~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
Gideon Sayers had just finished tenth grade and would move on to the eleventh when school took up again. He didn’t have any specific plans for summer, but he was looking forward to having plenty of time to himself and doing exactly as he pleased. His father would be at work all day.
On the very first day of summer vacation a girl from his class named Joyce Mahoney called him on the phone.
“I don’t think I remember you,” he said. “I can’t place the name.”
“What do you mean you don’t remember me?” she said. “You see me every day at school!”
“I’m not good with names,” he said. “Describe yourself.”
“Well, let’s see. I’m taller than most of the other girls. I have short brown hair. I’m not fat like a lot of the girls.”
“A lot of people fit that description.”
“I failed the Constitution test two times. I passed it on the third try.”
“Oh, yeah! You had a crying fit in American history class and you called the teacher an effing bastard.”
“That’s me!” she said. “If I had known I was going to have to describe myself, I wouldn’t have bothered calling.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” he laughed. “The thing with girls is that they all kind of blend together for me.”
“I can see this wasn’t a good idea,” she said.
“No, no, that’s all right! What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Next week is Christine Swanson’s seventeenth birthday and we’re having a pool party at my house to surprise her.”
“I didn’t know you had a pool.”
“There isn’t any reason why you should.”
“Who did you say the party is for?”
“I don’t think I know her.”
“Gideon, you are impossible!”
“Can you describe her for me?”
“She’s only the most popular girl in school! She’s a cheerleader. She was yearbook queen. Her picture is absolutely everywhere.”
“Oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard or her. What about her?”
“We’re having a pool party for her at my house.”
“I didn’t know you had a pool.”
“We’re calling everybody in drama club. We didn’t want to leave anybody out.”
“I’m not in drama club.”
“That’s funny. Your name is on the list.”
“I’m not in drama club.”
“Well, somebody made a mistake, I guess.”
“Now that you’ve invited me, do you want to uninvite me?”
“No, I made the mistake of inviting you, so the invitation still stands, I suppose.”
“That’s awfully sweet of you, Janet, but I don’t really know how to swim.”
“It’s Joyce. My name is Joyce.”
“Oh. Right. I forgot for a moment to whom I was speaking. As I was saying, I’m not a swimmer. I don’t know how to swim.”
“That’s all right. Nobody knows how to swim. We just splash around in the water. The boys try to drown each other. There’s a diving board but nobody knows how to dive—they just jump off into the water. There’ll be water volleyball, music and lots of food.”
“I don’t know how to play water volleyball.”
“It doesn’t matter. Anybody can play.”
“Would I need to wear a swimsuit?”
“We have a swimsuits-optional policy.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you can swim naked if you have the nerve.”
“And what day is that?”
“Thursday next week.”
“Um, hold on a minute! I have to check my social calendar.”
He kept her hanging on for five minutes or more and when he went back to the phone, he said, “Janet, are you still there?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Joyce. Well, I’m sorry, Joyce, but I won’t be able to come that day. I’m having abdominal surgery.”
“Oh. I see. I didn’t think you’d come, but I thought I’d try anyway since your name is on the list.”
“Well, thank you so much for the call. It was lovely speaking with you.”
“Yeah, you too. Good luck with your surgery.”
As he was hanging up the phone, his father came into the room, reeking of aftershave.
“Who was that on the phone?” his father asked.
“A girl from school. Joyce somebody-or-other. She invited me to a pool party at her house.”
“Are you going?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“I think you should go. You’ll have fun. You shouldn’t stay at home all the time by yourself.”
“I like being by myself.”
“I’m going away on business for a few days, until at least Monday or Tuesday. I want you to go stay with Aunt Vivian.”
“I hate staying with Aunt Vivian. I want to stay here.”
“I don’t feel right about leaving a child alone in the house that long.”
“I’m not a child. I’m almost seventeen. I’ll be in eleventh grade.”
“You’re not afraid here by yourself?”
“Of course not!”
“I can trust you to behave responsibly?”
“Of course you can!”
“And if there’s an emergency involving fire?”
“I’ll call the fire department. And if there’s an emergency involving crime, I’ll call the police department.”
“Good. I think we understand each other.”
“I’m going to need some money.”
“Of course. For the swimming party. How much do you need?”
“I don’t know. I never bought a swimsuit before. I guess about fifty dollars should cover it.”
His father took two fifty-dollar-bills out of his wallet and placed them carefully on the coffee table.
“I don’t want you drinking beer. High school boys seem to think it’s grown-up to drink beer.”
“You don’t have to worry about me. Drinking beer doesn’t interest me.”
His father jangled his keys, picked up his suitcase by the front door, waved goodbye, and then he was gone.
Before his father’s car was all the way out of the driveway, Gideon went to the phone and called his friend David Deluca. David was one of the few people in school with whom he had anything in common. Their hatred for algebra was only exceeded by their hatred for gym class.
“How are you, old friend?” Gideon said cheerily into the phone.
“Fine,” David said. “Who is this?”
“It’s your best friend Gideon Sayers.”
“Oh, yeah. Hi.”
“What’s new and different with you today?”
“My mother is finding jobs for me to do around the house.”
“Why don’t you sneak out and come over?”
“Why would I do that?”
“My father is gone and I have the whole house to myself.”
