Prompt: A child’s swimming ability seems perfectly on par with her peers at camp until she starts growing gills.
Saturday, time for the Lake Swim — We would swim all the way to Bragoneer Dock- get Oreo cookies and swim back — one mile total. You had to be in Intermediates to do it, and Molly and I had a swim goal. Back in November we had emailed a pact: On the first day of camp, we would pass Advanced Beginners and go at once into Intermediates. That way, the Lake Swim was ours to be had, a rite of passage, a transition out of being baby campers. Those who had tasted the Lake Bragoneer Oreos were on a pedestal, and this year — this summer, we wanted a taste of that the first week.
We totally passed and those kids who hadn’t yet, scowled at us. Maybe Lucy and Shannon would pass next session. Molly and I high-fived. We were in.
They made us wear orange fluorescent swim caps for safety. And the row counselor would only use the motor in case of an emergency.
“I am not sure I want to go,” Molly told me at breakfast. We had to come to the dining hall dressed in our swimsuits. She was wearing hers, but also one of those colorful sweaters from Guatemala. I wished I had one of those sweaters.
“It’s really cold today,” I said.
“It isn’t that. I just don’t feel good.” Molly scratched at her neck and pushed her cereal bowl away.
“Come on, Molly,” I whined, “We have waited all year for today.”
“I know, I don’t know what is wrong.”
My eyes widened and I looked directly at her, “Did you start?” We were ten, but Molly wasn’t as flat as I still was.
They always made a big deal over the “Guppies” — first time Lake Swimmers. Carlos was the row counselor, so he called each kid up one by one in front of everyone to honor them with their new swim cap, while the whole camp cheered, “Swim GUPPY, SWIM!”
Hearing Carlos call my name was an embarrassing and exhilarating initiation. I took my spot next to Molly and the other five new Guppies. I looked over at Molly- she was being so weird today. I knew she was nervous about the challenge, but she was kind of opening her mouth and then closing it, over and over- sort of like she wanted to say something, but decided not to.
The challenge of course, now that we were Lake Swimmers, was to actually swim the whole mile. Plenty of Guppies had opted into the row boat. There was no shame in doing so. Swimming a mile was not easy. But our email pact had stated: NO ROW!
“OK,” Molly ran to the swim docks, “Last one in has to kiss Carlos!” She giggled and held her hands on her neck. I chased after her.
The lake was freezing! I could not believe it. I was shivering and so were all the other kids. Molly shrugged and got her head wet right away. Carlos was in his boat ready with his megaphone. Tina, our fifth grade girls’ counselor was swimming in the front of the group, and Ben, the sixth grade boy’s counselor swam in the back. We found a place in the middle of about twenty campers. All ready to go get those Oreos. One more chant of Swim Guppies! And we were off.
Molly and I doggie-paddled for a bit, so we could talk. “Isn’t it weird how some parts of the water are suddenly warm and then you will go into a cold spot?”
“I don’t know. Not really,” Molly said.
Were we just drifting apart? Why was she acting so strange today?
“When we get up past that sailing beach, see up ahead?” Molly pointed, dove under water, then came back up, “I am gonna take off my swim cap.”
“Why? We aren’t supposed to.”
Molly dove under water again. I could tell she had practiced swimming at the YMCA this year, like she said she would. I couldn’t get my mom to join and then well, time sort of went by. I was lucky I even passed the test.
Now she came back up, but she was at least 15 meters in front of me. “Molly!” I called out to her. I squinted my eyes and saw she was parallel with the sailing beach. I was probably going to have to get glasses when I got home. I couldn’t really see her. She looked almost transparent- like the water was reflecting off of her. I did see though, her bright orange swim cap, bobbing and drifting as I approached the place where I last had seen her.
I waved my hands. Carlos was rowing way up ahead with the fast swimmers. I could see that he was laughing- joking around with Tina and some older campers. Maybe Molly had passed them underwater. Maybe she wanted to eat the first Oreos.
Still, it was so strange. Molly was never a rule breaker. I grabbed onto her swim cap and swam with it. I was getting tired. NO ROW! I told myself. Not that Carlos was paying attention anyway. If that was what it would be like to be a teenager, then no thank you. This Lake Swim was not fun anymore. Where was Molly?
I began to swim towards the back of the group. Maybe she had fallen behind and was back with Ben and the other kids who were getting tired. Why in the world would I swim back the way I had come? I turned back and I was alone. I knew the water was way too deep to stand here. An oil slick from a speed boat passed me and at once I realized where Molly went.
I never ate Oreo cookies again.