They looked like three bikini-clad dumplings bobbing and floating in slow circles on the coruscating blue water of the swimming pool.
Fourteen-year-old Tiberia Helman hung suspended in her large, rainbow-whirl inflatable tube, her legs dangling over the tube rim, her ample rear-end submerged in the doughnut hole, her chunky arms draped over the vinyl curves as her hands paddled in order to keep herself steady. Every now and then her feet splashed the surface as she faced south and stared absently over the backyard fence at the lake beyond.
Sixteen year old Keira Helman, her folds of white and sunburn-mottled flesh sprawled contentedly in a blue and yellow pool-lounger, wafted across the gem-like sparkling wavelets with eyes closed, a bottle of Cherry Coke in a plastic holder next to her left elbow.
Stretched out and half asleep with her fingers laced together on top of her massive, tanned belly, the mother of the two girls, forty-year-old Lucille Helman lazily drifted this way and that in her large and unsinkable blue-nylon recliner. Her left arm-support was lined with compartments containing, respectively, an empty bag of chips, a half-consumed can of diet soda, and a pair of Angel “Imagination” sunglasses in gleaming pink. The array of cubby-holes along the right support displayed a mini-DVD player, an iPhone, and a iPod with attached ear buds dangling and trailing in the water.
Tiberia’s eyes drifted downward, and she noticed her black-and-white male tuxedo-cat Edward, as he entered her line of sight on a section of the patio between the pool edge and the landscaped lawn that led down to the shore of the lake. “Hi sweetie kitty,” she called, but the cat ignored her, his attention rapt on something in front of him close to the shrubs that bordered the cream-colored pavers. “Eddie kitty, mow-wow,” Tiberia called again. She extended her pudgy hands further into the water on either side and used them like oars, rowing herself closer to the pool edge. “What’re you doing, kitty? What’ve you got there?” She lifted herself by pushing against either side of the circular tube, which caused the whole thing to sink and lurch, generating waves. A few feet away, her mother opened her eyes and made an impatient noise.
“Tiberia, watch out! You are such a klutz,” Keira called as she used little kicks to position herself so she could see what her younger sister was up to.
The Florida sun was bright and strong and seemed to weigh down the air. The sky above their Parkland home was completely clear and amazingly blue. The geometrically shaped pool, the colorful zero-gravity patio chaises with the extra weight capacity, all shone with an almost surreal intensity.
Edward the cat abruptly pounced, then again, scrambling in the chase, alternate paws batting and corralling whatever it was he had discovered. He moved towards the pool, so Tiberia could get a glimpse of what was trying to escape her pet. She squealed as she recognized what it was. “It’s a skank, a skank, oh my God I hate those things.”
A small lizard on four legs, brown with yellow stripes down its body and a blue tail, stopped short, the cat right behind it, as it sensed the water.
Keira was laughing as she kicked hard, her purple toenails flashing up and down. She propelled herself back-first to Tiberia’s side, getting the younger girl wet. “It’s a skink, a skink, you idiot.”
Tiberia prepared to scream once more, expecting the lizard to leap into the pool, but the skink darted sideways, moving along the concrete in the direction of the overhang that protected a built-in barbeque pit and an outdoor dining table with chairs. The table contained the remains of lunch; white plates blotched with ketchup, mayonnaise, and crumbs, big tumblers half-filled with melting tea-colored ice.
Lucille called out to Tiberia, “Get your butt out of the pool and go catch that cat.”
“Why?” Tiberia asked as she watched Edward leap and then lie down next to his prey under the table, as if giving the skink another chance to make a run for it. She maneuvered around so she could see her mother rocking side to side.
“Because skinks are poisonous to cats. If a cat eats the tail especially, he gets ‘lizard brain,’ and could die. Now get over to the shallow end and get up those steps and get your cat. Put him in the house. Now!”
Tiberia made a face as she pushed hard against the water, in an attempt to move quickly.
Lucille’s phone played “I’ll Always Love You” and she answered it, “Yeah, hello?”
Tiberia, followed by Keira, entered the shallow end and she shoved the big tube from under her, kerplunking herself into the water. The rainbow-whirl spun away. She trudged to the steps, and pulled herself out using the aluminum railing. Keira exited her lounger with more grace, sliding off into the pool with hardly a sound.
Both girls hauled themselves out, stood dripping on the patio. Tiberia strode towards the table, clapping her hands. “Bad kitty, no. Leave that gross thing alone.”
