by Lorna Garano
The feel of the lifeguard's tongue surprised me. It was like wet leather, not smooth, and it had an unexpected stiffness to it. When Susan and I practiced we kept our tongues to ourselves. I wasn't sure if this was because to French would be to cross the boundary between sensible preparation for boys and real intimacy between us, or if we were both just unsure about how to introduce our tongues into a kiss.
I was standing alone behind the brick restrooms outside of the public pool. It was late—not just late in the day, but late in the season and the air was starting to bite with a chill. I had goose bumps on my arms, but I still kept the blanket-size beach towel in my knapsack. The lifeguard approached me straight on for the first time, stared squarely in my face without flinching. He had been looking at me all summer, and lately when I saw my mother's ungainly Oldsmobile wobble out of the pool parking lot I thought about him and tugged on my bathing suit top so that the chute between my breasts was visible.
His shoulders were pink and as he got closer I noticed his zinc-oxide-covered nose was surrounded with freckles the color of wet sand. He put his hands around my lower back and pulled me close so that my hip bone pressed into his thigh. I stood on my tiptoes and he bent down. I smelled Irish Spring, the soap my father used, and for an instant his flabby red face flashed in front of me and I had to blot it out with a stern thought. The lifeguard pressed his lips to mine and then cranked his mouth so wide that it seemed like he was trying to swallow my face. He took my lips with him. He jammed his tongue in and ran it around as if he was as licking the frosting off a donut. He pressed his hand into my lower back and pulled me closer. Our lips became glazed with saliva and a pungent taste transplanted from his mouth into mine. When the lifeguard stepped back a sting of spittle connected us for a few seconds before it broke. I raised my hand to mop off the spit slick from my lips and I saw white flecks of zinc-oxide on it. The lifeguard had already begun to walk away, his shoulders pinched back and his pace an unencumbered clip bordering on a bounce. It was walk that would tolerate no companion, but I wouldn't have followed him even if I could have moved.
My face burned and the skin at the hinge of my lips felt raw. I went to the water fountain and pressed it on full blast. Then I stuck my face into the thin stream of water, which had a softness I had never before noticed. I tried to rinse the taste of the lifeguard out of my mouth. I peeked around the corner of the bathroom and saw him back in his towering chair. A few people remained in the pool. One lapped across it, the others bobbed up and down mindlessly. I wrapped myself in my towel and headed to the parking lot. On the way I thought about Susan. I wasn't sure what I would tell her, but I knew practice was over.