By BRUCE DENNILL
It’s an ideal way to end a Friday afternoon. Done with work and arrived at a self-catering cottage on a small farm out in the country with the sun still high enough to encourage all of us to change and skip out to the pool to cool off.
On signing in, we’d been informed by the bemused proprietor that some children who’d come with the party that’d just recently left had carried handfuls of mud into the pool. Because, you know, that’s what you do when you’ve been dragged to a place without three separate gaming consoles and have no sense of consequence. We were told that the situation was in hand; that a new pump would be installed overnight and the pool would be restored to lucent magnificence in no time.
For Eldest Child, this news was tantamount to being diagnosed with elephantitis.
“What if I drink the pool? What will happen?” she said, eyes moistening.
“Let’s not find out. Don’t drink the pool,” I reasoned.
We’re shown to our accommodation, where we sort out all our luggage. Youngest Child and I are neither responsible enough to be thinking ahead to dinner nor disturbed about the life-threatening qualities of slightly murky swimming pool worker, so we grab our towels and head out. Eldest Child can’t join us immediately as that would mean an unacceptable loss of face. She informs us she will be up shortly to “just have a look”.
Youngest Child and I are doing manatee impressions when Eldest Child arrives, kitted out in swimming gear, including goggles. The danger has passed. The murkiness is no longer lethal. Relief.
Beautiful Wife follows soon afterwards. She pauses at the kitchen door of the cottage, which we can see clearly from the pool.
“Should I close this?”
We consider the question collectively, enduring a mild, brief existential crisis about feeling uncomfortable about leaving doors open even though we are not in the city and there’s something close to a kilometre between us and the next sign of life.
“Close it. Then we don’t need to worry,” is the consensus.
The swim is wonderful. The shedding of work clothes and the cool water after the still clamminess of the office means that the transition from business to holiday mode is quickly complete and, having been at our temporary home-from-home for less than an hour, we’re all relaxed and ready to get on with the serious business of supping on pasta cooked on a small gas stove and playing Go Fish.
Time dictates that we head back inside to begin that whole phase. Daughters are de-goggled and dried. Cool-skinned hugs are shared. Holiday happiness.
Beautiful Wife is smiling as she puts her hand on the door handle, eyes on her brood.
Then she’s not smiling anymore.
“This is locked. Do you have the keys?”
Clearly not, as we hadn’t even considered closing the door at all until fairly late in proceedings.
“Is there another way in?”
Not one that’s unlocked, as we had purposefully shut up the other side of the cottage so that nobody could waltz in and flee with our valuables. Two old BlackBerry phones and an even older laptop that had to be charged so that I could actually complete the word “laptop”, but still…
The bathroom window is ajar, and it opens upward. Cottage pane window frames mean there are small squares of steel between us and the interior. Too small for an adult, and Youngest Daughter is too short to reach anything below the sill.
“Eldest Daughter, I need you to be an investigator. It’ll be just like that Secret Seven book you just finished reading.”
“Um, ok,” she says, as enthusiastic as the first test jumper off the bungee platform at Blaauwkrans Bridge.
“What do I need to do?”
“Mom will hold the window out of the way, then I’ll lift you. You’ll go through face-down and feet first, like this.”
I share the vision for the project using my hand to illustrate her body position. It’s foolproof.
“Will it hurt? Will I break a bone?”
“Not if you do it right.
The eyes are moist again, but Beautiful Wife and I cajole, compare her to literary heroines and mutter indistinctly about possible pocket money increases.
Eldest Daughter is up on my shoulder. The window is being held high. She waves her hands – probably an expression of excitement at how important her role in our continued holiday happiness is. Her wide-eyed expression is probably down to the same thing.
Her bottom half is through. She’s kneeling on the sill.
“I’m stuck! I can’t move!”
Beautiful Wife points out that a simple temporary shoulder dislocation will make the process immeasurably easier, and rests the window on my head while assisting Eldest Daughter in arranging her limbs.
Eldest Daughter prudently hangs on to the window frame with her chin while this is going on, before grasping the edges again once her arms are through. After that, it’s a simple matter of not snapping off the hand soap holder and clambering off the basin without cracking a rib and the tough part of the job is done.
Eldest Daughter fetches the keys and returns, delighted with herself, but generously choosing to not rub in how superior her capabilities are by pretending to cry.
As she passes the keys up to me, we’re greeted by a friendly passer-by. He’s the owner’s son, come to fix the pool pump. He may or may not have spare keys for the cottage.
We don’t ask.