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Authors: Stacey Donovan

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Dive (4 page)

BOOK: Dive
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“What did I do to deserve this?” She stretches as she stands and her voice fills this empty place. “Spaghetti with
clam
sauce. There’s no possible relief anywhere in this horrible world.”

“Well, at least there’s a theme here, some
consistency,
this
underwater
kind of thing,” I say.

We laugh.

 

We don’t race-walk. We are, in fact, walking as slowly as old ladies. This place is awful. We look around, staring, speechless, at the houses. They forgot something important when they built this place: imagination. Just what we need—a new place that’s more lifeless than the one we already live in. Every house we pass could be the one before. House after house, porch, blacktop driveway. Identical. Since there are no people around, it’s also completely still.

 

“I wonder who’ll move in,” Eileen finally says.

“Robots. Astronauts, maybe. Sheep.”

“Let’s change the subject,” she says, and her voice changes too, into something hard, impatient.

“Okay. Well, I heard something—it’s a game, sort of.

There are four questions. Ready?”

She only nods, glances at her watch.

We’re standing in the middle of a new black road.

 

“What’s your favorite mammal?”

“Does that include frogs?” she says.

“Frogs are amphibians.”

“So? You didn’t say there were rules.” The hard edge of her tone jumps into her eyes as they become bright. “Eileen, this is a
game.
Don’t go serious on me here.”

What’s wrong? I want to say, but I don’t—I don’t like that new voice of hers. “Okay, we’ll count frogs, since they’re alive. So frogs?”

“No, fish are my favorite.”

“Okay then, fish.” I feel like I’m talking to someone else. Fish?

“Why?”

She’s staring at me. Metamorphic rocks, did she say?

 

“Well, don’t you want to know what
kind
of fish?”

“Sure.” It’s like somebody else has come along and usurped my friend’s body. I struggle to keep my voice regular. “What kind?”

“Goldfish!”

“Uh huh. . . . Why’s that?”

“Is this the game? Because they’re not going to end up dead on some hook. Virginia, did you ever see a goldfish that wasn’t in a bowl? They’re completely
safe.”

 

I don’t think it’s the ideal moment to mention that goldfish are actually carp. Carp are freshwater fish that do not always end up trapped in aquariums. I just say, “I guess so.”

“And they’re so pretty.”

“Same color as your hair.”

“Nice attitude, V. I thought this was a
game.”

“That was a
compliment.”
It’s like there are now two people inside her—the one I know, and this twisted, sarcastic one who is possessing her. I can’t stand it anymore. “It’s like there’s something eating at your brain, Eileen.
What
is it?”

“Nothing, just nothing,
all right?
Is that the end of the game? So let’s get out of here.”

 

I follow. “No.” And no, it’s not all right. “What’s your favorite color?”

“You don’t
know?”
She sighs. “Oh, I don’t know, there’s too many.” Eileen walks faster. I guess we’re race-walking now.

“Body of water?” Something has to give. I know what will happen—finally she’ll explode and tell me everything.

“What?”

“Your favorite.”
Your problem,
I think.

“Oh . . . a stream, I guess. Why? Because it’s gentle, doesn’t go very far. Anything else?”

I laugh before I can stop. She can’t imagine what she’s
admitting,
because she doesn’t know what the questions mean.

“What’s so funny?”

“You have to wait. Last one: You’re in a white room with a curved ceiling. No windows. No doors. How do you feel?”

“How do
I feel?
Like I’m suffocating, the same experience I’m having with these questions. Anyone ever tell you you’re a real
pain?

 

I blink. A Baby Teeth remark enters my mind: Let the wind in. Even though we’re outside, surrounded only by space, the air seems to have vanished. I mean the air
inside
too. Eileen might as well have socked me, the way my stomach feels, clobbered and hollow. That was so unbelievably
mean,
and why? I can only look at Eileen. The back of her, anyway, since she’s already several steps ahead.

 

Instead of turning around to look at me, Eileen eyes her watch. “I really have to go, right now.” She walks faster.

