In the Garden of Persephone (Part 11)

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The girls bunk school to go skinny dipping

Xan, Hannah, Nancy and Taylor walked through the front doors of the school as if skipping afternoon classes was something they did all the time. It was hot and the sun made the pavement give off waves of heat. Hannah’s head still throbbed and the heat did her no good but there was no way she was going to miss out on this. She felt like she had known Xan for longer than she actually did and it pleased her to be with someone who held such high disregard for school policies.

            “We’ll have to be upstream of the chemical plant,” Xan said.

            “Some divers found some gooey glow in the dark shit last summer,” Nancy told Hannah. Nancy was an overweight girl with black curly hair and braces. She played the piccolo in the band and this incongruous contrast in size of instrument and size of player was a topic of much amusement. Hannah, a through and through brass instrument player, typically paid little attention to woodwinds or their players. She hated the fragile ways of the woodwinds, their fussy reeds and keys but most of all she hated their asthmatic wheezing tone and secretly believed they had no business in a marching band.

            Taylor walked along in a tank top. She had taken off her blouse and tied it loosely around her thin waist. Rumours had it she anorexic but Hannah thought she looked fine--perhaps a little too thin but certainly not anorexic. Taylor was loud and obnoxious with the apparent talent of fixing on a person’s weakness then loudly and publicly using her knowledge to humiliate. Hannah had avoided her, fearing her rudeness and insensitivity but she seemed warm and friendly today and Hannah was glad she was there.

            “Is it a far walk?” Hannah asked her.

            “What, you’ve been here a month and you haven’t found the beach?” She smiled as she said this and Hannah knew she was only teasing her.

            “Well, no.”

            “It’s not that far,” Nancy called back.

            Xan was wearing a tank top too and had taken her blouse off and wrapped it around her head like some sort of African headdress. Hannah could see droplets of perspiration forming on her bare shoulders.

            As they walked, Hannah felt the pressure behind her eyes build and she wished she had brought her sunglasses. She could hear Nancy and Taylor talking about one of the teachers and Hannah remembered she had detention after school. She sighed loudly.

            “What up?” Xan said, slowing so Hannah could catch up.

            Hannah shook her head and smiled.

            “Nearly there,” Xan assured her.

            Hannah could smell the fishiness of the river before she could see it or hear it. There was a busy road between where they stood and the river and it seemed to Hannah that their chance to cross safely would never come. Xan and Taylor had already tried, unsuccessfully to walk to the meridian. Now they were stranded with cars whizzing past both in front and behind them. Finally, a car stopped and it’s driver waved them across, then waited while Hannah and Nancy crossed.

            Xan stripped as she walked, pulling off one shoe, hopping, bending at the knee to reach her socks. She left them as they landed, in a trail behind her. Taylor stood at the edge of the water, her toes nearly touching the water. She reached in and swished the water along, splashing Xan who was now stepping out of her jeans.

            “We’re not that hidden from the road, Xan,” Nancy said.

            Hannah turned around and looked up the embankment. She could hear but couldn’t see the cars.

            Xan pulled of her tank top and in one easy movement, was just in her underwear. Leaving the clothes on the bank, she plunged in. She disappeared under the water, then re-emerged.

            “Feels so good!” she called.

            Nancy gave Taylor a gentle shove and Taylor lost her balance and put one foot into the water.

            “Bitch,” she said playfully flicking water at Nancy.

            Nancy shrieked and made feeble attempts to escape.

            Hannah stood well away from the water, looking over the river. Canada didn’t seem far away from where she was standing. There were a few small boats on the river and even a few water skiers. When she first moved here, Hannah remembered how surprised she was to see huge ocean freighters pass through. Xan was swimming out towards a huge pylon sticking up out of the water. Hannah smiled and shook her head at the thought that Xan was terrified of earthquakes.

            “Hey Xan, look out for the tsunamis!” she called out.

            Taylor and Nancy were splashing each other.

            “You guys are going to smell like the river,” Hannah said.

            Nancy held her hands up in an overdramatic surrender and Taylor came over to where Hannah was standing. She was slightly out of breath but smiling. Both looked out at the water.

            “Can you swim?” Taylor asked.

            “Of course,” Hannah answered. “You?”

            “My parents made me learn when I was little. The reckoned it was necessary since we lived so close to the river.”

            “What the hell is she doing?” Nancy came over to where Nancy and Hannah were watching Xan. She appeared to be climbing the pylon.

            Nancy laughed. “She’s lost her underwear!”

            Sure enough, Xan, now bare assed was about half way to the top. Hannah thought perhaps the pylon was old telephone pole as Xan seemed to have a firm foot hold. Xan’s full moon shone in the sun.

            “I think people will be able to see her from the road,” Taylor said.

            Xan reached the top of the pylon. She straightened to full height. With her back to the girls on the shore, Xan bent over and waggled her ass. Then she stood up, jumped and pulled herself into a graceful dive. Hannah shuddered as Xan hit the water, almost feeling the slap on her own belly.

            The girls on the beach cheered. Xan’s head poked out of the water and she held up her fist in victory.

            Hannah licked her lips. She took on last look up at the embankment.

