Wystan straddled the chair and asked me to shave his back.
Is this right?, I ask, looking at the bristles and then at the razor. Wystan
hands me the bar of lathering soap and our father's shaving brush.
Lather it well, he says, or you're going to cut me. My brother wants his
skin to be absolutely smooth. I've never shaved anyone before.
Only girls shave their legs, I say. I'm sure my father's going to find out.
No, says Wystan quite firmly, swimmers do it all the time and hairless skin
was the ideal of the Greeks. After a pause, he tells me a secret: I'm going
to be a dolphin.
An hour later, his back is irritated and red, small patches remain, and
there are a few welts on the backbone. Shaving turns out to be much easier
than I thought. The razor is dulled but I continue scraping here and there
until my client tells me, in not so many words, that I had best look for
another occupation. I giggle. He sounds just like my father.
You sliced off my fin, he says abruptly, turning on me, grabbing my shoulders.
This sudden change of voice frightens me; I don't understand what he means
but back off. Raise your hands, he says menacingly. I do. He does a bodycheck.
Then he grabs me by the feet and I am hanging upside down; the blood rushes
to my head. He grabs me by the waist, hauls me up on his shoulders and marches
about the house. Then he rolls me up in a sleeping bag. I've got you in
my net. He drags me around the house again. Finally, he puts me in the chest
and sits on it. You're in a tin now, he says as I struggle to get out. But
I don't have a can opener. I begin to cry. Wystan immediately lets me out
and tries to hush me. I am still gasping. He takes me on his lap.
Did you really think I'd let you die like that? he asks.
I couldn't breathe at all, I say.
Do you know how dolphins breathe?
Well, how do you think they breathe? Just guess.
I don't know.
They have a hole on the top of their head. Wystan cocks his hand into a
gun and places his index finger against my forehead.
So if I put a hole in your head, you could breathe underwater.
But I can't swim, I say. You know I can't swim.
Don't worry, says Wystan, reassuringly, I'll teach you this summer. The
Embassy pool is going to be finished soon. Or we can go to the seashore.
I am terrified of the water. In my private slow motion movie, I see my head
bleeding, turning the pool black.
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