Each year, word of Miss Karen’s pool parties circled like buzzards at bus stops. It flowed through the halls of the elementary school like an unseen current humming through electrical wires. Third graders told incoming second graders who were lucky enough to have been assigned Miss Karen’s class about the end-of-the-year bash in hushed tones during the first week of school. First graders absorbed the trickled-down information ecstatically and would go home at night and pray they would see Miss Karen’s name on the postcard-sized mailings that arrived during the final weeks of August. She was the most envied second grade teacher, not only because she devoted most of the after lunch hours to reading stories aloud to the captive audience of students from her trademark rocking chair, but for the legends they were told of the sunny soirée promised each and every one of them on the day after they won their freedom from second grade.
The first day of summer finally arrived to an extremely busy Miss Karen. While she got all the final arrangements made, she checked on the guest who had shown up early, little Arnie Barry. Arnie’s mother had been early in dropping him off to the pool party. In fact, the brightly colored cardstock invitations that were sent home with the students on the last day of school asked the guests to arrive at 68 Peacock Lane at 12:00am, equipped with a bathing suit and beach towel. Upon seeing the invitation, Mrs. Barry phoned Miss Karen and asked if she wouldn’t mind if Arnie were dropped off a couple hours earlier. So it was arranged that the boy be dropped off at his former second grade teacher’s house and allowed to sit and read from a stack of humor magazines while Miss Karen busied herself in the kitchen and out by the pool with the final preparations for the end of the year pool party.
Splinters of sunlight shot like darts from the crystalline façade of Miss Karen’s punch bowl. It sat, sweating, on a tablecloth covered with a miniature daisy print. Had it not been for the incessant thirst of little Arnie Barry, the bowl would have been full. Now, as the sun neared its apex in the cloudless sky above, the boy topped off his plastic cup for he fourth time. Arnie had never really been to a pool party before and he didn’t really know what to expect. He didn’t have anything else to do to calm his nerves until the rest of the class got there and for some reason the punch was helping. As he sat back down in the armchair where he was reading the magazines Miss Karen had offered while he waited, it hit him. He had to go. He had to go bad. At the very moment he got up to look for Miss Karen and ask where the bathroom was, the he heard a doorbell followed by the swoosh of his entire second grade class buzzing through the house and out to the pool, 23 beach towels flashing along with them. Before he knew what was happening, Arnie was ushered outside with the rest of the flock.
“Last one in is a rotten egg!” yelled Gilbert Ferris. As they rushed to the side of the pool Robbie Parks echoed, “and the rotten egg has to go off the diving board!” Bodies plopped in from all directions. Robbie Parks doused the surface of the water the splash from a massive cannon ball. Linda Nesbit cracked a tall shot of water into the air from her can opener. Gilbert Ferris slapped his tummy on the pool’s surface with a crowd-pleasing belly flop. Kelly Dietrich and her twin sister Lena stealthily slipped in the water with stiff, vertical pencil dives.
Once all the children surfaced, they looked around to see which unlucky soul was the rotten egg. Arnie Barry was standing on the edge of the pool, his knees turned inward, crossing his arms over the groin of this green and blue swimming trunks. “Arnie Barry is a rotten egg! Arnie Barry is a rotten egg!” The chant gained momentum, building with the pressure of the punch pressing from the boy’s insides. “You have to go off the diving board!” Robbie Parks yelled as he pointed, enforcing the rule he’d dictated.
Arnie Barry had never been to a pool party before. He had never gone off a diving board. He thought his classmates somewhat strange in having such rituals, but they we telling him to do it and he figured it was what he had to do. He walked to the end of the diving board, pulled his swimming trunks down to his ankles, and just as Miss Karen was walking through the door with a platter of freshly cut peanut butter and jelly finger sandwiches, Arnie Barry went off the diving board.