it was confirmed that Kelly had broken her hand. She got a cast. All the way to Kelly’s house, Ida freaked out and made Kelly promise not to get her and Grace in trouble. Then she told Kelly she wouldn’t need her to help out anymore.

Kelly’s dad was in the garage when they drove up. Ida stayed in the car and drove off when Kelly got out. “What did you do this time?” her dad asked, smiling at the cast.

Kelly shrugged. “Ida took me to her friend’s cottage instead of going to work and they had an indoor pool and when I dove off the high diving board, I hit the bottom and broke my hand.”

“Good thing it was only your hand,” her dad said.

In her basement bedroom with the door closed, Kelly took out her makeup bag and dumped its contents on her bed. She sorted through the MAC lipsticks, eyeliners, eye shadows, and polishes she’d lifted from the salon when Ida wasn’t looking. If Ida hadn’t taken her along to that cottage, Kelly never would have broken her hand, or lost her job. She picked up one of the lipsticks and popped off the lid with her left hand. She smelled it, smeared it on her lips, smiled.

3 thoughts on “Exercise 7: “Write a short story about diving”

  1. I’m not sure about this one. It needs editing, I think. I’m not sure how to fix, though. Arg. Well, these are only exercises…

    • Steph,
      You ARE a writer – there’s no doubt about that. I really like your diving story, and look forward to reading the others you have posted. I’m inspired by your daily exercise approach to writing. It’s like starting a physical exercise program I guess, the toughest part is the first step.
      I love the way the tension builds when they take the day off, and the seemingly abrupt change in Ida’s personality – despite the clues that she is a pretty modern woman, her hard-ass and completely non-maternal response to the broken hand is a bit of shock. The ending is ironic – now they’re even? I need to understand Kelly a bit better to feel where this is coming from. But that’s the nature of a quick writing exercise, right? You begin and see where it takes you, but you can’t always follow right to the end first time out. Beautifully written…keep on working that writing muscle!

      • Hey, thanks, Kate, this is great feedback! I was most dubious about the ending, and I was deliberate about Ida’s non-maternal-ness throughout (not wanting to stop working, letting a young girl take care of her 8-wk-old, and so on..); these are great things to pay attention to, for you to point out. Thank you. I wondered, too, if I wasn’t just rushing the story to get something up every day, and then I thought it might be okay, that I can develop these exercises into stories later. But it’s your feedback I value precisely because these are unfinished, and because what I think may be finished could in fact be bettered.

        I’m so glad you visited, Kate. I really value your opinion!

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