No Diving, No Running
by Andrew Cothren
Real shame, what happened to the Cooper boy. A tragedy, no two ways. Couldn’t begin to imagine. To go through a thing like that? At their age? My heart just breaks.
But of course people get up on their horses, talk about pool covers, locked gates and fences, and how dare someone take their eyes off a child for five seconds, but you know what? When Mary Horn’s yippy Bichon Frise got plucked out of her backyard by that red-tailed hawk, everyone was all sympathy. She had stacks of casseroles just sitting there on her porch, all wrapped in foil. People sent cards. Emma and I saw her in the grocery store, maybe two weeks later? She was wearing a black veil, makeup dripping down her cheeks. People still put hands on her shoulders, asked how she was doing. Even I felt obligated to carry her bags to her car and put them in the trunk alongside a pile of wilting funeral bouquets.
But the Coopers don’t get that treatment. Cars slow down in front of their house, drivers rubbernecking to catch a glimpse of the pool, to see if they’ve filled it in with dirt or blown it up or who the hell knows what else. Far as anyone can tell they never come outside. Hasn’t been a bag of garbage on their curb for a month. Their car just sits in the driveway collecting pollen.
I saw their grass was getting long a few days ago, so I rolled my mower over after doing our lawn and took care of it for them. Got a couple looks, neighbors craning their necks on the sidewalk or around screen doors. Everything in the Coopers’ garden was dying of thirst, cooking in the sun.
When I finished mowing the backyard, I looked up and Rachel Cooper was sitting on the porch steps, beer in hand. Her too-big T-shirt was wrinkled like she’d worn nothing else for days. Underslept and underfed, squinting in the setting sun; chapped lips and long toenails. It might’ve just been the late afternoon sunlight, but I felt heat coming from her as I approached, like the warmth from a sick child.
She handed me an open bottle and we sat down, silent, drinking next to one another on the top step. Cicada chirps rose, fell, and rose again. I saw I’d been careless around the pool—large clumps of grass floated on the surface, or else slowly sank to the murky bottom. She and I sat staring at the neglected, algae-green water.
Rachel pointed at the mower, a small dot of old nail polish still clinging near her cuticle. “Ours doesn’t work,” she said. The motor clicked in response, cooling. “Never really worked.”
“I can come back in a couple weeks,” I said. “Bring the weedwacker, too. If you want.”
She didn’t answer. Next door, the Bissells had built a wooden playset and their twin girls rode the swings, the tops of their heads peeking intermittently over the fence, blonde pigtails disobeying gravity. I caught Rachel staring at them; she looked away and occupied herself with cracked paint on the porch railing, peeling off a large chip and rubbing it between her fingers.
“Do we fill it in?” Rachel asked. “Or do we leave?”
I looked at the water, imagined her or her husband finding their son there, already gone, and knew that if I were them I’d want to pull the house down board by board, dig the yard down to bedrock, fill the pool with the remains and drive away. Leave the empty lot to be taken over by weeds. And I’d want someone to tell me we’d done the right thing.
“You keep going,” I said instead. I knew as soon as I spoke that the words had landed flat. She looked disappointed, unsure exactly what she’d expected of me.
Rachel threw back the last of her beer, then put her hand on my shoulder to help herself up. She gave a quick thankful squeeze before she went back inside. “See you next week,” she said through the screen door.
Slowly, I finished the last few warm sips. I left the bottle on the top step and began pushing the mower back across the yard. Several houses away, someone washed a car. Soapy water trickled into the sewer. The odor of lighter fluid and charred meat hung in the air. As I walked home, the streetlights clicked on up and down the block and, almost instantly, each was surrounded by a cloud of insects throwing themselves against the glass, bouncing away, and trying again.
Image for Honeymoon Suite appears courtesy of Flickr user Simon Law.