“But I don’t want to go see Daddy,” the 6-year-old girl in pigtails and Hello Kitty swimsuit said to her mother. “I’m scared.”
“I know sweetie,” her mother, a woman named Amy, told her. “But there’s nothing to be scared of, and daddy still loves you. He’ll be waiting for you at his pool. Now go back to the girl’s locker room and get dressed for the trip.”
The girl turned and walked back toward the pool clubhouse, sobbing.
“Poor dear,” said one of the other women sunning herself.
“Tell me about it,” said Amy. “He’s such an idiot. I don’t blame her for not wanting to see him. Not like this one,” she said, indicating a tall muscular man walking toward the fence as she picked up one of several glass pitchers full of iced tea and began pouring some into a red plastic cup.
The group of women in their thirties and forties sat around a large table under an umbrella at the neighborhood pool talking and laughing while selected songs popular in the early 2000s played softly over the pool’s sound system. Most of the women were fit and wearing flattering bikinis with sheer wraps around their waists and large white and pink hats with wide, floppy brims. They occasionally answered questions shouted by the kids in the pool or shouted instructions to them. They also frequently turned to look out on the playground outside the pool’s safety fence where their husbands and boyfriends surrounded by open toolboxes worked on some kind of large see-saw on the playground. Occasionally, one of the men would break off and walk over to the fence where one of the women would pour him some tea.
“Got any beer in there?” the man asked with a smile as he waited for Amy to finish pouring.
“Oh you just hush, Jack Allenby!” his wife scolded as she passed him the cup over the fence. “You know the pool rules.”
“Then how about taking your top off?” he said with a playful leer.
“You’re horrible!” she said, laughing in mock outrage.
“Newlyweds!” one of the other women said. “Sickening!” she continued with mock disgust.
“Hey, watch this!” a young boy shouted from the diving board. Amy, Jack, and all of the adults turned to look as he took a few steps and bounced hard on the end of the board which flexed deeply under his weight before tossing him high the air over the deep end of the pool. The boy successfully performed a full if somewhat awkward flip and entered the water feet-first.
“Nice!”, “Atta boy” came shouts from the playground. The women all clapped enthusiastically.
“That was awesome, Joey,” his mother shouted. “Your best yet. Keep practicing for when it really counts!”
The young boy beamed and gave a thumbs up sign before diving under the water. The women laughed uneasily.
“What a great kid,” one of the other moms said. “I sure wish my Zane had his work ethic.”
Jack tilted the cup and swallowed the last of the tea. He handed the cup back over the fence to his wife as the moms grew silent.
“How is Zane doing, Janelle?” Jack asked. “I guess I need to get back up to Children’s Hospital to see him.”
“Oh he’d love that,” Janelle replied. “He’s got a few more days in traction, then on to physical therapy. But at least he’ll get to come home.”
Jack smiled and nodded before walking back to work on the playground equipment.
The moms likewise agreed amongst themselves that that was a good thing, and they all smiled reassuringly. All but one, that is. That mother wore a lacy green one-pice swimsuit and had her natural Auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail under a large straw sunhat sporting a pink hibiscus flower. She stared at the children in the pool uneasily and sipped from a plastic tube protruding from a large insulated bottle. Everyone knew there was white wine in the bottle. They knew because each of them had often used the same trick.
“It’s going to be fine, Miranda,” Amy called to her.
Miranda’s head rolled slightly from side to side as she nodded silently.
Just then the cell phone on the faux-thatch lounge chair lit up and began vibrating. Miranda’s hand trembled as she picked it up and accepted the call. She held the phone to her ear.
She turned toward the other women. The men on the playground had stopped working and were looking in her direction. “It’s Jimmy’s dad,” she said, her face ashen and devoid of expression. “Jimmy’s coming home.”
“Out of the pool, kids!” Amy yelled. “Jimmy’s coming home! Let’s get ready!”
The kids climbed out of the pool and ran into the clubhouse where they all lined up shoulder to shoulder at the glass wall overlooking the pool and looked up in the direction their parents and parents’ boyfriends and girlfriends were looking.
The children began shouting and cheering as the object came into view, descending quickly from the air, a gray bundle that suddenly dropped and skidded across the diving board, slamming into the fence. Miranda screamed and vomited in her chair, her body shaking. The women rushed to her as the children poured out of the clubhouse racing for the pool area where the men were also rushing to the motionless bundle.
The boy lay crumpled against the fence, the helmet and full face mask he was wearing cracked in several places, and the thick, padded suit torn and bloody.
“He’s unconscious,” one of the men announced. “Broken leg, possibly wrist. Looks like he lost a couple of teeth.”
The women consoled Miranda. “It could have been much worse,” Amy said reassuringly, but Miranda couldn’t hear her. She had picked up the phone and was screaming at her ex-husband. Amy tried to take the phone away from her when Jack walked over and put his arms around his wife and pulled her to the side.
“Catapult’s ready,” he told her. “It’s time for Hailey to go see her dad.”
Amy stiffened. She watched the men carry the little girl to the catapult as the men took turns cranking the tension wheel. Wrapped in what they were calling the “travel outfit”, the little girl’s sobs were muffled by the thick helmet. A small trickle of urine trickled from under the thickly padded pants leg onto the dirt under the catapult.
“Hey, the cuff isn’t tucked,” one of the men pointed out when he saw the drops of urine hitting the dirt. The oversight was quickly corrected and they positioned the trembling girl in the thickly padded suit carefully on the seat. It was an unspoken relief that the suit was so thick that it muffled the sounds the kids made from inside and similarly made it difficult to detect the children’s movements.
Quickly and silently, Jack Allenby nodded to the other men, and when they all looked down at the girl he struck the tension lock with a sledgehammer. The arm snapped forward flinging the girl in a high arc in the direction of her father’s house nearby, her muffled screaming decreasing as she gained elevation. Her mother, Amy, buried her face in her hands and sobbed for as much as a minute until her own phone began to ring.