Keira followed, grabbed her sister’s wet hair and yanked. “Stupid, that’s going to make Eddie run. Mom said to put him in the house. You stay here, I’ll take care of it.”
Tiberia gratefully watched as Keira waddled towards the cat, sank to her knees with a grunt, and then without a word reached out a hand and grasped the cat by the scruff of his neck. Edward hissed and struggled and yowled at her. “Stop it, Keira,” Tiberia yelled. “Stop hurting him!”
“I’m not hurting him, she called over her shoulder, as she stomped to the sliding glass doors behind the dining area, pulled one section aside to create an opening, tossed the cat in to the family room, and shoved the plate glass closed again. She turned to watch her sister.
Tiberia caught her reflection in the glass, facing forward, and Keira’s rear view too. She felt a jolt of sadness and despair as she once again confronted how large they both were. Pretty, with dark blonde hair and perfect features, but so very fat. She averted her eyes, aware of the strong odor of chlorine and sunscreen, the sound of sea gulls in the distance, the way her skin felt sticky as the sun dried her. Keira startled her as the older girl walked past. “You’re such an idiot,” Keira hissed, and turned around as if remembering something. “Hmm, I think I’ll try and catch that lizard,” she said.
Tiberia shouted, “No, leave it alone,” and was about to run into the house after her kitty, when Lucille, still floating, summoned both of them to the poolside.
The girls shuffled over and stood on the sculpted stone lip that overhung the water slightly, their toes curling as if to get a grip and keep their balance. Keira tugged at one side of her bathing-suit bottom, and heaved a deep sigh, as if she knew what her mother was going to say. She lowered her chin and stared at the ripples lapping against the turquoise tiles below her. Tiberia glanced at her older sister, feeling confused and flustered.
Lucille was holding the phone out from her ear in a position that suggested she was still connected to someone on the other end. She reached for her sunglasses with her free hand and slipped them on, as if trying to stall for time. She looked like a rotund starlet, stretched out on her royal barge, perfectly calm and unflappable. “Girls,” she finally said, “it’s your Grandma Helman on the phone. She thinks it’s going to be awkward if we come to her house for the family Easter Sunday dinner. Your father is going to be there with his twenty-two-year-old … skink….” One side of her mouth lifted as Tiberia and Keira grinned in return. “Your grandma says, she doesn’t want a ‘scene.’ So, she wants to know if you understand that she thinks ‘it’s best’ … if the three of us are uninvited….” There was some noise from the phone, a tinny, high-pitched sound. Lucille brought the device back to her ear. “What is it, Kathleen,” she said.
A breeze ruffled the fronds of a trio of royal palm trees that grew in the yard closer to the lake. Tiberia felt a sharp sting in the corners of her eyes; she tried not to show it, to stop the tears. Keira took her sister’s hand and held it, squeezed it. “Grandma loves us,” she whispered. “Don’t worry, you know her. She hates unpleasant family drama.”
“Girls,” Lucille interrupted, clutching the phone casually a few inches away from her face, “Grandma wants me to tell you, you’re always invited to her house, and she loves you, and loves all her grandchildren, even ones that are expected soon….” Lucille waited for that to sink in. “But she hopes you’ll decide, out of respect for her, not to come to Easter dinner at her house next Sunday.” She leaned towards the iPhone once again, said in a sing-song way, “Of course Kathleen, why of course you’re doing the best that you can. Goodbye, dear.” She ended the call.
Tiberia’s chest began jumping as tried to control herself, and lost the battle. Her face wrinkled and screwed into a mask of sorrow and she cried loudly. Keira hugged her tightly, stroking her hair. They didn’t say anything.
Lucille tossed the iPhone back into it’s plastic nest, began flipping her feet in order to propel herself to the middle of the pool once again. She looked up at her daughters, clinging to each other on the edge of the pool, and removed her sunglasses. Her dark eyes were blurry with tears. “I love you both,” she said loudly enough for them to hear. “I’m proud of you, too. You’re both beautiful and wonderful and it’s your dad’s loss if he pushes you away, and someday he’ll realize it, but it’ll be too late.” And she slipped the Angel dark glasses back on, lay flat, and extended her arms along her sides.
Keira urged Tiberia to turn around, and come into the house, her arm still around her younger sister’s shaking shoulders. They both paused at the same time, seeing the same thing at once. The lizard had climbed up on the table, and was poking around the dirty dishes. “If you scream again, I’ll pinch you hard,” Keira said to her sister, trying not to laugh.
But Tiberia started laughing first. “What a skank,” she said.