Casey Adair, at seventeen, is a champion swimmer who is burdened by a drinker and gambler of a father. Worse he gamble’s on her swim meets. Since birth, he’s ruled her life. More so since her mother died. She loves him, and knows that without his guidance, she would not be the swimmer or the person she is today. Its a strange and selfish love he has for her. He wants her to succeed without leaving him. She feels guilty knowing that is not possible
Her great love is for the water. Her one fear, upon seeing a shark attack off the beach of Brigantine, is what lurks beneath the water.
Her other love is for medicine. Her mother, on her death bed, made Casey promise that she would never give up her dream of winning a scholarship, and becoming a pediatrician like her aunt Toy.
A bizarre and unexpected turn of events forces her to abandon pool water, with its promise of a scholarship, and escape with her father, to an exotic island in Florida’s Golf of Mexico. There she finds both love, and a strange Indian woman that change her life beyond her wildest expectations. They teach her the secrets of open water swimming where her father bets on her like she was a race horse
In time, she finds herself back home in the World’s toughest swim event, the Great Atlantic City Swim Marathon. Twenty six miles of strong currents, fog, high chops, and the best of ocean swimmers. She needs only to finish for her father’s winnings to send her to college. But, as she follows the other swimmers, a large fin follows her…
Prologue—–South Jersey, late May of 1950
It is late afternoon as a large man walks uneasy from the rear of small suburban house. A thatch of black hair covers his forehead. There’s a flush to his face, and the eyes are glazed. Frizzed hair covers a muscled chest. Tattooed on one arm, is a picture of a heart. Beneath it, a woman’s name, Kate. On his other arm an empty cross drips blood as he holds an infant child.
He eyes an above ground pool where a circle of cool water mirrors the sun. He stops and listens for the quiet of neighborhood yards hidden by fencing and rows of pine trees. His arms stretch, palms facing the sky. He stops, looks up at the sun, then down at the child, and continues like some Inca priest bearing a gift.
The infant’s smile is innocent, and trustful. Her legs kick with joyous expectation. Her arms reach out to be closer, as if to touch the leathered skin, stretch the somber lips, and poke brightness in those dark eyes. A tiny mouth forms a zero of seeming curiosity as if to study him, as if she knew him, or wanting to. Under an early July sky, the sun covers her body. She is naked on purpose.
Only the man knows what awaits her. No one else. Not the mother nor the empty back yards. They would not understand. It is something he had in mind from the moment she was born to be his. She was his creation. He was her maker. She has known only six months and two days of life. For what he must do, he is in need of the quiet, and a sun that swells full strength above the pool. He wants her to see that sun shimmering when she looks up from beneath the cool waters.
He climbs six aluminum steps. On the top landing, he kneels, and holds the child over the pool, kisses her forehead, grins, and whispers her name.
She smiles and kicks her legs.
He whispers again.
All four limbs fuss with excitement as he drops her in the depths of the water.
Tiny arms and legs flutter and ebb towards the bottom. A thin halo of hair flows from her head. A surprised look is more beautiful than sad. Her eyes sweetly bulge, and her mouth stretches as if wanting to cry.
He takes a bottle from his Bermuda shorts. His tenth of the day, and tilts a Bud, swallows, and sits at the water’s edge. With his legs wet to the knees, he watches as she slips downwards like a chick bird falling from its nest.
Do we own our children
Or do we lease them?
When the cord is cut
The child breathes on its own.
When do we cut the cord
That allows it to think on its own?
Do we keep feeding it
To keep it?
Does it ever belong to itself?
Do they forever owe us?
Can they be themselves?
Ask Big Mike..
South Jersey, winter of 1967
On the second Saturday in February, the morning sun was only an hour old when a yellow bus emptied its cargo of young girls deep in the Jersey Pinelands. Twelve half ran, three walked, two seemed to wander in their sleep, and one small to medium seized girl stayed behind on the bus.
