Eleanor Emerson arched her body through the air and broke the surface with barely a splash. In the world below she glided through the veils of sunlight, the bubbles of her breath rumbling past her ears. She surfaced, and air, sound, and light burst over her again. Her muscles were taut, ready for speed. Weekday afternoons were quiet at Randall's Island, the periods when only the dedicated furrowed the lanes, marking lengths as mechanically as electric looms. But today the pool seemed far from the world. She was the only swimmer in the water.
Weekday afternoons were quiet at Randall's Island, the periods when only the dedicated furrowed the lanes, marking lengths as mechanically as electric looms. But today the pool seemed far from the world. She was the only swimmer in the water.
At each fifty-yard length she tumble-turned back into her wake, cleaving the water, faster, beginning to warm up. After all the training was she close to her peak? Lungs filled; legs thrust. Steadily she was rising through her gears, reaching for full steam, when something tapped the top of her bathing cap, causing her to stall and choke.
For a second she hoped it was Herb, coming to surprise her, but a lady with a rolled parasol stood at the pool's edge, the sun behind her, so that all Eleanor could see was the light shining through a floral-print dress and a pair of Ferragamo shoes.
'Jesus, Mother. What are you doing here?'
'It came, sweetheart,' the woman said.
Eleanor stood, dripping, shielding her eyes, and saw that her mother was holding out a Western Union envelope. Only now did her heart start to race.
'Oh no, Mother dear. Read it to me.'
Mrs Taylor began an exploration through her handbag for a pair of reading glasses, ignoring the mounting agitation in the pool. Finally:
'On behalf of AOC am pleased to confirm your selection for US team congratulations Brundage...'
Eleanor had started screaming before her mother had finished, her wet hands fanning her face as if there weren't air enough.
She screamed again as she did riding the chute at Luna Park, breaking into a high, girlish laugh and smacking the water with both hands, splashing and kicking with her feet, so that her mother opened the parasol.
'You're soaking me.'
'Mom, I made it!'
'Well, did you think you wouldn't? You'd better break the news to your father. I'm certainly not going to.'
JOE TAYLOR HANDED the telegram back to her and looked out of the open window. It had turned sultry. The breeze moving the flag next to his desk carried the smell of traffic fumes, coffee, and a promise of rain. Below, a fire engine wailed up Madison Avenue.
'I see,' he said eventually. He stood still, his shoulders rising in a sigh. His back towards her, he said, 'Do you intend going?'
The question filled the room.
'I'm going,' Eleanor said.
'Well, my girl, I won't pretend I'm not disappointed.'
'Dad, please - '
'It's all right.'
He looked tired. With a pang of sadness she noticed that his hair had completed its change to white, making him seem much older. And there was a lack of vitality about him, an incipient infirmity. He turned to face her and smiled in the worried way he had with her, hands in his waistcoat pockets with his thumbs sticking out, a posture she knew usually signalled a speech. If only he'd lose his temper, shake his fist, and rave like a Baptist. Then at least she could shout back. This was the worst thing about the whole business. His tolerance. His disappointment.
'I know I should congratulate you. Any father would be proud of a daughter who's made the Olympic team, and of course you must follow your own star...'
Excerpted from Flight from Berlin by David John. Copyright © 2012 by David John. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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