The Story I Wasn’t Supposed to Read
When I was 10 or so, I chanced upon a short story that changed my life, at least for a while. Its title was “The Diving Fool,” and it was published in an anthology of sports stories that, as I remember it, my father had found at a school-library giveaway, which was how much of my family’s tiny library arrived in our house.
There was no good reason for me to read “The Diving Fool.” I’d never heard of the author, Franklin M. Reck. The title was no metaphor: the story was about diving, a subject that up to that point had held little interest for me. Not only did I not know how to dive, but I was terrible at every other sport as well.
What’s more, I was a 10-year-old unathletic girl and all of the characters in “The Diving Fool” were college-age boys (plus their adult male coach). Not a single person who “looked like me,” as we now say.
So I must have been extremely bored, or feverish with the flu, when I first picked up “The Diving Fool.” By the time I came to the story’s end, my heart was pounding. I read the story again. And again. And many times over the next few years.
The story that wasn’t written for me had spoken to me.
Here’s the plot of “The Diving Fool”: Art Weed, the first-person narrator, is a diver on his college’s varsity team — reliable but not a star. (“I’ll always be fairly good, but I’ll never be sensational.”) One day Art watches, awestruck, as a new guy flawlessly executes a series of challenging dives. Art recruits the new guy, Donald “Sunny” Ray, for the team, confident that Sunny will lead the squad to a championship title. Sunny, though, is less confident, and folds under pressure. The coach takes Art aside and tells him to “talk Sunny into the title.” And so, in practice sessions, Art invents a game that calms Sunny’s nerves: the two divers are “iggles” soaring high in the sky. The game works, and Sunny performs brilliantly in the championship meet. But there’s a twist: Sunny comes in second. In first place is … Art Weed! “Sunny won those dives, Coach,” Art protests. “It worked out just as we planned. … I did what you said — talked him into it…”