He says, ‘Please. Leave him. He can.’
His English is broken enough that I can pretend he means it less abruptly than it sounds. He is out of the water now, shirtless even in this sun, thick with muscle across his shoulders and his chest, the kind of brown my mother turned in the 1970s.
We are, all of us, my little boys and me, holding kickboards (theirs are yellow, mine is blue), we are sunblocked and we are at the point in the slope where the shallow ends and the deep begins and my children have been told by me, Never Without an Adult.
I am in the water because it is forty two degrees, because I want some exercise, and because, after watching the boys’ ten minute assessments, I can’t bear not to be. As if I could help them. As if, if they fell from their kickboards, sank under the surface, hit the bottom, I could pull them back up.
As if. But still.
‘Please,’ he says to my little boy. It is a sentence, not a word. He has already been told to kick across the pool, from here to there, across the very deep.
‘Go.’ This is for both of us.
I have watched my little boy in swimming lessons before. I have sat on the side of the Unley Community Swimming Pool where my little boy has said, I don’t put my face under water and that has been that and he doesn’t. Young girls who know how to swim but have not yet been taught to teach have looked from him to me and I have only shrugged and been proud of a boy who knows his limits and isn’t scared to tell you.
We are not there.
I move away, my littlest boy begins to kick.
I get to my edge, hold onto the ladder and watch. This pool is large and round and deep, and my little, littlest boy is in the middle of it. Kicking.
His brother calls back to him, ‘You can do it. Nearly there. You’re something like between halfway and three quarters. Just keep kicking.’ He – the eldest boy – has done it eight times now, four times last week and four today.
My littlest boy looks, as he so often does, like my mother. I remember, as I watch my little boy, that I once saw my mother swim. Neck straining, chin high and kicking. We were in our aluminium boat, my father, my brother and I. My dad was rowing, my mum’s lifejacket – as new as the boat – was orange. The water was grey and there was seaweed all around. She wanted to get back in, but my father said, ‘Just keep going’ or perhaps ‘Don’t be silly’. I remember his tone, but not his words. Another moment for whom I am the only one it exists. Another moment I do not fully remember or understand.
‘Keep kicking.’ His brother calls again. ‘You’ll make it.’
He makes it of course. As if I’d be writing like this if he hadn’t.
‘Did you see me, Mum? Did you watch me? All the way from there to there. In the deep. I can’t wait to tell Dad. He is gonna be pleased.’
And later on, between them, over a game of backgammon, my little boys agree.
‘That was awesome.’