Strange Attractors

The Things We Do for Love

The Promised Land

Translation of Light

Miles on the Bridge

Whispers of a Dreamer

Other Poems

 

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Ruhama Veltfort. Strange Attractors

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Excerpt from Chapter 1
of Strange Attractors

When Coach says time’s up, that’s it. Melody hoists up on her skinny arms and pulls herself out of the pool. Here at the club, the lip of the pool is high above the gutters and it takes a big heave up to get out, but she’s strong, she can do it, and she runs dripping and shivering into the dressing room. She’s shivering hard even though it’s been hot all day, it’s almost summer, and all day in school all she could think about was swim practice. When she thinks about swimming like that, she only thinks about the fun part, the good feeling of moving her body like an engine through the water. Working, pushing, trying harder, breathing harder. “Go, Melody!” She loves the sound of Coach’s voice cheering her on. But now she can’t stop shaking and gasping, almost like she’s crying, but she won’t cry, she’s not a baby. She’s just cold. She sticks out her arm to see the goose bumps. Her scalp prickles; her hair’s all standing up on end. Her bathing suit is soppy, dripping. She keeps it on in the shower, she doesn’t want to take it off even though nobody else is here. She turns the hot water on higher but her teeth are still chattering hard, even as the steam rises around her. She wills herself to be warm. Warm and clean. Shuddering, she peels off the wet suit and throws it in the corner.

All the other Dolphins have gone home. Today is her day to stay late for a private lesson. The word “private” sticks in her mind: it turns big and red like a word in a cartoon. It’s a word she doesn’t even want to think, a name for the place Coach touches.

She will never tell, either, even though her teacher, Ms Dart, and the KidSafe lady who talked to their class said she’s supposed to. If somebody touches you where you don’t want to be touched. On your private place. Even if it’s a friend of your family, even if it’s someone in your family, you’re supposed to tell an adult. Tell someone you trust. Melody knows the KidSafe rules; she got them all right on the quiz. If you’re afraid to tell your mother, tell your teacher. Or if it is your mother. But nobody can believe that. It has to be men who do it. They are sick, and it’s a bad thing for them to do and it’s not your fault and you should tell the man No! I don’t want you to do that. It is not OK. And you should tell someone right away.

But this is Coach. It’s different.

Melody finally stops shaking enough to get out of the shower and get dressed. She almost leaves her bathing suit behind, but then she remembers and rolls it up in her wet towel. She isn’t going to tell about Coach, because she loves swimming too much. If she tells, he’ll go to jail, and that’s the end of swimming. They’ll never get another coach that good. He’s the best coach there is. He is gross, and touching her private is gross, and the rest of it, what he does with his thing, is the grossest of all. But she is not going to tell anybody, because Coach says if she keeps practising she might even get to be in the Olympics some day. That’s worth more than all the gross disgusting stuff he does, which she is not even going to think about any more.

She goes out to wait for her mother. Her mother is late; she never gets there on time, even on the days Melody just has regular practice. That’s probably why she got to be picked to stay late for private coaching. Sure, she’s a good swimmer, but other kids on the team are just as good. Gita’s even better but she’s conceited and nobody likes her. Probably not even Coach likes her that much. Not everybody likes Melody either, she knows that, but she has friends. Brianna is her best friend.

But Melody won’t even tell Brianna. It’s too embarrassing to talk about. He only does it sometimes, anyway. Today, the first part was bad enough, when he got in the pool to help her with her flutter kicks. He never gets in the pool for regular practice. But when she’s in the pool alone and she sees him take off his hat and his sunglasses, she starts feeling sick to her stomach, knowing he’s getting in the water. Today, watching his shallow dive, she felt like she was going to barf but she pushed it back. She held on to the edge of the gutter and he moved her legs up and down. It was hard to kick, the way he was holding her made it harder. It was like he didn’t really want her to kick and he kept telling her to relax, relax her legs so he could move them. First he was just holding her ankles, but he kept holding higher and higher up on her legs and saying, Relax. And then he told her to kick. Up, down, up, down, up down, he was saying, and he had one hand on her butt and the other one underneath and she never knows what to do when he does that, he isn’t supposed to do that, she’s supposed to say No, stop it! It’s not OK for you to do that!

But he’s her coach, and she didn’t say anything, and he kept going Up, down, up, down, and his voice got funny, deep and gargly, and then all of a sudden he let go of her and made a noise like he was hurt, and she turned around to see if he was OK, and that was the really gross part, his big gross thing out of his trunks like an ugly rubbery white fish and he was holding on to it and looking at it and looking at her and his face looked really weird. She twisted her head away fast, too scared to move, and stared into the gutter, and then she heard him say Time’s up, like everything was normal and she got out of the pool.

She sits on the lawn in front of the club waiting for her mother. She’s shivering again. Her hair is pasted wet against her face and down her back onto her sleeveless shirt. She counts cars, waiting.

Finally, there’s the white Toyota. It looks dirty. Good, her mother will pay her five dollars to wash it. Her mother honks the horn, even though Melody’s already on her feet, running to the curb, to the safe car. Her mother’s face looks hard, like she had a bad day at work. Melody lets all her breath out in a heaving sigh as she sits and reaches for her seat belt.

“How was swimming?” Her mother asks, but she’s looking out into the traffic, not at her.

“Fine,” Melody says. She looks out the window.

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