We're in the pool. The sun cascades down on us. Sophie stands on an underwater bench splashing and laughing. Neil is on the other side of her, we are chest deep in the water. She has just figured out how to use the super soaker squirt gun and is delighting in her new found power. There is activity all around. Voices and movement. Our little family, among friends.
Then a strangled cry from one of the women sitting at the table next to the pool: "kid in the water!" We all turn. In that blackness between heartbeats, I see just the top of a child's head peeking out from the water. Not a capable swimmer, he has fallen off of the raft that he was sitting on. No more than a tuft of hair is visible while his arms and legs churn the water below, struggling in futility to get back to the air above.
Time speeds up as the boy's father dives in from the side while a family friend lunges from his position in the pool a half a dozen feet away. They reach the boy simultaneously and lift him up. His mother waits on the side, arms outstretched, a mask of horror on her face. He is in his mother's embrace, crying. Everyone else in the pool is frozen.
The spell lifts as we realize that he is okay. Time slows back down to normal and suddenly everyone is talking at once. I start to say how scary that was but my voice catches. We came this close to the darkest nightmare of every parent and the adrenalin is still pumping too hard for me to speak. I feel like I've been punched in the gut.
I grab Sophie and pull her to me. I wrap her up in my arms and nuzzle her cheek. I look around and see that the other mothers are doing the same with their children. It was not my child, but I felt the fear as viscerally as if it had been. I suspect I am not alone in this.
Later, the boy is back playing in the pool. Unharmed and unfazed by his experience, he cavorts in the shallows. The adults are all a little more vigilant. We are more aware of the fragility of our situation. Disaster can strike anywhere and no one wants to be on the receiving end of that horror.