THE SHORTCUT

Here in the dog days of summer, it’s hard not to think of water, or more specifically, swimming pools. Driving along any city street, and more than a few country ones, at least one pool can be easily sighted, happy children swimming with toys, shrieking. I’ve got to admit, it makes me feel old.
I never had a pool when I was young. I fantasized a lot about getting older and having an indoor, in ground pool when I was fabulously rich. And while I was thinking about how great that would be, I went off daily to the community pool with all the other kids on my block.
Those summer days were wonderful; get up and watch cartoons, eat breakfast, and then hurry to put on the swimsuit, and grab a towel. My mother would press a quarter into my hand, and remind me to keep an eye on my stepsister, and not talk to strangers. Nodding, we’d race out the door, frantic to catch up to the group of kids before they left without us.
The pool wasn’t down the block; it was about ten blocks away at least, in terms of distance. It would’ve been longer if we’d walked by the street. Instead, we took shortcuts.
The first was so we didn’t have to skirt the cemetery fence, or walk all the way down to the big gates a block out of our way. The caretaker didn’t like kids wandering around the headstones without a parent, anyway, and he was always quick to yell at us if he saw us. So we’d go to the place in the fence where the bars were bent, and squeeze through. My being ten years old, fitting through the narrow gap wasn’t a problem. After we’d all squeezed through, we’d follow the blacktop path down to the back of the cemetery.
The path ended in an equipment access for digging graves: a deserted lot with cracked pavement and a lot of weeds. Thinking back, it was a perfect spot for a serial killer to be waiting to abduct us. But back then, kids didn’t worry about those things, or about walking without a parent, so long as he or she wasn’t alone.
Once we crossed the lot, we’d cross another street, walk a block, and then we’d arrive at the park, the huge pool at the far end. It always reminded me of an arena; it sat up so high. We’d race through the park, arriving gasping at the front desk to plunk down our quarter admission. Then we girls would walk through the showers, while any boys along went through theirs on the opposite side.
It was like being in a dank basement someone had just sterilized. The pool was above us, keeping the air humid. The scent of chlorine permeated the air. Water dripped constantly from the walls and ceiling, making the floor slippery and peeling the paint. To say it was creepy was an understatement. We’d go as fast as possible through the corridors, then up the long staircase to the top of the pool.
There would be long games of Marco Polo, looking for money on the pool floor, or jumping in various ways. The only thing to interrupt was thunder—a cause for everyone to get out and wait hopefully for the storm to pass—or the noon whistle, telling us we had to leave for an hour while the lifeguards had lunch.
On the way home, we took the same shortcut, crossing the lot and slipping through the fence. As much fun as we had in the pool, I remember our shortcut there with special nostalgia. It was always an adventure.
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Published on July 14, 2012 10:16 • 103 views • Tags: the-shortcut-by-tara-fox-hall

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