By Leah Mueller
I stand on the stairwell and gaze at the pool. Its harsh, artificial blueness hurts my eyes. The Midwestern sun shines its menacing beacon above my head like a police searchlight. Heat blisters my scalp through my shoddy rubber cap.
I’m the only adult in line for the water slide. A middle-aged woman who ought to be home, watching widescreen television and debating what to serve her husband for dinner. Roast beef or chicken, or maybe leftovers from the freezer. Some boxed wine. After all, I live in Aurora, the westernmost suburb of Chicago. Women know their place here.
Instead, I fell in love with some asshole from Ypsilanti, who retaliated by breaking my heart. My husband knew about the affair, because I told him in advance. A setup bound to plummet and burn, like an early Wright Brothers flight. Nosedive to the earth from ten feet in the air.
I deserve heartbreak, but I still feel like shit. Today, I seek to assuage my pain by plunging through a long, winding plastic tunnel and landing feet-first in the water. It’s a surprisingly elaborate setup for a public pool. I estimate my journey through the claustrophobic tube will take at least a minute.
Children queue in a long line, fidgeting like they have to go to the bathroom. They make me nervous. Everyone wants a shot at that tube. They face the entrance, lower their butts, and disappear. One, two, three, four. I hear them screaming as they descend. Then the splash as their bodies land.
Twenty kids in front of me. This could take all afternoon. “Next!” the attendant yells, over and over. Pimply-faced, skinny, and weary of this gig. Maybe eighteen, but I can’t be sure. He spots me, raises his eyebrows. “You here with a kid?”
I hang my head with embarrassment. “No, by myself.”
The attendant shrugs. “Happens more often than you might think.”
I study the plastic structure, with its heavy bolts and peculiar silhouette. The man regards me with curiosity. Certainly not lust, since I’m older than his mother. He wants to converse further but can’t find the words.
“I’ve always wanted to try one of these water slides,” I say. “You must do it all the time. Has it changed your life?”
I’m joking, but the young man’s face becomes pensive. “Yes, it has.” His voice is solemn. “I had a lot of problems when I started working here. My whole family was falling apart. This water slide helped me face my fears. It gave me perspective.”
I gaze at him, open mouthed, and search for words. “It’s your turn now,” he says, pointing towards the entrance.
I shimmy my body into the tight opening, lie down on the plastic floor, feel the currents rush against my skin. Soon I will begin my own descent through the tunnel, followed by a watery rebirth. I’ll be grateful for whatever epiphany I can get.