She sat alone in the very back seat, just as she needed to be with random thoughts of her past and future. Things that made her what she was: her love of water, her mom, her dad, the trophies.
For the first time she felt burdened by it all. The years of pool practice––enough to fill an ocean, and she wonders if it was all a waste for this one moment in her life. And, is it her good or bad day? Is it Evi’s good day or bad day? Big difference. But most of all she’s uneasy about Big Mike.
Soon, her future will be measured in minutes, and seconds…split seconds. A sliver of time that could either be the end or a new beginning. To lose, she thinks, is to lose her future…her dream. With a slight shake of her head, she throws off the unwanted worry. It’s the first time she had ever felt this way, as if the bus, parked in a dead end, was her dead end. End, was a creepy word that made her shiver more so than winter’s cold.
She believed herself to be more woman than girl, and the thought that Big Mike preferred girl, says everything about the two of them. The way he holds on to her. So possessive. So smothering. Yet she loves him. That’s the real problem.
She has an outer spirit that hides the depth of her thinking. A ditzy kind of camouflage that fools everyone, but Big Mike. Yep, he’ll be there, all right, but how? She crossed her fingers.
“Hey, you ok?” Debra called out from the door of the bus.
Debra was only a junior, but she was Casey’s best friend on the team, and the only other swimmer to make it to finals for the State’s Individual Championships. The rest of her teammates, were there in support.
Casey finger waved at Debra, and nodded with a smile.
“Then, lets go, girl,” Debra said, “Evie’s waiting,” she teased.
The sound of Evie’s name made Casey hurry from the bus. Evi was her worse swim enemy. Evi, the only one who could steal her future. She felt a blast of cold air, and took a deep breath. Its clean sharp smell cleared her mind,and Evi disappeared.
Army boots covered her feet, Dungarees her legs, and an old Marine jacket her body. Sun colored hair was tucked under a navy wool cap. A bright red scarf wrapped around her neck hung over both her shoulders and fell loose around a yellow back pack.
Southampton’s Aquatic center sat like a winter’s oasis in a desert of white sand, Debra pointed to it, and said, “Time for you and me to kick butt, girl.”
Casey twirled around, and held out her arms as if to embrace winter’s beauty, “Its so peaceful out here, Deb, I mean all the trees, white and all. I just love it.”
“Yeah,” Debra said, with a playful grin, “home to pigmy pine trees and the Jersey Devil. One you can touch, the other…not a good idea. Noooo way.”
“Don’t believe in the Jersey Devil,” Casey said.
“I read a book. People have seen him. I’m telling you, he’s real alright.”
Casey pointed to the building, “The real Jersey devil’s in there,” she paused, “waiting for me.”
“She just looks like the devil.”
Debra nodded, “Oh, you mean him.”
Inside theCountyCollege, a spectrum of bright colors by way of bathing suits, banners, and spectators filled its aquatic center. A glass wall hung like a winter’s portrait allowing the sun to waver in the depth of its fifty meter pool.
Casey stopped to look down at it.
Debra pulled on her arm, “Casey, we’re late. Where you at this morning?”
The moist air is heavy with expectation as sixty one girls gathered for the State’s Individual Swim Championship. Today is their turn to show they’re the best ofJersey’s mermaids. Like Casey, from the moment they were dipped in its wetness, they felt a love for the stroking and the floating––little angels with water wings. The magic of liquid air.
It’s why they rise too early on winter mornings, before school, to do endless laps between slabs of concrete, and return again, in mid afternoon, each with their own goal: to slow the timer’s watch, to trophy, and hope for that ultimate offer.
Each stroke, each kick is a riser and a tread on the stairway of knowledge. For those who can’t afford to climb its steps, there is a lift called the scholarship––that ultimate offer. It is given to very few. They know it. Still they dive in. Little angels that have shed their wings. Now, it’s every girl for herself.
