My hand started waving as soon as I sensed my mother’s car about to round the last curve before the hotel. I never failed to anticipate her arrival every summer Saturday, not even once, not even by a second. When she stepped out, I threw my arms around her waist, careful to angle my body back a bit so my bathing suit would not dampen her. A half embrace, but we were together again. Even if her hug wasn’t quite as tight as mine, I could tell that she had missed me too.
A quick change into one of her Emilio Pucci–inspired sarongs, and then we would trek to the enormous pool with all the other guests. My towel was already on the hill’s coarse grass from the morning, and she would join me on it for a few moments so I could cover her back with oil. Then I’d watch as she first glossed her face, then her chest and arms and finally her legs, slightly raised to reach her arched feet. Even now, the scent of Bain de Soleil transports me to another time and place.
Back in the water, I kept one eye on my mother as I swam with all of the other children. Always holding a cigarette aloft, she’d laugh with the friends who orbited her, admirers who vied for proximity, seeking some sort of rub-off effect—or so it seemed to me. She seduced the world, and I was no exception.
Once an hour she’d pin up her tumbling red mane, tie a sheer kerchief around it, and come in for a dip. Everyone knew to stop splashing. She slowly submerged up to her shoulders and began to do her sidestroke once around the circumference of the pool. That signature stroke was completely her, effortlessly gliding sideways through life without ever going too deep. After all, leaving the surface would wet her hair.
When I was very young, our pool ritual was both a public and private gift. Before or after the side-stroking—sometimes before and after on a really great day—my mother would press her body down on the rope that separated the children’s side of the pool and slide across. Scooping me up, she’d ease back over to the grown-up side (where it was almost as shallow but still felt as though you were entering a forbidden zone). She would bend her slippery knees so the water just reached her neck and I’d climb on to face her, weightless, my little hands, arms, and feet sliding on her shoulders and legs. A smiling pause to build the anticipation, and then she’d begin her bouncing game. “Bah-dum, bah-dum,” she would singsong, “bah-dum, bah-dum,” as we bobbed and turned round and round together. Her breath, her closeness, her blue eyes on me as the cool water beaded on our skin was like nothing else. If I close my eyes, I can still feel that joy.
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