H is for handle, or hot

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Photo at Wikimedia

H is for handle, which is OK to touch as we leave, but screamingly hot on our return. It belongs to the white Renault 4, parked beneath the house between concrete stilts.

We check under the car before getting in, making sure there’s no cat, dog, or sleeping snake to be run over. The curved chrome handle on the door is smooth and slightly cool to my hand. I put my towel on the seat, flap some mosquitoes out and slide a window open.

The road leaves town and heads across open country. Mum parks on waste ground next to a sign with large red Chinese letters. Andrew and I hurry on wooden boarding across a stretch of oily black water dotted with water lilies. When we are safe on the other side we argue.

‘Nothing is bottomless, how can there be no bottom to the water?’
‘The bottom is the rocks on fire in the middle of the earth!’
‘What would happen if I fell in Mum? Would I go down and down forever?’
‘You could swim. That’s why we’re here.’
‘But there might be some horrible monster with great big tentacles that lives in there that would pull my legs down and down forever!’

We run to the pool, Olympic sized, with concrete diving boards that stretch high into the blue sky. I push through the turnstile while Mum pays. My dress comes off the minute Mum is at the side of the pool and I am instantly ready to hunt for treasure.

The water suffocates with its warmth. It’s as if there is nowhere for my body’s heat and sweat to go but back inside me. Water presses against my eyes while I search for pieces of eight, it gets up my nose when I do racing turns at the side of the pool. When I get bored of swimming widths and collecting coins I walk daringly round to the diving boards and bounce gently on a low board a few times. I jumped off it once, honest.

Some days families sit on the grass around the edge and the ice cream kiosk opens to sell the only choc ices in town. The chocolate cracks and breaks between my teeth and cold cream floods my mouth.

The sun dries me and I pop my dress back over my swimming costume. This time the car handle burns my palm. I snatch at it as quickly as possible. The damp skin on my bottom sticks and slides on the hot vinyl seat. We lean out of the windows for air until Mum parks in a shady place beside a bakery. We follow her in to watch while she orders three white loaves to be sliced and bagged. The blades come down like guillotines, leaving perfect even slices. She hands us a loaf as we leave and we tear into it, pushing slice after slice of the warm bread into our bottomless stomachs.

So H is for Hot really, the car handle, the water in the swimming pool, and the bread.

Cathy Johnson

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