By Harriet Hart
When I arrived at the front desk of the Fantasy Land Hotel in the West Edmonton Mall, I was handed my room key and two complimentary passes to the water park. This was my first attendance at the Canadian Paraplegic Association’s national meetings since my recent promotion.
“First impressions are important,” John, my uptight boss warned.
“Of course,” I replied.
That evening in the hospitality suite I asked: “When should we go to the water park?” and was met with blank stares.
“It’s too expensive,” someone said.
“I got two free passes when I checked in ,” I replied.
From the corner a deep masculine voice said: “I’ll be your guest.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Patrick O’Reilly, a consultant hired by National Office. “I’ve got my swim suit in my suitcase.”
“Tomorrow at 5:30 in the lobby?”
“It’s a date.”
The next day, after eight hours of listening to provincial service reports, I was ready for some fun. When Pat and I reached the water park, I saw several water slides and a giant wave pool where a siren warned swimmers when the waves were coming; everyone splashed each other and acted like kids. All this was visible through tall banks of windows separating the water park from the mall. Once inside, Pat suggested we try a water slide.
“They look scary.”
“Be a sport. You’ll love it.”
“I chose the corkscrew, never stopping to consider that the name might actually describe the shape of the slide. A sign at the entrance read: “To slow your descent, put your arms straight out and touch the sides.”
Did I mention that I hate speed, heights and water? I’m the woman who falls down on purpose when faced with a slight slope cross country skiing, the driver who never exceeds the posted speed limit, the swimmer who sticks to the shallow end of the pool.
There I stood wearing nothing but my old two piece strapless black swim suit. I stepped up to the cavernous entrance, lowered myself gently down into the slide, spread my arms, closed my eyes and invited gravity to have its way with me. The corkscrew lived up to its name, twisting and turning all the way to the bottom.
Just when I thought it had to be over, it was. The corkscrew turned into cannon and shot me through the air. I became one of the Flying Wolendas until a “splash” signalled that I was going down, down, down into the briny deep.
My feet touched bottom. I stood up. There was water up my nose and down my throat, but I was alive. I opened my eyes. Pat and a lifeguard stood six feet away staring intently at me. A cool breeze fanned my breasts…my bare breasts. Where was the top to my black bathing suit? Did I leave it behind in the corkscrew? No, it was wound around my waist like the elastic on a canning jar.
“Your wife could use a new suit,” the lifeguard said.
“That’s not my wife,” replied Pat.
I pulled my top up, donned what remained of my pride, and held out a hand so Sir Galahad could assist me out of the tub.
“Don’t you breathe a word of this to a living soul,” I hissed.
Next morning I was greeted with a round of applause.
“What’s going on?” asked John.
“They heard I went down a water slide last night even though I’m terrified of water.”
My secret would probably have stayed one except that night my boss, a quadriplegic, suffered an accident of his own. Wheeling back through the mall after dinner, he toppled head first into one of the fountains. The water had been turned off for the night and he banged himself up badly. I was in my room at the time, nursing my damaged dignity so someone else had to call the medics and mop him up.
A week later, John called me into his office. “Can you explain this email from Alberta?”
“What does it say?”
“You Manitobans sure know how to have a good time – leaping into fountains and losing your bathing suits in the water park.”
I confessed. There must have been a hundred witnesses to my crime. Besides, it was an accident, no worse than falling ass over teakettle into an empty fountain.
John successfully sued the mall so there are now tasteful brass railings protecting shoppers. I bought a new swimsuit with straps and retired to live in sunny Mexico. At my farewell dinner, John read his David Letterman style top ten list of reasons to remember me. What was number one?
“Harriet gives new meaning to hanging out at the mall.”
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com