Hoping to Impress

“Toes pointed. Arms straight. Left knee to my chest,” Ben mumbled to himself as he waited in line for his turn. The warmth of the day radiated off the concrete, warming his legs and stinging the bottom of his feet. He moved his toes gently against the rough surface. It scraped his wet, wrinkled skin. He was fascinated by the sensation.

A splash in front of him woke him from his trance. The line moved forward one step.

“Toes pointed. Arms straight. Left knee to my chest,” he said again. He’d been thinking about his form all week. He was sure today was the day he would win her attention.

“Which one are you going to do?” a menacing voice said from behind him.

Ben glanced over his shoulder at Ethan. “None of your business,” he said.

“Bet it’s not gonna be as good as mine,” Ethan said. The thin boy with sandy hair and freckles was always on the hunt for an opportunity to tease.

Ben didn’t respond. He and Ethan had been at the same school since kindergarten, so he wasn’t surprised by Ethan’s pestering. He reminded himself of what his dad had said. “The best way to deal with a bully is to ignore them.” Ben wasn’t sure that was true. Sometimes he felt like the best way to deal with Ethan would be to punch him right in the stomach, but then he’d get in trouble. Ben didn’t like being in trouble.

“I’m doing a front flip,” Ethan said with pride. “I don’t mind telling you, because I know you can’t do one.”

“Front flips are stupid,” Ben replied with confidence, but internally he was filled with worry. Ethan was right. He couldn’t do a front flip. “This is going to work,” he said to himself. “Toes pointed. Arms straight. Left knee to my chest.”

“What’d you say?” Ethan asked. “Speak up. I can’t hear you.”

“I said,” Ben said without looking back. “That front flips are stupid. It’s what little girls do.”

“No it’s not,” Ethan said, wounded.

There was a splash. The line moved forward. Only one more person, then it would be Ben’s turn. His gaze drifted to the lifeguard stand. Atop the white, wooden perch sat Amy Andrews, the prettiest girl at the pool. Ben didn’t even really like diving all that much. He’d much rather be playing Marco Polo in the shallow end, or wrestling with his friends on the slope of pool where his feet could barely touch; but like the other boys in line, a longing he didn’t fully understand compelled him to jump from the diving board, hoping she would notice him, hoping she would acknowledge his offering.

Scott Irwin, a pudgy fourth grader who’d only recently passed his swimming test and gained access to the deep end, stepped up to take his turn to dive. Watching Amy, Scott slowly walked to the end of the board. Behind her sunglasses, it was hard to know if Amy was watching, but Ben didn’t think so. It was Scott Irwin after all. He always did the same dive.

Scott reached the end of the board and, as was the pool custom, he announced loudly the name of his dive. “Cannon ball!” he yelled.

“He always does a cannon ball,” Ethan said with a laugh.

“Right?” Ben said, knowing that Scott’s persistence would never win Amy’s affection.

There was a large splash that sent waves roaring through the deep end. Ben admired the aftermath of Scott’s effort. Scott could only do one dive, but he did it well.

Ben stepped up on the board.

“Don’t slip,” Ethan said, but Ben ignored him. He was focused on the task ahead. “Toes pointed. Arms straight. Left knee to my chest,” he said. He took a deep breath. No one else did this dive. This was his chance to be original. He was sure Amy would watch. He knew it in his soul.

Ben took four steps to the end of the board. His stomach felt weird. He looked up at Amy. Her right leg was crossed over her left. Something about her bare knee intensified the flutter in Ben’s gut. She was watching two boys run on the other side of the pool. Ben swallowed.

“Hurry up,” Ethan said.

Ben turned and said, “Shut up, Ethan.” Facing forward again, he composed himself with another deep breath. “Toes pointed. Arms straight. Left knee to my chest,” he reminded himself.

He looked at Amy again. Her attention was still focused elsewhere.

“Come on,” Ethan said.

Ben sighed. It was now or never. He looked at the water. The waves of Scott’s cannon ball had diminished to ripples. It was time.

Ben raised his chin and yelled with all his might, “CAN OPENER!”

As it had been in his mind, he bent at the knees, bounced once on the board, and then took flight. Pointing his right toes toward the water, he held his arms tight to his side, and raised his left knee to his chest.

As he entered the water he chanced a glance, and just before the cool liquid consumed his head, he thought he saw Amy look in his direction and smile.

This piece was originally published on Medium.com in response to a writing prompt. The prompt was “Can Opener.”

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