Giramondo Publishing is behind the publication of the wonderful The Incredible Here and Now, a YA story told as a series of vignettes. We are thrilled to feature two of these vignettes in this month's Bloc Features.
The Incredible Here and Now
Shadi and the Pool
Shadi and I are always at the pool on those too-hot Saturday mornings towards the end of summer. We walk in with the four towels and two grocery bags full of food that Shadi’s mother has given us just in case we get hungry. We set up our spot just under one of the trees and scope the place out like we hadn’t come here yesterday, the day before, the day before that.
The sign that runs the pool always has something new on it. As well as ‘No Diving, No Running, No Eating in the Pool’, ‘No Lebs’ has been written in and crossed out, ‘No Rangas’ has been written in and crossed out, ‘No Asians with gangsta tatoos’ has been written in and crossed out, until everyone has decided on the one thing they can all agree on. ‘No Fat Chicks.’ It stays there like a warning to all the girls pulling their bikini bottoms out of their bum cracks and nervously sucking in their bellies.
Shadi takes off his shirt and rubs the bit of his belly that’s hanging over his waistband. He stares at the grass and grins. He’s always grinning like he can see secrets everywhere or something. ‘Think I’ll have something to eat first,’ he says sitting down, rummaging through the bags of food.
‘Right,’ I say, ‘I’m going in.’
Shadi grunts at me, his mouth already filled with Leb bread.
I walk over to the shallow end and slowly slip myself in. In the corner there are a few of the girls I recognise from around the block. They’re just wading around in the water, trying not to get their hair and their makeup all messed up. I look at them and smile, and one of them, the one with the thick brown curly hair, smiles back. I watch her stick her head under the water and swim across the pool. She’s the only one of the girls that doesn’t seem to care about getting her face and her hair all messed up. When she pops her head above the water again her hair and her face are all shiny like she’s a car hood that’s been waxed down. She looks over at me again real quick like she doesn’t want me to notice her noticing me. None of the girls ever pays much attention to me and Shadi when we’re here, but a smile or two and we’ll have something to talk about later on the walk home.
I stick my head under the water and try to make my way through all the legs and arms for a while, ducking my head in and out. Everything above is loud and bright, everything below – just whispers.
When I look over towards Shadi, he’s making his flabby way over to the pool. That’s when two guys from school come over and knock him straight backwards on the pavement. By the time I swim over towards him, they’re sitting on his chest so that the wind has flown completely out of him and he’s lying there, gasping in pockets of air.
Before I can reach him, there’s this skinny woman life-guard rushing over with a megaphone, yelling at the two boys to get off and remove themselves from the pool grounds.
Me and the woman life guard take each of Shadi’s arms and help him back over to the tree. She puts her hand on his chest and tells him to breathe, breathe slowly, and I watch as Shadi breathes again and smiles. And I know he’s smiling because this woman is standing there in her swimmers touching his chest and I worry that he’ll start hyper-ventilating with the excitement of it all.
When she leaves, Shadi’s still smiling. I hit him in the shoulder and say, ‘You alright?’ and he keeps on smiling through his wheezing.
After we’ve been sitting under the tree for a while, that girl comes over: the brown-haired wax girl from the pool. She’s wrapped herself up in her towel like it’s a dress and she comes and sits next to me, pushing her knees up underneath her chin and says, ‘Your friend alright?’
‘Yeh,’ I say looking at the creamy bits of her knees under her chin.
‘Yeh,’ Shadi chimes in and we all look out to the water for a while, watching where her friends are looking at us.
‘I’m Mo,’ she says, ‘short for Monique,’ and me and Shadi just keep staring at her, until we remember to introduce ourselves too. Shadi pulls out three of the cans of Coke his mother has packed us and gives us each one.
She puts the cold can to her forehead and rubs it down her cheeks.
‘Yeh real hot,’ she says and I roll my can of Coke down her arm, and she lets me, and I feel like the world is full of possibilities.
Shadi, his cousin and his other cousin
This time when we go to the pool we take Shadi’s two cousins with us – just in case. Shadi isn’t aggressive at all. He has like zero bashing experience. That’s what his cousins are for. They are bigger than him and better at looking mean. Shadi looks too much like his mother mated with Roger Rabbit to be threatening.
We settle in our usual spot underneath the trees and Shadi’s cousins take off their shirts so they’re sitting there, all rippling six-pack flesh.
Shadi and I just look at each other and I know what he’s thinking and he knows what I’m thinking. We have to get away from these two before girls start making comparisons between us and them and it all gets too embarrassing.
We cannon-bomb into the water at the deep end of the pool. Shadi’s face comes up all wobbly and we look over to his cousins to make sure they’re still there. Still there alright and they’re already talking to girls…Mo’s friends and Mo is sitting there, on the outside of their giggling circle just nodding.
I decide to play it cool, ducking my head under the water and swimming a few more laps like I don’t even notice she’s there. I’m still playing it cool, just watching the bubbles surrounding my arms come up to the surface and pop when Shadi swims over and almost drowns me with excitement. ‘Check it out,’ he’s saying a bit too loud and when I look over to what he’s looking at, I see the bikini-top floating on the surface of the water.
Shadi’s looking from side to side and so am I at this point, trying to determine where it came from, until we see her, this super blond frail-looking thing, shrinking in the corner of the pool, her arms wrapped tightly over her bare chest looking like she’s going to cry.
Then Shadi is yelling, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry,’ loudly over to her, drawing the attention you know she doesn’t want, and then he’s grabbing the bikini-top and swimming it over to her like he’s found her lost dog.
She grabs it with her pinky, so her arms don’t leave her chest and turns herself back to the corner of the pool where she puts it back on faster than you can blink. When she turns around again she bursts into tears, like loud howling kind of tears and Shadi goes into a kindness panic. He’s saying, ‘It’s fine, it’s cool,’ over and over again and then he’s got his arm around her and he’s leading her out of the pool and over to the trees where his cousins are sitting.
I swim around the pool a little bit more, keeping my head out of the water, watching them. I’m thinking, you fool, last thing I’d be doing with a girl is taking her over near your cousins to be snapped up.
I swim another lap, like I’m not paying attention and I sneak a glance at what Mo’s doing. She’s lying on the grass with her head looking straight up to the sky, ignoring everyone else. That girl is so beautiful it makes me want to kill myself.
Then I catch sight of something even more amazing. Shadi, ‘the last man on earth’.
The type of guy that makes girls say:
Not for a million dollars.
Not for a kiss from Robert Pattinson.
Not for all the clothes at Sportsgirl.
He’s sitting there with his arm around this girl and she’s smiling up at him through her freckles like he is the only man in the world. Shadi’s cousin and his other cousin are noticing it too and all the boys are sitting there grinning like it's Christmas.
Felicity Castagna is the author of Small Indiscretions: Stories of Travel in Asia and The Incredible Here and Now. She is a doctoral candidate at UWS. She has worked as a teacher, editor and community arts worker in western Sydney for the past 10 years.
Australian fiction is wonderful. It has that way of telling stories that are true and real, against a backdrop of this living, breathing land we inhabit. I'm so excited to feature debut and upcoming fiction from Australian storytellers.
I'm also a simple human, and although I would love to read everything forever, I'd also love to hear from you if you've read something amazing that might be a good fit for Bloc Features. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
Anna Spargo-Ryan - Bloc Features Editor
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