My feet feel numb, like they’re asleep—I can’t go that fast. “Wait.” What’s going on? She’s possessed.

“So hurry up, I gotta get home. Nothing!”

“You don’t eat dinner this early. It can’t even be six o’clock.” I try to catch up, but then I realize I don’t want to.

“If you must know, I’m expecting a phone call, and would you please stop asking so many questions?”

A phone call? Something’s wrong, but she’s not telling me what. This is not like Eileen—she tells me everything. The fact that she’s not is burning the edges of my eyes. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with
her?
“From who?” I finally ask.

 

| | |

 

 

But she doesn’t answer. I want to forget everything else and tell her what the game really means, that the first answer is supposedly who she
really is,
and the second, what somebody
shows
to the world instead. The third one is how somebody feels about
sex,
and the last, about
death.
Look at all the stuff you’re missing about yourself, I want to yell. Don’t you want to know?

 

But when I open my mouth, no sound follows. Like yesterday when we stood outside the vet’s. My new mode of expression. I shut my mouth. Out of the silence looms an unusual thought. It blurs the street below my feet. As I walk behind her, she begins to resemble someone I barely know. With my eyes all out of focus, she even walks like a stranger. Not a word.

Vertigo

 

The sky slants. Before dusk, it hurts my eyes. Soon it will be completely dark. I’m walking home. Nothing exists but my breath. I know this feeling. Usually it comes when something unexpected and momentously awful is about to happen, which doesn’t make sense now. I’m just going home.

 

| | |

 

I had the feeling big in seventh grade, when someone brought a message from the principal’s office into my social studies class one day. The note said my mother wanted me to go directly home after school. It was obvious that something was disastrously wrong, since I’d never received a note from my mother—especially not in school. Even though I knew it was something dreadful, I felt special.

 

That day, as I waited for school to end, I watched myself do what everybody else did. I opened and shut my desk, reached for my books, and since my hands had become unnaturally heavy as I placed pencil tip to page, I kept breaking the black point when I was writing down the populations of Far Eastern countries. So I was sharpening my pencils with my blue whale-shaped sharpener too. I watched myself behave as if nothing was wrong, but what really happened is that a part of me lifted out of my chair and rose to the ceiling of the room and floated there, watching the whole scene. And the me that was left behind in the chair had this gruesome crawling feeling beneath my skin.

 

The feeling is called anxiety, but I didn’t know that then. That was three years ago. Nobody around my neighborhood ever called feelings by names. Only books did. I attached the word to the feeling when I read Dostoyevsky’s
Crime and Punishment.
It’s an old book of my dad’s. Raskolnikov, the main character, was full of anxiety. Obviously, this was because he had killed somebody. Books have saved my life, or stopped me from thinking I’m purely crazy anyway.

 

So I did go directly home after school, but not before I found Baby Teeth. She was telling everybody on the bus line that she had a note and should be able to get on first. We rode home together on my bike. I wanted to put her on the seat, but riding on the handlebars was a big deal for her when she was in first grade, so I let her. The ride was smooth. Even though it was February and unbearably cold, she didn’t complain. The tears just froze on her face. “Are you crying?” I asked when we stopped and I brushed her hair away from her eyes, but she wouldn’t answer. Just offered me her wet-mittened hand, which I held until we were well inside the house. Poor kid, she was scared. And maybe that’s what the feeling in my throat was, like a burst of wind through a pile of leaves.

 

We found my mother, who was usually hovering around the kitchen when we returned from school, sitting in the den with the Wad. The telephone was poised on the arm of her chair. The den walls are made of wood, and heavy drapes edge the windows, so it can be very dark in there at any hour, and it was that day. The drapes had been pulled across the windows. The bronze table lamp was lit, which was unnatural, since it was afternoon. It was eerie.

 

My brother was sitting on the couch staring into the empty fireplace. Baby Teeth let go of my hand. She rammed herself against my mother’s legs, who, instead of grabbing her, which would’ve been a natural mother move to make, just kept her eyes on the telephone. I walked over and took Baby Teeth’s wet mittens off. There were white ducks on them.

