My mother believed life should be graceful and clean, much like the way she entered the water when she was young. She had been a diver and, for a time, the most famous woman in town. Especially once she began killing people.

She was an all-city legend, a state champion and regional medalist with a national rank. She split the water like a razor, all muscle and light as she injected herself into the pool with hardly a splash. Trophies and talent scouts filled our home. Men peered at her through viewfinders and discussed her dimples and the size of her teeth, wondering if she might be the new face of breakfast cereal.

Six weeks before the Olympics, they filmed her diving off the side of Route 46 where it crossed the industrial canal. They wanted inspiring footage for the Tokyo games, an Elysian myth about small-town grit that would galvanize kids across the country and send their parents scrambling to register for swimming lessons. Most of all, they needed a story that would take our minds off the security checkpoints at the grocery store, the sight of camouflaged men with weapons patrolling the laundry detergent and frozen dinners. Something to distract us from the explosions and the smell of week-old pepper spray that lingered in the air like a mean perfume.

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