Casey turned and studied the crowded stands. A guy sitting with four other guys, all looking like buddies, waves to her, and calls her name. A cigarette hangs from his lips. My Jersey Devil, she thinks, and shakes her head and ignores him.
Instead, she keeps searching the faces. The one with the long blonde hair. Casey’s heart thumps as she sees her, Miss Blanchard, the swim coach for Maryland University whose scouting the meet. In her briefcase is that ultimate offer.
Mrs. Jennings, Casey’s swim coach, told her, that because of the economy, few swim scholarships were being given this year. “Should have gone out for football,” she said.”
Casey felt a surge of tension, and took a deep breath as she glanced at the starting blocks.
The light strobes that glitter on the pool’s mosaic give her a happy feeling, and she knows this is not the end of her journey, but rather the turning point. A flip turn toMarylandU.Maybe the Olympics. Maybe a shingle––Dr. Casey Adair, Pediatrician.
Her body fire up.
For the next four hours, the pool resonates with shouts and screams from the crowded stands as the swimmers dive, slap, kick and drive their bodies beyond anything they’ve ever done. Casey wins the breaststroke, and qualifies for the finals in the individual medley. Debra comes in second in the freestyle.
Throughout the morning, above the clatter of the crowd, she can hear him.
“HEY, BABE, YO, BABE. GO, BABE, GO.”
It’s a megaphone voice that conquers all others, and clashes with itself as it ping pongs around the tiled enclosure.
More embarrassing, is when the pool quiets, and he does not––like now, in the calm as she and fidgets for the final race. The most important of her career.
Casey sees her across the pool. Big with wide shoulders. She’s leering at her. Casey leers back thinking the shoulders belong on a guy. That’s it’s unfair to small girls with small shoulders. Evi, a female Tarzan in a black bathing suit.
Again, the Babe voice explodes in Casey’s ears and scramble her thoughts. The black bathing suit with its eye balling stirs her to anger. She tries to ignore her Jersey Devil while eye balling Tarzan. A reflex action makes her bounce high on her toes. “Forget them,” she mumbles. She shrugs, and bends down as if to throw them off her back.
“Individual medley. Your up Casey.” her coach’s voice clears her mind.
It’s a new event for Casey this year. Last year, as South Jersey’s breast stroke champ she was confident. Now, for the state’s finals, she must to be four swimmers in one. She weighs her strokes: The butterfly, maybe. The backstroke, no way. The breast stroke, no problem. The freestyle, toss up.
The medley was her coach’s idea. She said it would get her that white paper in Miss Blanchard’s pocketbook. “They need swimmers with good grades who can do it all, lady. You and Evi are the reason she drove all they way from College Park.”
Casey eyed the black bathing suit, and grumbles, “Bitch, Evi.”
“Ok, lady, knock it off,” Mrs. Jennings said.
Her coach is a tall full bodied woman who is tough and demanding, yet respectful. Casey liked the combination especially when she referred to each girl on the team as, lady. It had a mature, clean sound to it. Her mother used many time when Casey was a small girl. “My little lady,” was her favorite.
In the glitter of the pool, she sees her mom smiling, feels her hug, and for a moment she’s a little girl again filled with a mother’s love.
She’s startled by a heavy hand that grabs her arm. She’s quick to turn. Its the man with the megaphone voice. He looks misplaced on the pool’s pristine deck. A Paul Bunyan without his axe.
He pulls her towards him, “Gotta talk.”
She pulls away, “What’s with you? I’m up in a few minutes.” She shrugs her shoulders, and looks wide eyed at her coach as if to say, its happened before….
Mrs. Jennings gives the man a sharp look, and grabs his arm. “What the hell’s going on. Get off this deck, now,” she said, and points at the stands.
“Keep your pants on sweetheart, its my kid. Need to talk.”
“You crazy? You want out of here, wise guy?”
“Its ok, Mrs. Jennings. Please, I’ll just be a minute.”
