That summer Evelyn discovered her body. Before it had been just something that happened around her, an awkward changing thing she’d no control over, that never warned her of what it was about to do. She’d always been taller than the other girls, which, when she was younger, had been a peculiarity rather than a quality. But now she was sixteen and in the habit of locking herself in the bathroom while bathing.
She stood naked in front of the ornate Cheval mirror. What she saw was the body of a woman not unlike the women she admired in the fashion magazines modelling lingerie, or the older university girls she saw walking in town, going in and out of boutiques. Her legs were long, her breasts firm and shapely, and her face, with her round brown eyes, was more than pretty. But her hair, she thought, was her best quality, and many said so. It was long and black and curly. When wet, her hair reached just below her breasts. She ran her fingers through it, twirling the end of each strand then pulling gently down so that the curls would tighten, and then spring playfully up when she let go. As she combed it, the water dripped out, running down the front of her, and she shivered.
In the afternoon, now that it was summer, everybody went down to the lake. Some of the boys liked to make an early start of it, out at sunrise, because the fishing was good, but they’d be on the other bank, where an old tree grew over the lake. The older boys liked to climb the tree, swinging from it before jumping into the water. The girls took their time coming down, arriving in small groups, when they knew most of the boys would be watching.
Evelyn came alone and lay on her towel at the end of the pier. Daniel would be coming soon. They’d been going together for three months already. He was a year older, and also her first real boyfriend. But she’d never let him know that. She would always get to the lake before him. The best sun was around two o’clock and she didn’t like to miss it. Daniel’s skin was fair and he couldn’t take too much of it. Instead, he would come down on his red scooter and mess around with his friends or play football on the pebbled beach. Later, they would probably go for an ice-cream or he’d take her for a ride on his scooter. He had become very serious lately, and he’d even asked her to go steady. She liked having fun with him, but didn’t want him to be too sure of himself. She said that she’d think about it.
Evelyn was happiest in the sun. She wore her favourite pair of sunglasses and her new white, two-piece bathing suit. Last summer she preferred to lie on the soft grass with the other girls. But she felt differently now. Being alone on the pier, away from everybody, made her feel as though she were on a rowing boat, drifting and out of reach.
She sat up, making sure her back was straight, and looked out across the lake. A motorboat went by sending waves across the smooth surface. She stood up and walked over to the edge of the pier. Resting her hands on the curve of her lower back, she saw the sun above reflected in the water below. She heard the laughter of children playing and the guffaws of boys showing off on the beach. She stretched her hands up and raised herself up on to the tips of her toes. Turning towards the beach, she slipped a red elastic band from her wrist and tied up her hair. A few ringlets fell loose upon her neck. She walked over to the side of the pier, like a trapeze artist balancing high above a gazing crowd, and slowly slid down a wooden ladder and into the cold water, bit by bit. She did not swim, but held on to the ladder, her body immersed beneath the water, only her head above it, her curls protected.
After a moment, her skin cool, she climbed out again, looking down at her body as she rose up the ladder. The distinct sound of a boy laughing caused her to look towards the beach. She let down her hair again before lying on her back, her knees slightly raised, and then gave herself to the warm touch of the sun.
Daniel came towards her. She didn’t need to look. She knew him by the rhythm of his footfalls on the pier. His happy, bouncing gait. He stood over her; his shadow taking away her sun. She pretended not to know he was there. He knelt down beside her and rested his head on her wet belly.
What are you doing?
He kissed her just below her navel.
Stop that, she said. You’re in my sun.
Daniel shook his head and stood up again. He stepped over her and looked across the lake where the boys were fishing. He smiled and took off his shirt. Evelyn lowered her sunglasses and watched him. She liked his body. Though skinny, he was strong, and his muscles were well-defined.
How about coming for a swim with me? he asked.
I was just in.
I mean a real swim.
No, I’d rather just lie here.
Come on, it’ll be fun, he said. We’ll swim over to the other side.
Are you crazy?
Come on, Evelyn.
I don’t want to get my hair wet. I washed it this morning.
Your hair wet? You really are something.
Listen, when you have hair like mine then you can talk.
Swim with me, just this once.
Daniel, you’re wasting your time.
You can be such a capricious brat sometimes. It must be those precious curls of yours. He threw his shirt at her and jumped into the water, splashing her as he did so.
Get lost, she said, taking his shirt and chucking it down by her feet. She watched as he swam. He was not a great swimmer and switched from one style to another. But he made it to the other side and she lay down. She didn’t like to argue with him, but he had a lot to learn about girls. She kicked his shirt a little further away and closed her eyes.
A cloud covered the sun and Evelyn stirred. She’d fallen asleep and sat up now feeling dazed. Rain clouds were moving down from the mountains towards the lake. There were less people on the beach now. Most families were packing up. A little girl was crying because she had to leave the water. On the path that led to the street some of Daniel’s friends stood around their motorbikes, smoking cigarettes. His red scooter was there, too. She noticed Daniel’s shirt. She reached for it and looked out across the water. The surface of the lake was still. Nobody was swimming.
She could see over to the other side. Beside the tree a crowd of boys had gathered. Their fishing rods up in the air like spears. Someone must have caught something. Evelyn felt the cool air and put on Daniel’s shirt. She would have liked to have an ice-cream now, and then go home. She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin upon them. Then the boys across the lake threw down their rods. A motorboat was coming towards them. They started to shout and wave their arms in the air. Evelyn stood up and wrapped the towel around her waist. The boat came to the bank and the boys crowded around it. Other people noticed the commotion and came on to the pier to get a better look. His friends where there, too.
Where’s Daniel? one of them asked her.
He went swimming, she said, pointing to the other side.
His friend looked at her and then jumped into the water.
What are you doing?
She watched as he swam across the lake. He was a good swimmer. The rain started before he reached the other side and she lost sight of him in amongst the boys. Then she saw him again, sitting inside the motorboat, his head in his hands. The boys stood standing around, a few gathered up their rods. The crowd gathered on the pier did not worry about the rain as they watched the motorboat leaving the bank. Someone said then that a boy had drowned.
Evelyn did not remember the church service. And that it was on a Friday. She did remember the black dress with the white lace collar she wore. And she did not remember which of his friends had sat next to her. Or how none of them could look her in the eyes. She could not remember the words Daniel’s father had spoken. How his mother had looked so old and small, covering her face with clenched fists. She did not remember how the priest had said her name or whose hand had touched her shoulder when he did. She didn’t remember how she had felt, or even if she had cried. She did not remember how long she had stayed locked in her room afterwards. She did not remember sleeping in his shirt each night. She did not remember that it was more than a year before she returned to the lake. And that the first boy she slept with was afraid of water and could not swim at all. All Evelyn remembered about that day, and the days that followed, was standing in her bedroom, in front of the Cheval mirror, brush in hand, straightening her precious curls.
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