I was the devil’s bride in a black, shapeless, tank swimsuit, the standard costume for the Indian Creek swim team. My thin bathing cap just barely covered my horns. I was cheating.
The coach said, “Hey Karen, come over here. We need you to dive tonight in the Twelve-and-Under age group.” Well, I was over twelve, and wouldn’t consider such a trick. I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be fair. I was thirteen, and even if I looked twelve, and I didn’t, what thirteen-year-old wants to pretend she’s only twelve? And besides, anyone who knew me from last year would know I couldn’t still be twelve. Come on!
But the coach told me to do it. What was he thinking? He was a grown-up and knew better. How could he get away with this big fat lie? I didn’t know, but it wasn’t up to me; I was the patsy, the shill, the straight man. I did what I was raised to do; obey orders. I lied for the coach.
I climbed on to the diving board in the brightness of the tall pool nighttime lights and the waning evening sunlight, as I prepared to do a liar’s dive, a cheater’s dive. I stood straight and tall with my chest high; a B cup, plenty big for a twelve-year-old, in readiness to dive. I squinted out beyond the limit of the pool to the invisible dot of concentration as I had done hundreds of times before. I was thinking, ‘Liar.’
What was the big deal? I had lied before. Oh, yesiree-bob, I had. In fact, it was easy. I was a kid and all the kids lied. Heck, my lying was even officially documented on my third grade report card by Mrs. French, who wrote a word of ten letters which I could not understand. I was eight-years-old, and still could not read cursive. But I soon found out when I proudly showed my report card, full of A’s and B’s to Linda, my good sister saving my seat for me on the school bus. Her face opened in surprise. She said, “Mommy’s gonna kill you.”
“What? Why? I have a good report card.” She pressed her lips together and shook her pigtails, pointing her finger to the word written in the ‘comments’ section. There it was, Dishonesty.
Dishonest? Never. Here’s my excuse. For instance, in fourth grade, if I’d cheated and sneaked a look at the times tables during an arithmetic test, (I had) and if I’d been caught, (I hadn’t) then I would have confessed, “Yes, I looked at 9 x 8 = 72,” because I was that honest.
My gap in honesty was my bold-faced lying to the other third grade kids about my horse, Prince, and his saddle with the green jewel in the pummel, and the reins with triangular silver studs, and how I rode my horse, and here’s the picture of me on him—photo taken in Asbury Park near the boardwalk. A nice old grandmother would think her grandchild’s horse stories were just innocent, dedicated wishing. She might even brag that her little grandchild was highly creative. But I had no granny to say nice things about me, and my teacher was probably sick and tired of kids telling lies to each other. So, she cured me by writing that damning black word on my report card.
I was crushed and scared. I was guilty and I was mortified. I thought Mrs. French liked me. But clearly, I was nobody’s favorite. I was in hot water, the horse evaporated, long live Prince, and I was a liar. Pants on fire.
So, now at age thirteen, when the swim coach called me to stand up there on the diving board, looking like an overly big girl, possibly one with glandular problems, well, I hated that. My little lies were told when I was eight, and departures from reality were simply me wishing out loud for a horse, for heaven’s sake. No cookies were ever stolen. By now my times tables were pretty much learned. No lying, no cheating. I’d been on the straight and narrow for five whole years. I’d turned over a new leaf.
Well, hold on. I did have a little history of stealing. Just once. I was about four. And even then I didn’t deny the stealing I’d had a hand in. More honestly, I had a finger in it. Two fingers.
One afternoon, when I was too big for an afternoon nap, Mommy and I walked downtown to Woolworth’s. She must have needed buttons, or snaps, or maybe combs for her hair. We stood next to a counter where one-inch long, boxy, plastic pencil sharpeners were heaped in short glass boxes, at waist level to adults, but at eye level to me. Mommy and the woman behind the counter were involved in a lady-type of conversation; so, without anybody noticing me, my nose pressed to the glass front of the pencil sharpener display, I stole a look to the right then the left, stretched my middle and ring finger into the box and carefully rolled a green, Pluto decaled sharpener into my palm. That was simple. No one saw. No one scolded. I had just committed a crime. It was so easy, and I was surprised to learn that I was pretty good at it.
The day after the pencil sharpener caper, I realized there was no joy in having copped a toy if I couldn’t show it off. Because I was a four-year-old with no true friends to brag to; oh! It hurts me to tell this, but because my mother was the only person I knew, and hence, was my best friend, I had no choice but to show-off to her. I remember standing in the kitchen, flipping the Disney designed Pluto sharpener, between my thieving little hands. At last my mother noticed. She hollered, “Where did you get that thing?”
Okay, the direct question was asked. I answered honestly, “At Woolworth’s.”
“Well, we’ll see about that.”
The next thing I know she was dragging me to Woolworth’s again. She made a show of asking for the manager and was eventually sent to a nice, quiet young lady, who was probably not what my mother had in mind. I’m sure Mommy wanted a meaner, and scarier looking person to put the fear of decency into me, but the lady asked what she could do for my nice mother. My mother repeatedly jerked her head downward and sideways, in my direction. She made wide eyes toward me, indicating to the lady that I was indeed, the bad seed.
Mommy told the manager in a well-rehearsed statement, “This is my little girl. I’m returning this pencil sharpener she stole yesterday from your store.” I know my mother was waiting for the lady to hop in with, “Oh no, not that! She stole a pencil sharpener? Oh, how naughty of her,” but the lady squinted and watched my mother’s facial workings and bobbing head.
She looked at me, exhaled and said, “You mustn’t steal.” Oh well, I knew that before I stole the sharpener, I just wanted it. I felt sorry for my mother because I upset her, and sorry for the other lady who had no talent for talking to children.
In summation, I never lied again, not counting in sixth grade when I told Bob Sullivan I liked him, and I haven’t had to steal again, except for borrowing my sister, Linda’s gym suit when mine wasn’t ironed. She would have killed me.
The announcer’s voice clearly announced my name over the public address system, “Age Twelve-and-Under, on the one-meter board, executing a front dive in pike position, Degree of Difficulty, one-point-four.” A silence dropped into the summer evening, as I am sure the spectators and judges thought, Like hell, she’s twelve.
I straightened, then took three evenly paced steps, swinging my arms up in a wide arc in the air while bringing my right knee up to my chest for further upward momentum. Both feet hit the board and sent me flying high above the pool as I bent forward and touched my pointed toes for the count of, one-two, then straightened and sliced through the water without my devil’s tail making a splash or even a ripple.
Karen Bennett is a prolific writer whose novels, short stories, and non-fiction have landed prizes and publication scattered through traditional and e-publishing. Homes on the Eastern seaboard from NY to GA, with three kids, and travel from Russia to South Africa have influenced authoritative settings, varied, quirky, scary and humorous situations.