The instep of Jackie’s small feet bounced and then lifted off the end of the diving board. Toes last, pointed down the way she was taught, she rose into the air. Higher and higher she shot up and waited until she’d almost reached the rafters. Then she bent over and grasped her ankles, pulled up her knees to her chest, and rolled into a ball. Over and over she spun, head over heels, once, twice, three times and a half more. Mom would be so proud. Coach, too. Her form was perfect.
When her downward fall was in line with the board, she straightened her body, her arms, her legs and aimed the tips of her fingers at the shimmering blue below. Her fingernails touched the water’s surface first, then her fingers, hands and wrists. Warm water, like a bath. Her arms and body followed in an almost perpendicular, straight as an arrow line. She took a deep breath before her eyes, nose and mouth went underwater, her shoulders, straight arms, slim body, and legs. The goggles fogged up inside so she couldn’t see the bottom of the pool. The water kept her from hearing the cheers of the crowd, but she could imagine them.
Deeper and deeper she went, then judging the right point from previous dives, she turned up again. Or tried to. Which way was up? It should be the opposite of the way she entered the water. But she was blinded, deafened. In the pool there was no sense of up and down, or even sideways without the bottom and walls to give her clues. She had to let her body rise to get some air, to fight the growing panic that threatened her. She felt her heart pounding in her chest. She’d let the air out of her lungs slowly, but now they were almost empty. The lack of oxygen made her brain fuzzy.
Instead of swimming or letting her own buoyancy help her, she thrashed about. What if she didn’t break through the surface soon? What if she went down instead of up? The pool was only ten feet deep wasn’t it? Or was that twelve? She couldn’t remember. Couldn’t remember what coach said. Couldn’t remember what she’d done in the past.
She felt like hours had passed, like she’d been underwater way too long. She was cold, shivering despite the warmth of the water. Tried not to cry for fear that would fog the goggled even more.
And then hands slipped under her arms, lifting her, strong hands. When she broke through into the air at last, she took a deep breath, pulled off the fogged goggles and spied her mother’s worried frown near the edge of the pool. Her coach brought her to the ladder and gave her a shove upward.
The crowd wasn’t looking at her any longer. All eyes were on another diver high up on the board.
“You gave us a scare there for a minute,” her mother said.