Trivial Pursuits {?} - Chapter 9, Part 1

Amy opened her eyes under the water as if she expected to discover something important. This was how she looked for revelations now, around corners and on the other side of squeezed-shut lids, like she was moving through a haunted house. But of course, the water revealed nothing, and really, she didn’t see a whole lot more than she had with her eyes closed. Everything was haloed by the fuzz of her myopia—the sunny translucence of eerily blue pool water, the momentum of a breeze, scattering the water’s surface like a billiards break shot. Something round caught her eye: either a penny or an unnervingly circular dead bug, drifting with fatal attraction toward its date with the drain. A kid’s float bobbed around empty overhead; just a floating hole, really, even though it was supposed to be the spitting image of a smiling seahorse.

When she was a kid, her mother had told her that swimming pools were equipped with a special chemical compound designed to expose and humiliate those who indulged in the covert act of underwater urination. Such illicit pee would activate a fluorescent purple dye, which would trail the offender like a bright purple arrow, a pointing finger—precise, inescapable, and mortifying. She lived in terror of this electric purple accusation, especially at the swim club her family belonged to. There, the pool was additionally fortified by a sign which addressed the matter in no uncertain terms:

Welcome to our Ool. Notice there is no ‘P’ in it.

The sign never failed to elicit a wheezy chuckle from her dad when they walked past it. But this selective adult logic was vexing to Amy, especially since her swim team coach had also told her that there was no I in team. This was valid, but there was a P in pool, and it seemed wrong to simply remove it willy-nilly for the sake of making a point. It reeked of hypocrisy, this grownup manipulation of letters. If one could remove the p from pool, they could just as easily insert an I into team. She really just wanted to be on her own team, anyway.

One day, during a particularly long, bladder-challenging swim team practice when she was about nine years old, Amy hadn’t been able to hold it any longer, and released a warm stream into the crotch of her bathing suit, which billowed out like gills, sending the trickle out into the larger body of water. She swam faster than ever, trying to outrace the conspicuous purple line of punishment.

“Great swim,” her coach said, as she hoisted herself out of the pool with shaky arms. “You beat your best time.”

That was when she’d learned that in most cases, the punishment we wait for never comes; instead, it’s something we inflict on ourselves while we’re waiting.

She laughed to herself now, recalling the innocence of her terror, and felt mildly insane as a surge of bubbles confirmed the incredibly sad fact that she was laughing to herself underwater, alone. She listened to the reverberation of underwater sounds: the metallic drag of a loosed hairpin jangling along the bottom, the maw of the pool filter opening and closing, sucking in water. It was musical to her, musical and incredibly peaceful, this underwater world.

“The water’s perfect,” she said, flopping down on a lawn chair next to her friend Beth, who was stretched out like a house pet accustomed to unearned comforts. They were having one of their mental workout days by the pool at Beth’s Park La Brea apartment. The goal of the get-togethers was primarily to do nothing brain related at all—vapid gossip magazines, Diet Cokes and each others’ company was plenty. At one time, they’d been committed to a regular monthly schedule, but their busy lives, and specifically Amy’s inability to relax, had caused the girl-bonding dates to dwindle down to once a season, if they were lucky.

Beth stared defiantly into the sun, her eyes protected by her oversized movie starlet sunglasses. “Ame,” she said, never shifting her gaze from the blazing orb that seemed confrontational at its present angle, even as they harvested its warmth for their pleasure. “You look tired.”

Amy was trying to think of a suitable yet vague response to this statement when she was mercifully interrupted by a tallish young woman who was suddenly standing right in front of them, bisecting their swath of sunlight with her long, lean form. She held a fresh Diet Coke, which she offered to Beth.

“I finally got the machine to work,” the girl said, her grin barely discernible in the bright sun. “Sometimes you have to knock it around a little bit, y’know?”

“Wow! Look at that,” Beth said. “Hey Ame, this is Eos, who I just met at the soda machine. She lives in one of the garden apartments behind me, and she’s a USC alum, too.”

“Yep. Go Trojans,” the girl said with a wry smile. Amy almost hoped she’d stick around, just to forestall the lecture she knew was coming. But no such luck. “Well, nice to meet you two! See ya around,” the girl said, and headed off in seemingly brand-new, stylish flip-flops.

Amy watched her go, trying to remember what that kind of a gait felt like—a strong gait rolled up in the energy of an early 20-something woman. Yes, Amy was jealous. Yes, she missed that kind of vim, but she was also thankful she’d moved beyond the fashion trends of the second and perfectly content with her own nearly 15-year-old flip-flops—mostly content, anyway.