“I don’t think so, Gideon. If I left now, it would only get her started. Once she gets started, she doesn’t stop.”
“I don’t have a mother.”
“I know. She killed herself.”
“Well, you don’t have to sound so happy about it!”
“I’m not. It’s very sad.”
“Well, I’ve invited you. Are you going to accept the invitation or not?”
“I don’t think so, Gideon. I’m kind of tired.”
“You’re sixteen years old! How can you be tired?”
“My blood sugar is low.”
“Well, eat a Snickers bar and come on over.”
“I don’t think so, Gideon. I have eczema on my feet. It makes walking painful. We’ll make it another day.”
“Well, suit yourself. I had something I wanted to tell you, but now I’ll just keep it to myself.”
“What is it?”
“Joyce Mahoney called me this morning.”
“She called me, too. She’s calling everybody. She’s trying to get a big crowd at her swimming party next week.”
“Oh. She called you too?”
“Yeah, she called me too.”
“Well, are you going?”
“Sure. Why not? I think it’ll be fun. If I’m not having a good time, I can always say I have a funeral to go to and leave.”
“Are you going to swim naked?”
“I don’t think so. I have some new swimming trunks from Brazil. They’re yellow with a red stripe up the side. I want everybody to see me in them.”
“You’ll drive the girls wild, especially the fat ones.”
“How about you? Are you going to swim naked?”
“I’m not going. I told Joyce I’m having abdominal surgery that day.”
“You are such a liar!”
“Well, I had to think of something quick. That was the only thing that came to mind.”
“You should go, you know, and stop being such an old nelly. I think it’ll be fun. I’m going to borrow my brother’s car. If you want, I can stop by and pick you up and we can arrive at the party like a couple of big men on campus.”
“I don’t think so. I already told Joyce I’m not coming.”
“Call her back and tell her you are coming. Tell her your surgery has been postponed until an appropriate donor can be found and you’d be thrilled to come!”
“I don’t know, David. I feel kind of funny doing that.”
“Do you want me to call her for you?”
“No, I’ll do it. I need to think about it first, though.”
“What’s there to think about?”
“I don’t know. It’s just the way I am.”
The next day he walked downtown with his father’s two fifty-dollar bills in his shirt pocket. He went to the clothing store where his mother always bought his school clothes and found the men’s swimwear department. He selected several swim suits, size small, that he wouldn’t be too embarrassed to wear in public. He took the swimsuits into the changing room, quickly, before he met somebody he knew.
After checking the door of the changing room three times to make sure nobody could get in, he took everything off except his underpants and, standing before the mirror, began trying the swimsuits on. A yellow plaid was pleasing to the eye, but it made him look like a clown. A light-blue would have been acceptable but, when he saw it was slightly transparent, he ripped it off. A white one that hung down almost to his knees made him look like an old man and, anyway, white would show stains. He finally settled on a red one, not too tight and not too baggy, that he could see himself wearing in front of his whole class. It only made him look slightly ridiculous, instead of completely ridiculous. Well, he reasoned, he wouldn’t look any worse than a lot of other people.
When he got back home from his successful shopping trip, he felt emboldened to call Joyce Mahoney and tell her he was wrong about the day of his abdominal surgery and would be happy after all to attend the pool party.
Joyce answered on the first ring.
“Hello?” Gideon said. “Is that you, Joyce?”
“Yes, it is. Who is this?”
“This is Gideon.”
“Do I know you?”
“Um, I don’t seem to remember you. Can you describe yourself?”
“Look, Joyce, I know why you’re doing this.”
”Pretending not to know me.”
“I’m terribly busy,” she said. “I’m going to have to hang up now.”
“I just wanted to ask you a question.”
“What is it?”
“It’s about your pool party.”
“What about it?”
“I was wondering if it would be all right if I change my mind and accept your invitation after all.”
There was a silence on the line, making Gideon wonder if she had hung up.
“What did you say your name is?” Joyce asked.
“Do I know you?”
“I’m in your class at school.”
“I don’t want to be mean, Glenn, but your name wasn’t on the invitation list.”
“It’s Gideon. Not Glenn.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but I don’t know who you are.”
“You just called me yesterday and invited me to your party!”
“Are you sure it was me?”
“Of course it was you! Don’t you remember talking to me?”
“No, I don’t! It must have been somebody playing a trick on you.”
“It’s all right, Joyce. I know what you’re doing. Just forget I called.”
“I have to go now,” Joyce said. “It was lovely speaking with you.”
After his phone conversation with Joyce had ended, he went upstairs to his room and closed the door and locked it, even though he was alone in the house. He took off all his clothes and took the red swimsuit out of the bag and pulled it on, up his legs and over his thin thighs. After tugging the swimsuit into place, he turned and looked at himself in the full-length mirror.
It was worse even than he thought. He looked like a hairless monkey, all joints and angles, his skin as white as paste. He was meant to always be clothed. He looked so ridiculous that he couldn’t keep from cringing.
“I can’t let anybody see me like this!” he said.
He took the scissors and cut the red swimsuit into strips, relieved he would never have to wear it where anybody could see him. And after he was finished, he left the strips of red material on the floor around his bed to remind himself just how close he had come to making a complete fool of himself.
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp