Drowning

His eyes were swimming pool blue. The cars on the street, the smell of a passerby’s cigarette, the shriek of the espresso machine inside the cafe, all faded away when he looked at her; a thrill like the first time you dip your feet into pool water on a hot summer day.

 

“I’m so glad you wanted to meet me here, Cara. I’ve just—been dealing with some stuff lately, and I need to talk to somebody. You’re the best listener I know and I just need to talk to someone about Jenny.”

“Didn’t you guys break up…a while ago?”

“Yeah. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I’m still dealing with all kinds of junk from that relationship. She just had all these demands. She was so controlling. Anyway, now she wants my couch.”

“Your couch? Seriously? She just all of a sudden wants your couch?”

“I know, right? It’s absurd! It’s just kind of opened up a bunch of old feelings and stuff. Sounds stupid, but you get used to being bullied around like that. Partly why I wanted to talk to you. You’re so undemanding, Cara. I love that about you. I feel like we can sit here and enjoy coffee and you don’t have all these expectations, like I’m a performing dog, or something.”

“Well, coffee for you, and a hot chocolate for me! … But I’m really glad you feel that way. You can come talk to me any time, seriously. I’m always available! Um…to be a listening ear, I mean. Always glad to listen. And help. However, you know. I’m a help-y type person!”

“Ha, well, that’s why I’m here! Came to the right place, I guess?”

“Yep. Help. Maybe not so much on not being socially awkward, but…”

“Oh, I like that part of you, too.”

 

The water in the swimming pool was as cold as it looked and she surfaced, gasping in shock. Too fast—she’d intended to slip in slowly, but she surfaced laughing, anyway, and floated on her back as the sun made crystal spangles out of the water lapping around her.

 

“Oh, hey Parker! You rearranged while I was gone! I thought we were going to do it together, after you’d got all your stuff moved in?”

“Yeah, but your energy was all messed up in here, and I just couldn’t take it. I’m taking that yellow chair of yours down to the curb—that thing is an eyesore. Where on earth did you even get a piece of crap like that?”

“It was my grandma’s…I really love that chair, Parker. I always sit there in the mornings with my breakfast. Reminds me of her. Please bring it back.”

“I can’t believe you’re making a big deal about this. You’re usually such a chill person. It’s an eyesore. I’m doing you a favor.”

“But—”

“Look, don’t get all mad at me. I just want to keep the peace. If you have to have it, we’ll put it in the dining room. And hon, you’re not eating breakfast alone anymore, remember? At least, I kind of hope you don’t want to sit alone in a chair, when I’m going to be back in our bed, eating the fantastic bacon and eggs and pancakes breakfast I’m making for us tomorrow.”

“Mmm…yeah? That sounds pretty good. I guess…I guess it can go in the dining room. –But only if I get breakfast in bed a lot, hear?”

“Anything for you, babe.”

 

She squinted against the glare on the water, a headache tightening behind her eyes. She wasn’t ready to get out yet, but it looked like there was some shade over at the far end of the swimming pool that she could rest in. But after a few moments paddling through the water, the edge of the pool looked very far away, almost as if she’d been swimming away from it all this time. Confused, she put her feet down to stand up and get her bearings. She sank. The water had closed over her head before she reacted and thrashed to the surface, spluttering and wiping water out of her eyes. There was nothing underneath her. Experimentally, she went underwater again, reaching for the bottom, and again she kept dropping, down, down… Opening her eyes, she looked beneath her. A deep, fathomless blue sunk beneath her. There was no bottom. Surfacing, she shut her eyes and breathed in deeply. No need to panic; she’d just swim back to the edge and get out.

 

“Are you ready to go, Park?”

“What? Ready to go where?”

“To the concert! You know, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, playing the score from Star Wars? The one I’ve only been talking about for months?  I’m so excited! I actually went out and splurged on a necklace I thought would look nice with—wait, what are you dressed like that for? It’s a formal event; come on, let’s get ready! I don’t want to be late—I like to hear them warm up; all that mixed up jangle of strings and horns and…why are you looking at me like that?”

“You know it’s pool night.”

“What do you mean, pool night? We planned a date night, remember? I bought these tickets forever ago, and I got a dress—”

“I told you two weeks ago it’s Rob’s birthday tonight and all of us guys are celebrating tonight at pool night.”

“I…but…I can’t believe this. You don’t even like Rob! You called him an ‘pompous idiot’ just last week!”

“What the heck is your problem? Why do you keep doing this? Every time I don’t do the thing you want me to do, you throw a fit and get all crazy—”

“I’m not throwing a fit I just—”

“And it’s never your fault. You’re completely reasonable, only your ‘completely reasonable’ means I have to toe the line, I have to do every little thing the way you want it. I’m sick of your controlling attitude! You used to be so hands off about things—I don’t know what the heck happened to that girl, but she sure isn’t the one I’m living with now!”

“Parker—I didn’t mean to—”

“I’m leaving. I’ll be back by one.”

“…I’m sorry.”

 

Her arms and legs ached. The final rays of daylight were shooting through pink and gold clouds, but down by the pool a cool air began to rise off the water. She told herself she’d not been swimming as long as she thought she had. There had to be an edge soon. Everything would be fine. Glassy ripples flamed a reflection up to the sky, and she could see nothing.

 

“I bet you think you’re real clever, Cara.”

“What do you mean?—hey, can you taste this? I don’t know if I put in enough salt.”

“Don’t change the subject. I know what you were doing last Tuesday at lunch.”

“…I was eating lunch…”

“Oh you’re really funny, Cara. I’m splitting my sides. See, I was across the street at Nathan’s Diner, and I saw you there. I saw you with another man. Do you think I’m going to let you get away with that?”

“Now, wait, just hold on—it was my boss. He had that brief I did all the overtime for, a few weeks ago, and he offered to get me lunch just as a thank you—and I even texted you, just like you always ask me to, to ask if it was okay, and you wouldn’t answer because you were mad at me, remember?”

“Oh no you don’t! You are not making this my fault. You always make it about you, poor little victim Cara! Too bad I know better.”

“Okay, okay, calm down! I’m sorry! It was just lunch!”

“Stop making excuses! I know the truth! Tell me the truth!”

“Ow! Stop, Parker, stop!”

 

The darkness swelled around her. The only part of her visible was her head, just barely bobbing above the sheet of black water. Her hair was pasted to her head and she shivered. Desperate, she spoke into the void: “Help?” Silence answered. There was nothing else to do, so she kept calling: “Help! Help me! Please! Help!”

 

Far away, a light flipped on, just a bright dot in the darkness. She started swimming for it.

 

 

 

 

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