Failsafe

Failsafe

They have beach chairs on the patio at our neighbors’ up the street, and not just the ordinary kind where you’re sitting straight up. These are chaise lounges, for lounging. Which is a fancy word for laying down outside on the patio. Near the pool. In your backyard. We haven’t got any of these things at our house, and I am jealous.

My sister and I weren’t even supposed to be at this party. Mommy said no at first, even though Judy begged. She and Virginia are in the same class. But then, Nanny Ray died. And they didn’t want kids at the funeral. So, here we are.

I was fine with not going when we got the invitation in the mail. My name wasn’t even on the card.

Besides, I can’t swim, and my bathing suit doesn’t fit anymore. I tried it on, and it’s too small. I stare in the mirror at my legs that are bigger and fatter than everyone else’s my age. I pull all the extra skin to the back so they look normal, but when I let go, they’re ugly again.

Mrs. Gallo gave Mommy two bathing suits that belonged to her daughters. I liked them both, but they’re old-fashioned and a little baggy. I was afraid I’d get laughed at, so I’m wearing my regular clothes. And if anyone asks why I’m not going in the pool, I’ll just say, “I don’t feel like it.”

Mom made us bring towels from the bathroom, in case we get wet. All the other kids have the cool ones you see at the beach, with pictures of flowers and rainbows and spaceships. Mine is light blue and has a big rust stain on it.

There’s a long table that stretches across the back deck, covered in balloons and streamers, napkins that say Happy Birthday. Next to each plate is a little paper basket filled with m&ms. I linger near the action, swiping a few pieces of chocolate from each cup.

This toothpick of a girl comes up to me. I don’t know who she is. “Stop eating all the candy,” she says.

“I’m not.”

“Don’t lie. I saw you.”

“I’m not lying.”

I walk away in the middle of her scolding me. My cheeks are hot. I wish I was skinny.

I kill time circling the outside of the pool, while bodies leap and splash along the surface of the water. Somebody calls my name, and I ignore them because I know if I look up, they’ll dump a wave in my face. I’ve seen them do it to other people.

I stop over where the dad is busy cooking hotdogs on the barbecue. He smokes a cigar and talks to his wife through the kitchen window. He’s wearing a light green apron that’s really for ladies.

“Having fun?” he asks.

I don’t want to hurt his feelings, so I tell him ‘yes.’

He clears his throat, steps to one side and spits into the grass. “You and me both, kid,” he says. I wonder if he means it.

I wish I knew more things about this party, like when it ends. I wish I didn’t break the Cinderella watch I got for my Communion. Then I’d know what time it is and how much longer before we can go home. I loved that watch. Mommy told me to be careful and not wind it too tight, but I didn’t listen. Now, the slipper floats around inside the glass, and the clock part doesn’t work either. I should probably throw it away, but I can’t just yet.

The same thing happened to my cousin, Donald. Only with his watch, the big hand came lose from Flipper’s belly. The small hand just spins and spins.

Johnny is Virginia’s younger brother. I’m not sure what grade he’s in. He still holds his mother’s hand when they cross the street. So do I, but not because I want to. Mom makes me. Johnny pretends he’s asleep in the yellow chaise lounge I’ve decided is my favorite. I wait for him to get up.

“Can I try?” I ask, when I feel like I’ve waited long enough.

“Try what?”

“Your chair.”

“I’m not done yet,” he says.

“I know. But when you are, I want a turn. Okay?”

No answer.

“Johnny, okay?”

“What?”

“Can I be next?”

“I don’t care.”

Until today, I guess I thought Johnny was nice. But now, I think he’s a jerk. And all of a sudden, I feel like I might cry, except not here. I want to cry in my own house. But who knows when that’ll happen? It could be hours from now. I wish I could find my sister.

Finally, he leaves. I turn around and lower myself into the center of the chair. I lean my shoulders against the backrest and slide my legs across the bottom section. I’m almost completely laying down. I try to look up at the sky, but the sun is too bright. I cover my face with my hands. Tears escape out the corners of my eyes. They trickle into my ear and down my neck. This chair really isn’t as great as I thought it would be.

Someone tugs at my sandal. It’s Judy.

“What’s the matter?” she asks.

“I wanna go home.”

“It’s alright,” she says. “I’m here now.”

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