Summer Short from Cathy Astolfo

Itsy Bitsy

My buddies arrived unannounced and uninvited just as summer began. In my opinion, they are solely responsible for the event that garnered all that worldwide attention.

School limped through its last day. Desks were in the process of being emptied and scoured of apple corpses and pencil tips, fisted-up tests that never made it home, half-hearted drawings whose only connection with the word was their rendering during “art” class.

That morning I felt particularly fresh and light. My dress was thin cotton that felt cool in the humid classroom. In those days we didn’t count humidity in the measurement of temperature, it was still in Farenheit, and global warming had just begun. I had no inkling that air conditioning existed and certainly no fans cut the layers of heavy air. It was up to us to wear light material and rules were somewhat lax on the last day. Some of the girls even had shorts on. Only later did I realize I had worn a slip to school.

My mother didn’t like my new friends. She said I was far too young for them. In ostrich fashion, she decided to ignore them rather than intervene or mediate. My unabashed pals loved my slip. They remained attentive all day.

Not only that, they somehow managed to transform boys into aliens worthy of a good impression. When Johnny Goldsmith threw his eraser at me, I turned to mush. Instead of getting angry and showing him my fists (see my finger, see my thumb, see my fist, you better run) as I would have a short time ago, I blushed and giggled. Giggled! He’d written on the pink eraser, now stiffened with lack of moisture from the dark recesses of his desk, “I like you.”

He liked me! Johnny Goldsmith, he of the dark eyes and floppy hair, whom all the girls adored. Except me.

Until my friends appeared, I was the “tom boy”, the girl who could climb trees, race and play football just like the male species. I went fishing with my Dad and my boy cousins. I was my father’s only son. My small but very domineering new buddies had forced me into basking in attention from a mere boy.

Shocked, disgruntled, I walked home in silence. My sister skipped and gabbed beside me. Her head a glorious mound of white curls, her blue eyes mesmerizing, she seemed to have no illusions about her gender. For the first time, I was confronted with mine.

My mother’s horrified exclamation when she saw what I was wearing did not help. In fact, I spent the first two weeks of the summer mostly hidden. In the privacy of my bedroom, I compulsively stapled pictures of Marlon Brando to the wall. I watched The Wild One and On the Waterfront often enough to speak the lines before the actors did.

Both my parents gazed at me in puzzled wonder. Normally I could not be enticed inside, even when the streetlights went on. After my refusal to accompany my father on a fishing trip, they knew something was up.

In the early sixties, before we baby-boomers became free lovers later that decade, no one spoke the word puberty. Besides, as my mother declared, I was too young for that, Mother Nature be damned. Silence would surely reverse time, slow the unexpected growth.

As though we weren’t burdened with two more members, my family packed as usual for our annual Wasaga Beach Holiday. Sybil-fashion, I swung from cheerful participation to brokenhearted sobs at having to leave Marlon alone in my room. Finally on the road, I led a mean-spirited rendition of the chorus my sisters and I had written, “I can see the water” (those were the only lyrics) more out of a desire to annoy than to express my former excitement at,—well—seeing the water.

When I did finally stand on the shores of Georgian Bay, however, I was suddenly happy again. The silky soft cool water! Bouncing waves! The innocence of childish fun. I dug into the suitcase for the new (to me) bathing suit my (richer) cousin had donated.

What happened next is not only a part of family folklore. It’s an international incident. All because Brian Hyland decided to record the disaster later that same summer. All because my two friends had appeared and my cousin decided it was time for two-piece, feminine bathing attire. Way before I was ready!

An itsy, bitsy, teenie, weenie, yellow polka-dot bikini
So in the water she wanted to stay
(From the cottage to the blanket)
(From the blanket to the shore)
(From the shore to the water)
Yes, there isn't any more.

Catherine Astolfo is the author of The Emily Taylor Mysteries and Sweet Karoline, published by Imajin Books. In 2012, she won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in Canada. She’s a Past President and Derrick Murdoch Award winner for service to Crime Writers of Canada.