Broken Stirrup

At seven, Trudi will this time or next time refuse on principle to get out of the water. She never likes to go. Already, she needs someone to take her seriously. The struggle grows less muted. Trudi’s mother is one of five parents, men and women sitting poolside, watching the children swim. Talking about a drowning not in this pool but down along the shoreline, they’re tense to dive in suddenly. Only Trudi’s mother’s bathing suit strap has broken, and the suit hangs on by diaper pins dug from another mother’s tote bag. She listens to the other parents discuss a dead boy’s body as rumor would have it, as she listens to Trudi explain to the other kids treading water the rules of underwater tea parties: Before you run out of air, come up for air and blow air out to sink back down again. Talk with your eyes and hands only. Avoid too hard laughter. Sit cross-legged and don’t mind levitating. Pinkies up to pantomime fine china. Her hair billowing up like forests of kelp, Trudi ignores her pacing mother refracted overhead. But whose point of view is this anyway, who suddenly says stuff about kelp while Trudi, as if she were in another state, chooses ignorance? Something could go terribly wrong. She could cry out without a soul to hear her. Years ago, when she was a nursing student, green, childless, her mother was called from the break room into an emergency situation. Soon, an obstetrician was instructing a birthing woman to push while she, at twenty, leaned her shoulder into the flat of the laboring mother’s foot in place of a broken stirrup. She was all but a bystander there. The blood took her breath as the good news of a fetal monitor gave it back, as the mother’s mouth strained upwards and the mouth of the preceptor performed knowing smiles and the doctor’s mouth blurred as it coaxed. “Breathe,” someone said. But bloody the gloves of the attendants there, blood on metal, blood on the blades of the episiotomy scissors snipping a perineum. The new mother gulped as she heaved, or the body heaved as she was simultaneously elsewhere and yelling and not stopping yelling. “Breathe.” Then it was time. Time to push up from the wavy blue bottom, swim to the side, climb the ladder single file, sudden goosebumps, peeling noses, fall into thick towels, flip-flop down cobblestones pathways, curse in waves rising off molten asphalt. When Trudi burns the backs of legs on the beige seat of a suffocating auto and says, “We should stay at least until it’s dark out,” her mother recalls not her own daughter’s birth but the inner thighs of a stranger terminating to the head of a crowning child a long time ago on a cold, bright morning in Columbus, Ohio.