“I can’t let go!” she cried, squeezing even harder with her knees, calves and crossed ankles. “I don’t know how!” The rope was scratching the insides of her legs but the pain went unnoticed as her legs clasped themselves even tighter to each other while the trees around her swung by. There was a sudden realization at the corner of her awareness that this must be what the world looked like to daddy when he was drinking. Her fingers hurt. They’d been squeezing too, up against her chest and around the rope that was smooth there, worn down by decades of young hands like hers having the rope in their grip.
She felt a pressure, an impetus as Jaqueline pushed against her left butt cheek and hip, the slightest whisper of “Relax, Butterfly,” wafting by while her pendulum action headed back out toward the water. “It’s too deep! I’ll drown!” she thought – – did she say it out loud?
“No! You! Won’t!” came a voice she couldn’t see, from the brother she couldn’t see, who was treading water in the shade of the leafy roof over the river. “Close your eyes!” he called up to her in his beautiful, 17-year-old baritone, that voice that syncopated her skip-rope sessions and rang out over his guitar on their family sing nights. “Close your eyes, pumpkin. Feel the air around your body. Jackie, give her one more push.”
Clinging to the knotted lifeline Loralee squeezed closed her eyelids as she felt Jackie’s hands push against her back and shoulders. The air around her felt warm and whooshing and the bunched rope under her groin gave a little tickle against a part of her she’d never known existed. “Oh my gosh!” She squealed, her legs and arms flying open as the air was suddenly all around her, and then the water was all around her, and then Jerome’s arms were all around her, the warmth of his embrace soothing the sudden coolness of water against her flesh. “You can open your eyes now, Butterfly. You were amazing! Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“Did I do it? Did I really do it? Jerome, can I go again? I’ll do better if I do it again, for sure? Will you catch me again? Jackie? Don’t leave, I’m coming up…” and Loralee’s feet grasped at the muddy river bottom, dripping her way up and out of the river, t-shirt and shorts seeming to melt away from the water as they clung to her small, shivering body, hugging her arms from the sudden cold and impatient to feel the air moving against them again in the free swinging of the delicious rope, the sensuous rope, the very surprising rope. Enveloped by her brother and sister, a moment to forget the terrors of her drunk father and absent mother, a moment of wonder at the presence of a whole new horizon of skill, knowledge, possibility, courage, pride, physical pleasure of a truly mysterious kind, and pure, ecstatic fun.
“I’m still here, Loralee, but this is the ever-lovin’ last time I’m going to push you today, you hear me?” called Jackie, smiling to beat the band.
Photo by Binaya Photography on Unsplash