I never hear the water breaking next door. The neighbor’s pool sits silently as sunlight pours across its surface everyday. Bees and flies skim the water but know to not drop too close to the glossy surface that would threaten to fill their wings with fat droplets of water, blanketing them in a slow death. I know death is what keeps the insects away, but what keeps the people away? How could anyone resist the cool depths that numb the chatter both inside and outside of their head? How could anyone not want to lie at the bottom and watch the sun wave goodbye to them from above, its light shattered and scattered like spilled glitter across the surface.
These thoughts drip through my grey matter as a single drop of sweat slides down my cleavage. As I take another sip, the sound of the ice cubes crashing together cracks into the vacuum my thoughts have temporarily created. If I don’t finish my drink in a hurry, there might not be that familiar clink of ice in a matter of minutes. Obeying the sun, I empty my glass and let the whiskey-laced ice rest against my lips for a moment before setting the tumbler down on the porch. The pool winks at me through the gaps in the evergreens.
My bare feet are brushing through the grass before I can even realize that I’ve decided to stand up. All I can see are my feet, moving in quick tan blurs and being breaded in grass clippings as I walk — I can’t decide if the sound of the grass is scolding me or cheering me on. As I push myself between a pair of the evergreens, I can feel the fabric of my dress pulling away from my body as one of the branches tries to slow my trespassing. Soon the fabric snaps back to my hip though and I’m on the other side. Each of my steps across the slate pavers towards the pool leaves behind small kisses of grass from my yard. “Evidence,” I think as I bend my knees and push my toes into the slate. I can feel the skirt of my dress fly up to my waist as my feet leave the ground. I do what the insects dare not to — I break the surface.
The water greedily pulls the summer from my skin and all my sweat and heat disappear as I propel myself downward towards the bottom of the pool. I want to see the sun wink, that’s all I want, one wink, one small flirtation. As I settle on the scratchy concrete floor of the pool, I open my eyes, ignoring the burn of the chlorine, and look up to the surface. The sun runs, darts, and sparkles above me, leaving me in my own silent kaleidoscope. I smile with my lungs aching and decide it’s done, that was more than enough winks for one day. With my arms outstretched and my legs kicking I say goodbye to the silent depths of the pool.
A crash of shedding water breaks the silence as my head and shoulders emerge. That’s when I see a man standing on the pavers. My body jerks backwards in surprise as my head dips too low, causing me to sputter and choke.
“Shouldn’t I be the one who’s startled?” Sweat licks his grey hair by his neck and temples, but hasn’t devoured him completely just yet. I watch him with drops of water clumping my eyelashes together, obscuring him slightly in my vision.
“Shouldn’t you be at some job?” I ask back.
“Since when does the trespasser do the interrogating?” His smile doesn’t push at his cheeks enough for it to be a good one. I dip my hair back into the pool as my only response. “You’re Cheryl’s daughter, aren’t you? I keep meaning to come by, but I—” His eyes meet mine as I pull my head up from the water. I feel my cheeks prickle with heat and my mouth twist against my disappearing anonymity. I want to be the stranger in this moment, but suddenly I’m a someone.
“You know my mother?”
He nods his head towards our two yards. “Neighbors, you know?”
“How’s she doing?”
“I’m still here, aren’t I?”
“That good, huh?”
“I got to go.”
“I won’t use your pool again. I’m sorry.” Water drains from my dress with each lunging step I take towards the evergreens.
“Hey, wait, come on, hold it.” He reaches me at the trees and I’m stopped as his fingers wrap around my forearm. His hand gently pushes heat into my now chilled skin. “Listen, I’m sorry about your mom. It was… good of you to come home, to take care of her. Tell her Nick says hi, will you do that? As payment for your dip?”
I whip my arm away from his grip, but he wasn’t holding tight enough for it to be a struggle. I almost wish it had been as I push myself the rest of the way through the trees. Tears begin to mingle with the drops of the pool still clinging to my cheeks. The house stands before me, shadowed and ready just for me. Ready for my feet to be the only ones that will walk in and out of a door that used to accommodate so many more.
Inside as I tiptoe up towards her bedroom I ignore the dark and slick footprints I leave behind on the hardwood stairs. As soon as I open her door I smell the change in the air, there’s no summer in here. I lower myself to the floor by her bed and rest my head on the edge of the mattress. The sheets start to pull what’s left of the pool from my hair.
“Wet?” Her question leaves a smile on her lips but she doesn’t open her eyes.
“Wet,” I respond.
Elizabeth Cottingham is a writer from New Jersey, USA.