Night Diving

             No wheels, no license, no ability to drive – I’m  a little hesitant, a little ashamed. I pause for a two-beat before I dial Ursula to [img_assist|nid=6462|title=Flight of the Spirit by Donald Stephens © 2010|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=200|height=303]arrange our weekend together. She’s a teacher and single mother in Pottstown, I’m a late-thirtyish man living at my Granny’s Drexel Hill Tudor-style house. During this pause, I’m sitting at my adapted computer, my finger poised over my phone’s Velcro-marked Five button. I feel like I’m the sighted adolescent again, standing at a mall payphone, arranging a pick up.


            The adult me pushes through, and dials. But I don’t get Ursula. It’s her daughter.

            "Hi, is your mom home?"

            "Stop making that funny voice," Ursula’s daughter says, right away without a "howdy-do."

            "Is your mom home?" I repeat in my higher-pitched "everything is okay kid" voice.

            "Stop that," the girl shouts. "Daddy, stop talking like that!" Then slam. Dial tone.

            My chair creaks under me as my heart becomes all inaudible bass beat. I fidget with the phone cord, then work at disentanglement. I fill the silence with a movie image.  Today it’s Big, and Tom Hanks is hoofing "Heart and Soul" on the oversized walking piano. How many takes were there? Did he break a sweat?

* * *

             It’s the weekend and Ursula gathers me from the Reading bus station. We drop off my bags at her place, then take a walk through her neighborhood. As we stroll, my ears tell me what my eyes would. Traffic is infrequent, sound is sponged up by lawns and bushes,  the stationary eloquence of a robin several stories above me hints at tree heights.

            We head uphill, past the pools, and to the pond, circle it at leisure with my hand resting on her right shoulder for guidance. I hold my white cane upright, dandy-style in my free palm. Ursula pulls me aside when we meet an oncoming couple who haven’t done the white cane and black glasses math.

            "We’re coming to a footbridge," she says. "No rails."

            I scrutinize her tone for weariness or resignation. I still can’t figure if I’m man or encumbrance to her. Her divorce is not final and I fear I am a cliche in tennis shoes — the Transitional Man.

            A brush of her long hair against my arm tells me she’s turned her head away. I Photoshop her locks day-glo apricot to contrast her picket-fence spirit. Only, I’m thinking about the steady quiet of her neighborhood, its pond, its pools, the nearby market. I could easily tap-tap-tap along the pickets, as well.

            There’s the faintest of paddling noises from the water. I’m sure there are duck feet, upended, as a Mallard goes under for a morsel.

            "Still going swimming tomorrow?" Ursula asks.

* * *

            While she’s in the kitchen drawing up a shopping list, I’m out of the way, in the bedroom, attending to medical concerns. Diabetic, I test my blood sugar, the meter counting down aloud and voicing a number I’m satisfied with. It’s time for my afternoon meds, so I take the four anti-rejection transplant pills, the pair of blood pressure, the anti-nausea pill.

            Ursula calls out, "Can you think of anything besides soda and chicken you want?"

            "Strawberry Pop Tarts. The glazed kind, please." They are my current form of emergency sugar. But still, I blush.

            Before she leaves, Ursula refreshes my memory about the stairway threshold and projecting TV shelf. She grabs her keys, says, "I have to stop at my husbands with my daughter’s schoolbag." The door closes behind her. It’s not long before the stillness conjures the creepy twin girls from The Shining.

* * *

            We wait for the senior citizen hour at the lap pool because the main pool is a mined bay of bobbing children in nosecoat and water wings ready to sink my ship.



            Ursula gives me a quick description of the layout, and then I’m swimming, first time in the dark. Splash splash, then a little bit of a crawl, and then I’m going freestyle. I bump into walls and tangle myself in lane dividers. But this isn’t good enough.

            Hand out, I trace my way to the ladder. Once I’m up, Ursula walks me around to the deep end and sets up her towel. I perch on the coping, work up nerve, then jump. I try to go coast-to-coast underwater, and put my hand up to meet wall. I fall short the first dozen tries. This game still isn’t good enough, though. I encounter my first flotation worm and get ideas.

            The Styrofoam worms are a little shorter than my white cane, but when I’m up and poolside I find I can hold them ski-pole style and make it to the diving board.

            Once up, I edge cautiously past the handrails. Tap with the left pool toy. Tap with the right, then another tap ahead to discern my placement on the board. I don’t want to pitch forward unprepared.

            I find the end and ready myself. Ursula, poolside,  and a senior couple treading in the water, wait in sparkly daylight. This is not nighttime, shades drawn, lights out. My body is exposed, on display with my shrunken eyes, my transplant scars, my insulin injection bruises. I am a Google map of doctor visits and hospitalizations, Hinting at many more unpaved miles ahead. Is Ursula up for that trip?

            I am eager to dive. But my mind conjures a dry excavation in front of me. Then, the crypt full of snakes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Next, a chamber filled with a thousand armed Chinese terra cotta soldiers.

            "Are you watching?" I ask.

            "Go ahead," Ursula says, and the words hang in the air. I picture her floating as well, Chagall-like, five feet over cement pool deck. "Just go."

            Finally, I toss the worms into the pool.  I trust there will be water, soft and buoyant, to catch me as I leap.

Sean Toner’s essays have appeared at,, and in Opium Magazine (where he’s twice been a finalist in their 500-word memoir contest). His CNF also appears in the Book of Worst Meals from Serving House Books. Sean is a former vice president of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and was chair of its Free Forums at Drexel University. He earned his MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2006 and lives in Bryn Mawr, PA, with the writer Robin Parks. Sean has been sightless since 1995 and is a public speaker about

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