One lane was open in the pool. In the other three, I recognized two of the regulars. But the third lane, which was next to the one I would be slipping into, held someone new.
He looked familiar: stocky, muscled biceps, black hair slicked back like a '40s film idol. When I entered my lane, and did my underwater dips, I could see the legs of my neighbor. They were thin compared to his bulk and were marked in the thigh, as if needles had been frequently inserted.
I leapt up. "Daddy," I shouted. "What are you doing here?" It was an apparition, I knew, because my diabetic father died in 1958 at the age of 48. He had visited me in my imagination at a different pool, but this was his first at my new health club.
"There was an open lane, Princess, so I thought while Mom and I were waiting for you, I'd get in a few laps."
"Mom is here, too?" I said, sputtering out water.
"Over here, sweetheart." It was my mother in a lounge chair. She was still movie star pretty in her bathing suit. I wasn't surprised she was outside the water, rather than submerged. Her upswept hairdo could never tolerate a plunge.
"What are you two doing here?" I said as I sat on the edge of Mom's webbed chair. I didn't reach out for a hug because I worried that a touch could break the illusion and cause my parents to disappear.
"We're worried about your health," my Mom said. (Ironic, I thought, because she died in 1981 at the age of 67.) "Dad and I saw that you've been visiting doctors. What's going on?"
This information -- that my folks could dial into my life at will -- brought a mixture of joy and worry. I was happy when they knew of my triumphs, but I was concerned that they might have been aware of some slip-ups I preferred hidden.
"Mom, I'm going to be 80 this year," I said. (I realized she would know that, having been present at my birth, but I was adamant about telling my real age at every opportunity.) "Doctor visits are common."
"You're too thin." It was my Dad, who had left the pool, wrapped himself in several towels, and plopped down on the chair next to his wife.
I stared at his hand to see if it would reach for my mother's. But alas, their contentious marriage must've lasted beyond the grave because Mom's manicured nails were fastened to her lap.
"What are you talking, Irv?" Mom said. "She finally got rid of her rolls. You want she should look like you?"
Dad was accustomed to her jibes, so he went on. "A little meat couldn't hurt. At least she could float easier in the pool."
I wanted a ceasefire, so I spoke up. "My weight is fine for my height. And by the way, thanks for the genes that have kept me under five feet," I said sarcastically.
"Sweetheart, sorry about the arthritis," Mom said. "Definitely my side. But I love that it hasn't stopped you from exercising."
"Swimming," Dad interrupted. "She's finally a swimmer." He smiled now, that memorable grin that charmed our grocery store customers, but could never win over his disappointed wife.
"Osteoporosis, too," I said. "You died so early, you didn't have to deal with that. They turned toward one another, shrugged, and in unison (finally!) shook their heads "no."
"What's with the scoliosis?" Mom said. "You never had that as a child. We would've taken care of it then; a brace maybe?"
"That's crazy," Dad said. And even though I had warned him at a previous pool visit, he was now blowing smoke rings from his Camel cigarette.
"Irv," Mom said, "this is the East Bank Club. No smoking!"
Dad laughed and continued puffing. "They have to find me first," he said.
I laughed, too. I knew I was the only one who could see my parents. This was my hallucination; they were only real to me.
"I appreciate your concern," I said, "and I'm overjoyed you decided to visit. But I promise I'm on top of it. I'm doing physical therapy, strength training..."
.My father interrupted with a laugh. "Princess," he said, "We've been through this before."
Then Mom joined in. "Let's see," she said, counting on her fingers, "There was Donna, Kim, Jeanna, Sarah, Mike, Michelle..."
"Okay, time for you two to go," I said, lowering myself into the steamy waters of the whirlpool. I closed my eyes, and relaxed; their cheery --harmonious -- images bubbling in my head.
Image Copyright : Alexander Kharchenko