“C’mon in Mr. Prosser,” she says to me, “the water’s fine!”
I laugh and level my camera. My task is a group of youngsters finishing their last day of swimming lessons from a local woman. I’ve shot this same scene for each of the last four summer‘s I’ve worked at this newspaper. Each term starts the weekend after July 4th and wraps up on the last weekend. The last day is a packed pool filled with splashing youths and their proud instructors showing off before nervous and excited parents.
The woman in charge is a vivacious and bosomy coquette of indeterminate years with a naturally loud sing-song of a voice. Every summer she presses me to take my pictures from “inside the pool” and every summer I demure. The insistence is disarmed by her merry and waggish personality — a temperament most men in this town suspect to be a playful affectation, but nevertheless puts me on guard. As a rule I maintain a rather puritanical trepidation of such traps, parrying such advances with my winsome wit.
I stride about the poolside, walking this way and that in the pursuit of the best angle. For a newspaper, swimming pictures are “gold” during this time of year. In the industry we refer to any photographs and graphics used in the paper as “art” and there’s always the demand from on high for “more summertime art!” The reasoning, I suspect, is it provides a visually compelling counterpoint to the long gray columns of newsprint. The average schmuck might not be inclined to pick up a newspaper with the headline boasting a meager city council or school board meeting, but put some art of a cute little kid splashing down into a clear and cool pool and he just might. Not to mention, for each and every child in the greater Rusk County area, there’s a set of aunt and uncles, grandparents, as well as a mom and/or dad.
Younglings stream about me, pushing past with great soggy mops of hair and bathing suits, trailed after by hangdog and haggard parents. Their faces apologetic and embarrassed. I know their expressions well. The festivities are wrapping up, and the children are in no hurry to abandon their bacchanal of frankfurters and syrupy snowcones. I don’t know how the instructors and her young maidens are able to manage such a large group at once. The logistics are mind-boggling, especially consider that most of her students are not yet school age. I keep dreading some manner of injury or worse catastrophe, but each year her sessions proceed — dare I say — swimmingly.
After the last of the children has finally been whisked away by their earnest and bedraggled parents, each family driving away into suburban sprawl with their massive sport-utility vehicles, the color of the sky deepens from bright azure into subtler shades of silver-pink, purple and gold, I prepare to leave. But I hesitate outside the entrance to the luxurious cabana. Each year I notice some new enhancement having been made to the grounds, perhaps underwritten by the summer’s endeavor. The surroundings are exotic with stonework and elaborate landscaping. It seems in our landlocked little county the madame has established a sort of aquatic paradise to repose and enjoy. It also provides a fantastic backdrop for photographs.
Suddenly the mistress emerges from the ornate bungalow, a shimmering gauzy gown wrapped loosely around her, and bounding past me on the balls of her strong brown feet. She invites me to join her and her staff for “a nightcap,” but I tell her I never wear them. Again, hiding behind humor. She insists. “It’s the least we can do to show you how much we appreciate what you do.” I demure, and lie about a pressing deadline. “I’m late already, I’ve really got to get going. Thanks for the invitation. Have a great summer!” My voice trails after me as I walk — a little too quickly — out of the backyard and into the sanctuary of my truck.
“Come by anytime,” she calls after me. Like hell.