June 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
It was low tide. Three boys in sagging baggy swim trunks stood at the edge of manhood and in the center of the bridge where Summer Street crosses the narrow mouth of the Mill River. Out on Cohasset Bay, old wooden sailboats sat lazily at anchor, and a family of ducks spread a widening “V” of ripples across the flat calm. But under the bridge the water was rough and swift: little lost raindrops, gathered over of the vast watershed of eastern Massachusetts, and tumbling now into the breast of the great Atlantic who sat waiting for them at the foot of the bridge. The boys leaned over the railing looking at the white-tossed crests of the standing waves below them.
“You go first.” The tallest said.
“No, you. I caught that cat.”
It looked so far down to the thrashing water, the Tall One was terrified. As the tallest son of a six-foot-five-inch ex-marine, this terror was as deep a secret as the fact that he’d rather take dance classes than join Pop Warner. But the water was really less than 20 feet below, which was, according to his dad, was about the length of their pickup truck. But who had ever stood on top of a pickup truck set on end? He was cursed with some ancient instinct that gave height, and its deadly potential, special consideration.
“I’m not scared. I’d go, but it’s not fair, it’s your turn,” The cat-catcher calculated honestly. He was swelling into manhood ahead of his buddies, and even before the cat, liked to show off his testosterone enhanced beef, but that was useless against the bridge.
“Oh come on, one of you go,” said the littlest one, always the odd man out, the omega to their alpha. He liked these guys, they had lived on the same block all their lives, but he was bookish and soft, knew he would never be a man’s man, and hated the way these little pissing contests had begun to wedge them apart. The other two were always jockeying for that alpha emblem that he was consciously avoiding. They each gave him a little punch in his upper arm, as had become customary. The omega clicked his tongue and massaged his deltoid with a sigh.
“Why don’t you go?” said the cat-catcher.
“Me?” the omega answered, “I never said I would go. I don’t even wanna go!”
But he did.
“Pussy!” they scowled in unison.
“You’re not going,” the omega replied, “and you been bragging about it all week. Who’s the pussy?”
The cat-catcher punched him in the arm again, hard. Violence becoming more and more his preferred way to cover his fear. His older brother, who had not only caught but murdered a few cats himself, preferred violence as a way of handling everything.
“Boys will be boys,” was all the comfort he had gotten the one time he had found to courage to tell what had happened behind the garage. He wished he could find that courage now, as a wave of nausea caused him to back away from the bridge railing.
A mini-van, crossing the bridge, slowed as a little girl, half their size, practically climbed out of the window and squealed,
“Mommy, look, it’s perfect!”
“Come on now, back in that seat,” a half-heartedly strict voice replied.
“No! Stop! Please!” the girl pleaded, disappearing back inside as the window purred up.
The three boys watched closely as the van pulled off the bridge into the turnout next to the abutment and the barefoot girl – she couldn’t have been more than five – came practically flying across the bridge to clamber up onto the railing.
“Oh man, Mommy. Check this out!” she squealed again, as her mom made her way out into center of the bridge.
“Climb down from there, kiddo,” she said as she put her arm around the little girl and led her feet back onto the pavement.
“Oh man, is that perfect or what?” she asked.
“She loves to jump.” the mom explained to the boys who stood back, watching them warily.
She quickly discarded the tiny blue jumper she was wearing, revealing her tiny pink polka-dot bathing suit with its silly little fuchsia peplum, and started to climb back up on the rail.
“Come on, Mommy, puleeze?”
The Mom led her back onto the pavement again, the sort of thing it seemed like this mom must have had to do a lot.
“You have no idea how deep it is, silly,” she said.
Immediately, the little girl grabbed her hand and tried to pull her toward the water,
“Let’s go see!”
“It’s really deep,” the omega offered, “we jump all the time.”
“We?” the tall one said, as the cat-catcher punched the omega in the arm again, harder.
Once his grimace faded, the omega shrugged to the mom and smiled.
“Yeah, we come here all the time. The guys from the college, they jump here all the time, and none of them has ever even been able to even touch the bottom, it must be like a hundred feet deep or something.”
“See!” as she started to climb back up.
“Hang on, let me go check.”
“Honest, lady, it’s really deep,” the tall one assured her, but the mom was already heading off the bridge, back to her van and the little girl was already down by the edge of the river.
“You wait for me, honey,” the mom called, and she did, jumping back and forth from boulder to bank as her mom pulled off her sundress, tossing through the window of the van and revealing her own pink bathing suit.
“Come on then!” she squealed.
The boys leaned out over railing to watch the pair dive into the river: the mom going deep, and the little girl bouncing giddily through the waves. With her squeals echoing off the bridge’s massive concrete abutments, the boys ran across the road and climbed up onto the opposite railing in time to see the rapids dump her into the flat, swirling bay, where her mom eventually would pop up.
“Deep enough?” she asked eagerly.
“One more time,” her mom answered, climbing onto the bank and chasing the tiny pink streak back upstream as the boys raced back across the road to their vantage point on the opposite railing.
After a few more passes the mom finally seemed satisfied that there were no hidden boulders waiting to crack her daughter’s skull. As she struggled up the embankment, the little girl shot past her to the center of the bridge, scrambled up onto the rail, and leapt off, this time, with a squeal so piercing the boys had to put their fingers in their ears.
All three leaned over to watch her splash, disappear under the waves, pop up in the bay, and rush back up the hill. Her mom had managed to finish her first return just as her daughter finished her second.
“Hang on, hon,” she said, “take turns,” then motioned to the boys that they could go.
“No, we was, we was… all finished.” The cat-catcher said, remembering his moment of vertigo.
“But…” was all the omega got out before the tall one gave him a scowl that cut him off.
“We gotta go,” the tall one said, bitterly retreating from his defeat, as he and the cat-catcher sulked off.
“Come on,” they commanded the omega, who paused.
He looked at them, then at the little girl, who shivered in her little puddle, waiting politely for him take his turn, then back at his ‘friends’ and said, “I guess I’ll see ya.” As they left him, the cat-catcher smirked and raised his fist, promising another big bruise on the omega’s arm, which he rubbed as the ghost of a grimace haunted his face.
“You can go,” he said to the little girl, who squealed and threw herself off the bridge again.
It was a little scary, but what really terrified him was all that macho dueling.
“I’ve never gone,” he said quietly, not looking at the mom, who replied,
“There’s a first time for everything.”
The little girl was back, and waited again for him to go.
“Ya know, I was really scared the first time on the high dive. It looked so high, but after, it was soooo fun!” she said. “Wanna go together? We can hold hands and count, that helps.”
“Well…” the omega said as he looked to see if his friends were out of sight.
“Come on, it’ll be fun.” She held out her hand to him with a bright smile.
He took it.
“One, two, three,” she looked to make sure he was ready, he nodded nervously,
“GO!” she squealed.