I started learning how to swim soon after school began and on Saturday morning I have to walk all the way down to the swimming pool with Mum and my sisters. I am wearing new pink swimmers to the pool and a big floppy hat to keep the sun off my face.
On the way to the pool I have to walk past the old cemetery. Even on the warmest day the old gates look cold and gloomy and long grass grows around the graves. Stephen once said that ghosts wandered around in there and I walk a little faster and keep my eyes on the footpath rather than looking up at the grey and lonely headstones. Mum and the girls don’t seem to be bothered though and I try to walk in the middle of them where it is safe until we get to the end of the block.
Then we walk across the railway line and leave the cemetery far behind and my legs suddenly get tired from walking so fast that I start to lag behind. Every now and then I have to run to catch up again because they don’t wait for me.
Eventually we reach the pool and the girls run off to join their friends as soon as Mum pays and we go through the gates. There is a little bit of time before my swimming lesson so Mum lets me play in the baby pool for a while. I like being in the water but it is always freezing cold at swimming lessons and I can’t stop myself from shivering and my lips sometimes turn blue. Mum puts yellow floaties on my arms to stop me from sinking and she has to blow them up until they are big and puffy and squeeze my arms so tight that I can feel my fingers tingling.
Jumping in the baby pool is fun because I can touch the bottom and make lots of splashes. I like the feeling of the water on my body, how it moves against my skin and I can feel myself push through it like swimming through honey.
One of the first things I learn to do in my swimming lesson is float on my back until I am able to just bob up and down with my arms spread like a starfish. Then I learn to move my hands and feet and push myself across the pool. It isn’t so easy when I am on my front because I can’t breathe and the water fills up my goggles and stings my eyes. I take a few arm strokes and then roll over to take a big breath while facing the sky.
After a while the swimming teacher takes the class to swim at the deep end. Everyone lines up on the edge and one by one we have to jump in and paddle across to the teacher. I am near the end of the line and I start to get more and more nervous as it comes closer to my turn.
“Come on Molly, you can do it” the teacher calls out from the middle of the pool. All the other children have already swum out to her and back to the edge and there are some faces watching me from the water. But the bottom of the pool looks so far down and it is such a deep blue and the teacher is swimming so far away from where I am standing. My toes edge forward slowly, feeling how slippery the tiles are. I can feel tears building up in my eyes as the teacher calls out again more sternly. “Molly, if you don’t get in then I will have to climb out there and throw you in!”
I start to back away from the slippery edge of the pool, when suddenly there is somebody behind me and I am being pushed towards the water. I start to scream and fall to the ground in a panic. Everything seems to be a whirl of colours and noise and when I look up all I can see is the grinning face of that boy Darren from school laughing at me. “Molly’s a scaredy cat, Molly’s a scaredy cat” he taunts.
Just then I hear Stephanie’s voice. “Leave her alone Darren.” In a flash of blue bikini my best friend races across the grass to confront my tormentor.
“Darren, go and sit down over there.” My swimming teacher climbs out of the pool and points to a bench near the canteen. She doesn’t look very happy at all. “Leave the girls alone”. I am sitting on the ground crying when I feel Stephanie’s hand on my shoulder. The teacher walks over and takes my hand. “Come on girls; let’s go back down the shallow end. Perhaps we will try the deep end again next week”.
I don’t want to get back in the pool, but Stephanie is watching me so I try to be brave and finish the swimming lesson. The water feels really cold now and I shiver the whole time until my teeth start chattering.
Eventually I get to climb out and Stephanie and I lay on our towels to dry in the warm sunshine. I can hear the sound of splashing and laughter but there is no way I am getting back in the water today. With my face pressed against the towel, I watch a line of ants marching across the concrete toward the grass as Stephanie talks brightly to try and cheer me up.
On the way home from the pool Mum buys me a bag of mixed lollies full of freckles, custard whirls, redskins, and jelly babies. The sun is high in the sky and I share my lollies with Stephanie as we walk along. I soon start smiling and chatting again as we skip across the cracks in the footpath and try to catch up with Mum and the girls before we get near the cemetery.