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by Jon Sindell

I was fine ’til fifteen when my mother remarried.

Before that we spent our summers indoors, drinking lemonade and watching movies.

After remarrying, she could gang up on me.

“Allie,” said my stepfather, his smile sagging when I gave him my look, “it’s great outside.”

“You bet,” said Mom, “summer’s outdoor time!”

I wanted to say “I like it inside,” but they were as tall as towers, and I just couldn’t speak. I ran to my room and cried in my pillow.

They dragged me to a river. It was much too hot, there were bugs, and the beach had pebbles instead of sand. Also there were dumb country people laughing like donkeys, and anorexic teens in bikinis grinning at me in my too-tight swimsuit and chunky thighs, and splotches of white sunscreen on my face.

“Let’s swim, honey.” My mom swam rivers in Oregon as a girl. I knew since she’d told me ten thousand times.

“Like this,” said my stepfather — but I melted his over-eager smile with my laser vision. So he gave Mom a look that was about me and clomped down to the river and dove in and swam, and looked back at us, dripping, with a big goofy grin. “Come on in!” he shouted, and the anorexic girls stared. I didn’t move, so Mom tugged at my elbow. “Let’s go, hon.” She never had tugged at my elbow before.

I planted my feet and refused to budge.

“Honey,” said Mom, and then she did something she had never done before: she abandoned me. She dove into the river and glided to Ed, and I had to stand there while the dumb girls giggled. “Come on, Puddin’,” Mom said, with a gentle expression that was pleading and scared.

I had no choice but to walk down to the river. The pebbles dug into the soles of my feet.

I stepped in to the shins. The water was cool. “It’s too cold,” I said.

“It’s best to dive in,” Ed told me. “Like this.” He put his palms together and pantomimed how he and Mom had dived into the water.

I took his advice and set my hands to dive, but the river bank was steep and pebbly, and I slipped. A rock on the river bottom hurt my thigh. Mom rushed over, but I turned away until she left me alone.

The rest of the summer, I had Mom to myself in the house. No more trips outside, with or without Ed.

It’s twenty-seven years later, and Ed has just died.

And I can go to the river again if I want to, and wade in and splash around a bit.

Jon Sindell writes prose of every length, essays, and humor. His long-story collection, Family Happiness, was published in 2016; his flash-fiction collection, The Roadkill Collection, in 2014. Jon practiced law for twenty-plus years, with an emphasis on civil rights litigation, and is now a full-time personal humanities tutor. He curates the reading series Rolling Writers, and lives in San Francisco with his wife and near his fledglings. Much of his writing appears at jonsindell.com.