“Two minutes, that’s it, lady.” Mrs. Jennings eyed the man, and said, “Damnit, don’t screw her up…again.”
Daughter and father walk to a nearby corner of the pool.
“Babe, what’s up? Didn’t wave back. Been callin ya all morning.”
“You’ve been drinking. Always drinking.”
“Couple of Bud’s. Wanna make sure you’re ok. Got a lot riding on my girl.”
“Make me feel like a race horse.”
“A thoroughbred, Babe.”
“Don’t like it.”
“Bet a bundle. Ya gotta win.”
“You said no more betting, remember?
“Last time, promise.” He crossed his heart. “Got four suckers betting on Evi, including her old man. Gave them two to one.”
“Two to one? Get real, Daddy, she holds the state record, not me.” She gave him a flick of her wrist, and started to walk away.
He grabbed her arm, “hold on, Babe.”
“No, Daddy.” She pulled away. “You’re the sucker. You should get two to one. She’s the champ. She broke all the records.”
“So have you.”
“Not like her.”
“I get nervous when you bet on me,” she paused, “you know that.”
“Aw, come on, Babe.”
And your not allowed to drink beer in the pool.” She took a deep breath and blew out hard in his face.
He turned his hands palms up, and said, “no more booze, ok?”
“And, get rid of that butt in your mouth.”
“Ok. Ok.” He walked over, dipped the butt in the pool, put it in his pocket, and returned like a big kid with a wise ass smile.
Her head snapped from side to side, “Damnit, Daddy, how can I concentrate.” She turned and hurried to her coach.
He caught up. “Hey, think Maryland…both of us, like we planned. You know, all these years. Right, Babe? You and me. Gonna be great. Can’t wait.”
She starred at him knowing he was the reason for her room full of trophies. He had been at her side from the moment she was born. There was nothing he ever denied her, except her freedom. He had become a loving weight around her neck. Even with all her swim skills, she was afraid the day would come when he’d drown her. Or, that she’d be old…with him older. That time would narrow their years and they would be identical except in size. She took a deep breath, raised her head, and blew her frustration at the girded ceiling.
He laughed, hugged her, kissed her on the head, and said, “Hey, gotta make a
buck on my investment, right, sweetheart.”
“If the school finds out about the betting….”
“Never have before. Hell, don’t worry that pretty face of yours.”
“Damn it Daddy, the way you act…how can I not worry?”
“Yeah, just like your mom. Same worry, same pretty face.”
“Oh, God, I miss her,” she bit her lip, “wish she were here.”
“We both do, Babe. Good thing I got you, though.” He held her chin, “You can beat this kid, right, sweetheart?
Large brown eyes seemed perplexed as she studied him. With a nod of her head, she stuffed a mass of loose amber curls under the stretch of her bathing cap, and said, “Yes, I can beat her, Daddy.”
“That’s my girl. Can’t miss with those big tootsie’s I gave you,” he joked.
“But not you.” She said as she pushed away. Sometimes, she thought of her dad as a big whale, and herself as Johna.
“Casey, let’s go, lady. You’re up,” Mrs. Jennings called out.
She looked down at her feet, yeah, their big aright. Like he bought them and she owed him. Ever since she was a kid, her feet gave her those unwanted nicknames: Big Foot, Flipper Feet, Super Toes. It annoyed her. But it also gave her that power kick she was famous for––a kick that pushed her fingers to the victory wall. As a kid, who loved water as much as air, she came to accept it as good trade off. Now, at five foot three, a size eleven tootsie looked ok to her.
She turned, glanced back at him, and had a sudden urge to dive in the pool. To pound its blue indifference as if the pool were a man with the length of six foot four, a weight of two hundred and fifty pounds, and a depth of measured inches. Ohhh, she screamed to herself, Big Mike, my big daddy.
And then he disappeared as if she had frightened him away, instead Evi took his place with her devil grin.