They ate lunch there on the deck, tempering the heat with salty margaritas Beth had snuck through security that did very little to quench their thirst. Amy drank hers too quickly, and the sour mix seared down her esophagus straight to her breastbone, until she swore she was having a heart attack.

“Ugh, sorry, I can’t eat anymore,” she said, pushing her Caesar salad aside as though it would forcibly leap into her mouth if given half a chance.

“Amy,” Beth began, directing her intense and unavoidable gaze onto her friend. “Do you want to tell me what’s going on with you?”

They had been friends for more than fifteen years. Beth had a talent for divining whatever secrets Amy might have been trying to keep, and dragging them out as if they’d never really belonged to her in the first place. That she hadn’t managed to wrest this one from her was probably due only to the fact that Amy’s recent behavior was so outside Beth’s normal frame of reference, it was beyond her ability to guess. For Beth to look at her sleep-deprived, increasingly thin friend and conclude that she was having a torrid affair with a woman would be as random as positing that Amy had been abducted in a flying saucer and returned with alien brains implanted.

“Do you mean the usual cavernous emptiness otherwise known as my life?” Amy tried to offer up the sassy, jaded dark humor that was often her refrain in their conversations; it was her particular girl-power motto, minus the power. She saw, however, that it wasn’t working.

“No,” Beth said, narrowing her liquid caramel eyes into sun-shot rivulets of suspicion. “I don’t mean that.”

Amy had recently acknowledged to herself, with no small amount of surprise, that if she’d been cheating on Greg with a man, she definitely would have told Beth by now. She was conscious of the fact that she viewed her affair with Lynette as some sort of betrayal of Beth. It was certainly not a sexual betrayal; in their many years of friendship, it had never occurred to Amy to see Beth in that way, and she knew that Beth, a confirmed and happily married heterosexual, would never have dreamed of it either. Amy knew, if she were to be honest, that she was probably not a lesbian, that this was an isolated event. The feelings she had for Lynette were singularly and exceptionally for Lynette; they were due solely to the powerful force of this particular person, who somehow was exactly what she needed right now. Lynette had awakened this in her.

Yet the betrayal, she knew, was one of sisterhood and closeness; Beth would be hurt to know there was another woman who she more closely confided in, who she was sharing her pain and heartbreak with. Lynette was another best friend: one who, for the present circumstances, was somehow even better than best.

Amy sighed. “It’s just been a tough time, Beth, you know that. I don’t know what else to tell you,” she said, returning again to the salad she’d just renounced.

She would, in fact, be leaving Beth’s house momentarily to meet Lynette. This gave the whole matter an additional clandestine feeling, but rather than a thrilling sort of secrecy, it simply felt sad. Beth had proven herself time and time again to be an honest, endlessly patient, and loyal friend; she actually listened. Amy wished she could have somehow turned to Beth for whatever it was she needed, rather than Lynette, who probably couldn’t be trusted at all. But what she needed now was not something that could be provided by anyone who loved her.

Beth continued to stare at her for another interminable moment; the scrutiny of those eyes spoke clearly to Amy that she knew something, that she understood the outline of the problem, the shape, but not its specific contents. But Beth would wait for that, her kind eyes said. She had done so before.

Amy showed up at Blunt’s Bar late, thanks, in no small part, to a meandering cab driver seeking to increase his fare. When she got there, Lynette was seated in front of an electronic trivia machine. Amy groaned exaggeratedly by way of greeting, prompting Lynette to whirl around with a smile. Lynette was a good greeter; she always let you know she was happy to see you, even if she wasn’t.

“You just made me miss the Bonus Blitz,” she said. “Damn you.”

“Are you specifically trying to kill me with an overdose of trivia?” Amy swiveled onto the vacant stool next to the screen. Lynette, who a moment before had seemed transfixed by the game, now turned on her with alarming fierceness.

“Oh, I get it,” she said, twisting her mouth into a grimace that cinched all her features together toward her nose in a menacing triangulation. “It’s all about you. Because your husband’s a trivia nut, I’m supposed to be your escape from all that. I’m just a nice little diversion from Greg. Well, listen, I’m nobody’s goddamn vacation.”

“No, you’re not,” Amy said, chastened but also annoyed at having ditched Beth for this. “You’re certainly not.”

Lynette turned back toward the game, setting off ecstatic digital blips while she continued to lecture Amy.

“If you’re with me, you’re with who I am, not who Greg isn’t. Do you get that?

It would help if I actually knew who you were, Amy thought. “Yes, Lynette,” she said in the tortured singsong of a scolded kid.

“Good. Now watch this, I won. Here’s the fun part,” Lynette said. “Watch what happens when I enter my name on the record board.”

Check out previous chapters of Trivial Pursuits {?} right here.

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