            “I gotta go in.” Unlike Xan, Hannah was far more meticulous about her clothes. Now barefoot, she tucked her socks into her shoes. She slipped off her jeans and blouse and folded these carefully and was about to go in with her bra on when she stopped herself. Hannah had never been outside topless. Not even when she was a little girl. She turned to look at Nancy and Taylor who had carefully averted their eyes and Hannah undid the hooks of her bra and tossed it next to her shoes.

            “Well,” she said, turning to face them. It struck her as odd, even perverse that in all her life, her nipples had never felt the sunshine. Hannah put her hands on her hips. “Well,” she said again. “This is me.” Then she turned around to the water and dove in. The shock of the cold made her gasp for air when she surfaced but she felt like the pores of her skin were drinking in. It was as if all her life, she had never had enough water and her body was now making up for it. Hannah dove under the water again, her breasts enjoying their new found freedom.

            This time when she re-surfaced, she called out to Nancy and Taylor:

            “I cannot let you two live another moment of your lives without experiencing this.” She treaded water for a few seconds until she was satisfied they understood her.

            As if agreeing with her, from far off, Xan was shouting for them to hurry.

            Nancy and Taylor looked at each other. It was Nancy who began to undress first. She pulled her shoes off and took off her pants. When she pulled her blouse over her head, Hannah could clearly see where the waistband of her jeans had dug into her flesh. Taylor watched Nancy, open-mouthed, then she too began to strip. For a second, the reed thin Taylor and the voluptuous Nancy stood naked on the embankment. Then, as if signalled, they both plunged in.

            Hannah swam out to where Xan was basking in the sunshine. It seemed a lot further now she was in the water. Xan was resting on a plank of wood that jutted up out of the water at an angle. Grasping the end furthest out of the water, Hannah caught her breath. The water pushed her downriver with a strength she hadn’t noticed when she was swimming and she had little choice but let the water carry her legs in the direction of the current. No doubt about it, the water was far more dangerous than it looked. She glanced up at the pole and could sense Xan smiling at her.

            “Did it hurt, landing?” Hannah asked.

            “Stung a bit but the view was worth it.”

            Hannah nodded and watched the other two approach. Both were out of breath but smiling.

            “So, tell me Xan, how come you were so afraid of earthquakes?”

            Xan motioned for Hannah to sit next to her on the plank. Hannah swung her leg over, lost her balance and for a moment was lying skin to skin next to Xan. She shifted and Hannah found a comfortable, secure place to rest.

            “An earthquake can happen anywhere,” she said. “Even in a place where one had never happened.”

            “I was in an earthquake once.“ Hannah said.

            “No shit?” Xan sat up so she could see Hannah better. “Where?”

            “California of course,” said Hannah. “And it was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced. You don’t expect the earth to move. That drunk you were asking about kept going on about earthquakes too. Made me think maybe you two knew something the rest of us don‘t.”

            “She scares the hell out of me,” whispered Xan.

            “Scares the hell out of me too.”

            Xan reached over and squeezed Hannah’s hand, then let it go so quickly Hannah thought it hadn’t happened.

            

            The other girls joined them and the four chatted, Hannah and Xan on the planks and Taylor and Nancy catching their breath, still in the water. Hannah thought how odd it was that they felt so at ease with each other’s nakedness.

            When Taylor caught her breath, she hauled her scrawny body out of the water.

            “Hey no tits!” Nancy giggled.

            “Hey fat ass,” Taylor shot back. But both girls smiled at each other as they let the sun dry their bodies.

            “You guys dive?” Xan asked. She pointed to the pylon.

            Without another word, Taylor slid back into the water and began swimming to the pylon. The other girls sat up as she climbed to the top. Taylor leapt, feet first into the water, her splash reaching the girls on the planks.

            Nancy was next. Hannah had expected her to be shy but Nancy confidently climbed the pole and jumped, arrow straight and feet first, into the river.

            It was Hannah’s turn. The other three girls looked at her expectantly. Hannah rolled off into the water and made her way to the pole. It was slippery and at first she found it difficult to get a foot hold but once she was out of the water, it became easier. The pole had grooves where countless divers had once placed their feet. At the top of the pole was what could have been a small platform. Hannah looked down at the naked girls below and fought the urge to cover her breasts. She balanced carefully on the platform and a slight breeze made her break out in goose bumps. Though now standing upright, she felt completely secure. She gave a little wave and noticed a boat had stopped and there was at least one pair of binoculars aimed in her direction. Hannah wobbled slightly with the fear of someone taking photographs of her. But then the rebelliousness kicked in and, in defiance, Hannah arched out her chest, raised her arms over her head. She remembered a story about someone who once dove into unfamiliar waters and had disembowelled himself on something just beneath its surface.

            “Go on!” she heard Xan shout.

            Hannah paused for a second longer. Then she pushed herself forward and for a second was flying. She didn’t have to worry about her mother, her father, her religion or where she was going to go to university. All that mattered was her faith in herself. By taking that leap, she taken her trust out of God’s hands and put it into herself. Hannah Knight tucked herself into a dive and just before she hit the water she heard the girls cheer.

            When she emerged, she knew she would accept Mr Graham’s proposal for the euphonium solo.

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