That she does not jump in means she jumps in many times. True, these jumps are in her head and therefore not real, but that doesn’t make them feel less. There is the one where she underestimates the edge of the rocks, lands stiff-legged like a doll in unexpectedly shallow water and timbers into the hold like a falling tree. There is one that starts the same way, but in which the rocks are slimier. Upon hitting them, she slides in feet first, heel bruised and shocked. There is the chance of aiming correctly for the deep center of water, but not coming back up.
There are smaller possibilities, too: that she will gasp out too loud, come up coughing and spitting, breathing water, not dangerously, but sloppily. She can imagine being surprised by the cold to the extent that an unplanned noise emerges from her body, a groan or squeal that she doesn’t want the stranger to hear.
There are also irrational scenarios. The bottom of the swimming hole is not rocks, but huge fingers reaching up to grab and drag her down, or worse, brushing against her teasingly. She imagines a dark and predictable looking creature rising with her, smiling, green and murky.
She sits on a rock and dangles her toes in the water, starts lowering herself in. “That’s just torturing yourself,” says the stranger. “It’s too cold for that.”
She’s aware of the bottom of her swimsuit, and how, when she stretches her leg into the water, the edge of it rides up and over her hip bone, crossing a limit both back and front. She pulls her leg back and slides a finger under the elastic to pull it down. She wonders if the stranger has seen. But he’s climbed to a higher point up in the rocks. “Right from here,” he is saying. “You have to jump from here.”
And he does. He come up. “It’s not bad once you get in,” he shouts. She smiles. This is what I do, she thinks. She is up to her shins.
The sun is hot and flat on her shoulders. A line of sweat appears in the crease of her waist. She imagines letting herself slip and float, being relieved of the heat. A fly insists on landing on her elbow. The feel of her own hair on her shoulder makes her slap at it.
In front of her, the stranger floats on the backs of his shoulders, arms stretched out to his sides. Every few minutes he lets himself drop, brings his arms overhead. His fingertips are the last thing she sees. Then he’s back again, thrashing and threatening to splash her if she doesn’t jump in.
“How deep is it in there?” she wants to ask. “Did you touch the bottom?” She has other questions about the formation of the rocks, about the changes in the current, but she’s not sure which to ask. The stranger keep floating and looking up at the sky.
She crouches down and sits on a rock just under the surface. Her legs hang over the drop into where the water gets deep. She is up to her waist.
“That’s just dragging it out,” the stranger says. He swims to the ledge, pulls himself out, scrambles up the rocks and readies himself to jump again.
She leans forward to dip a hand, up to the wrist, up to the elbow. She considers the cold, wet glove. Then, a slight shift, a possibility. A sliver of a drop that feels like falling down in a dream, before sensing the absence of floor, before waking up. There’s dry breath in her lungs. She catches herself, pulls back.
The stranger pops up, shaking limbs and hooting, like a hybrid of wet dog and owl. She, too, shakes her wet arm, as if at certain moments everything must be wrung out. There’s a painful-looking flick of his neck. He seems satisfied. He’s floating again.
“What are you thinking about?” the stranger asks. She appreciates his upfrontedness. She doesn’t answer.
“Sorry,” he says, and submerges. She watches him move away, like a fish in a tank, his body long, shimmering and far. He pulls himself up, swings legs around, walks away.
She’s experimenting cupping water in her hands, letting it fall over her shoulders to see what it would feel like. He’s on his way back up the rocks. She starts to want to tell him something, but he’s already jumped in.