The Last Resort
She felt rather than saw the heat outside the car windows as all three of her skinny kids disembarked in excitement. Mo hadn’t told her about the pool, he hadn’t told any of them. It was his big surprise, as if the holiday they’d scrimped for wasn’t enough. He always had to have some kind of ‘ta da’; something in a bag when he walked in from work, something in a ring box on their anniversary. She would have settled for a conversation that didn’t end in a fight.
The children rushed to the fence and lined up, noses and fingers wrapped round or poking through the large mesh holes. Mo took his sweet time getting out of the car, striding, and posing, and stretching as though he had always known this pool would fix everything. Like he’d planned this moment to win them all over; he was the man, the provider of solutions and he’d been keeping this brilliant, perfect secret for the last two hundred dry miles. Now, pleased with himself, he looked for the office and left them all waiting while he went to check in.
As he strode back she watched his frame, the mean swagger more jaunty than usual. At least they had been happier in the last month. Their bickering seemed to have dissipated with the promise of a resort-like stay in this little camping ground. And all three kids were confirming his success, jumping up and down, acting in the way that exuberant and expectant children are supposed to act in order to show thanks and gratitude to their benevolent parents. They were like TV kids, she thought, a TV family.
‘Can we get in, can we, can we?’ Joe, the youngest, was hopping up and down and Mo pretended to get flustered.
‘Just hang on, for god’s sake, you kids,’ he puffed in mock exasperation, as if he were Father Christmas and all the kids in the world were haranguing him. But the eldest two knew better, they could judge a mood down to some kind of nano-measure.
Joe grinned and looked at his brother and sister, managing to be quiet for two, maybe three seconds. They turned back to the fence trying to peer into the pool, stretching to catch a glimpse of the cool blue but not being able to quite see over the lip of the painted white ledges.
Mo stood half smiling, half smirking, arms folded. It was too hot and she, and only she, was the one holding them up, fishing around in the car for hats and sunscreen. The kids were shouting at her; ‘come on,’ ‘hurry, hurry,’ in voices that they hoped conveyed their urgency but not their annoyance. ‘Come on, Mum,’ they pushed in mock anger, looking up at Mo to make sure he agreed. A luxury like this could be whipped away in just a moment.
Finally, she joined them. Mo held up the key and the kids crowded him as he undid the padlock.
‘Bloody well back off, give me some room,’ he snapped, genuinely irritated and they fell back jittering. The gate creaked open and they waited a second for his approval before rushing through.
Joe was first to the pool. He wasn’t faster, he was just the least able to restrain himself emotionally, so the change in his body language was clear to her before anyone else even got there.
All of them moved forward to stand along the ledge to look in; five sets of bare legs, the summer sun eating through their creams and into their skins. And no one spoke for ages.
Joe said it first. ‘It’s crap.’
He ran off, crying, to a pair of old deckchairs, kicking at the grass beneath his feet. Her daughter, the middle child, stayed customarily silent. And the teenager, their eldest, stalked out and waited, leaning against the car.
Mo pumped himself up to full height, his lips curling back, and started swearing and shouting into the air all around them, thickening it even more with his sudden anger.
‘The fucking thieves, everyone’s a fucking thief,
we’ve been fucking-well ripped off,
when they advertise a fucking pool they should bloody well have one,
it’s fucking false advertising,
we’re not fucking staying here,
I’m getting our bloody money back,
I’m not someone’s god-damned patsy.’
His yelling segued easily into commands and abuse at the kids, as if it was the children who’d been misbehaving, as if they’d caused the problem.
‘It’s only a bloody pool, so stop that bloody grizzling.’ Joe winced but he didn’t stop crying. ‘If it means that much to you, I’ll get you a fucking hose,’ he threatened, ushering the boy out.
She stood at the edge looking in, she was disappointed too. The water was only halfway up the sides of the concrete rectangle and the top half had a crusty residue on it, left by the receding waterline. The liquid itself was neither an inviting blue nor anything even close to the clear-with-bright-painted-bottom that she’d imagined. Instead it was dark and impossible to see into, mostly covered with leaves and debris that no one had fished out and appeared thick, viscous, the consistency of treacle.
Mo was holding up the key, gesturing and calling roughly at her to ‘hurry the hell up and get in the car.’
She refused to face them and with her red shirt flapping in the wind; a sail unhitched from its knot, she bent her knees and dived in.