“What’s wrong?” I finally asked. All I could hear was my own breath.

“Pop died,” my mother said. Pop was her father. Her already dark eyes turned as black as the drain at the bottom of a sink.

And then it was like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, when the room starts spinning around and a person’s vision becomes very strange, even though the person is not moving at all. For some reason it’s impossible to focus on anything, even if a person tries extremely hard.
Vertigo
is the name of the movie I’m thinking of. Vertigo is the feeling.

 

When I could finally see, it was clear that everyone was crying, because everybody loved Pop. My brother was actually heaving up and down, and Baby Teeth’s face was all crinkled like a wet pillowcase. The words “Pop died” rushed coldly through me. I don’t know how long Lucky was jumping at my legs when I realized he had to go out. After I left the room and found his leash and stood on the lawn with him, what had happened in school started again.

 

It was as if I wasn’t really there. My body was standing next to an apple tree, and my eyes were watching my dog pee, while my mind was wondering if people always died in winter. But really it was as if I’d disappeared. A thousand blue robin’s eggs could have dropped from the sky at that moment and I wouldn’t have noticed. I had never seen my mother cry.

 

So why am I feeling this? My mother’s not crying now. I look up at the sky. It seems to be fading. How can the sky vanish? I haven’t seen her cry since.

If We Were Buffalo and We Ate Grass

 

My mother had stopped crying about Pop by the time my father came home that night. In the late afternoon it seemed to me she finally just swallowed her sadness. She walked into the pantry, opened a bottle of scotch, poured a stiff one, no ice, and swallowed.

 

A stiff one is a double. ‘Up’ means without ice, and ‘over,’ full of ice. Pop, my mother’s dad, said ‘over rocks.’ Alcohol was full of illusion; the actual names for drinks were senseless.

 

Pop drank a Perfect Rob Roy. What was that? It sounded like it belonged in a Texas rodeo, but no, it was made with three different liquors. “Yuck,” I said when he told me they were all mixed together. “Yuck yuck yuck,” I said when he let me taste it. That made him laugh. He always laughed. Pop had a big red face. He was bald. It was hard not to laugh when he did because his entire head would wrinkle and his eyes almost close from all that happy flesh.

 

“It’s an acquired taste,” Pop said.

“Like caviar,” my mother added.

“What’s that?” I’m a kid, maybe six, maybe eight. I don’t know what caviar is.

“Fish eggs.” Pop laughed.

“To eat?” I wondered why so many things were not called what they actually were, but by other names: caviar, bouillabaisse. Why didn’t someone just say, “We’re having some fish stew today”? That’s what bouillabaisse was, after all. I’d learned that from Mrs. Connor, Eileen’s mother, the last time she had invited me to stay for dinner. I said, “No, thank you”—fish stew?

 

It was as if words needed to be disguised and so were made into nonsense. But it wasn’t the words alone that were dangerous—there’s nothing dangerous about fish stew—it was, I decided, what they
could
mean.

 

“Things are just what they are,” said my dad, always so practical. But that wasn’t true. A Perfect Rob Roy was not what it sounded like. They all just laughed, which is what Sundays were full of with Pop around. Neither words nor adults made any sense sometimes.

 

Pop would drive his metallic blue Buick from Brooklyn and pull bags of licorice and bottles of liquor out of his trunk when he arrived. “Make it a stiff one,” he’d call to my dad, as if because a week had passed, my father would’ve forgotten.


Gotcha,” my dad would say, instead of “No kidding, stupid, you have one every Sunday,” or something like that. Everybody was nice to Pop. Probably because he was nice first.

 

We’d sit in the living room. Baby Teeth might be on his lap, waiting for the “Hickory Dickory Dock” rhyme to start, and the Wad and I would sprawl on the couch eating licorice for a while. A roast would be cooking, like always, the air warm with that almost-cooked smell that made my eyes wet.

 

And Pop would say the same stuff he’d said the week before. “The stock market is worse!” or “That traffic is out of this world.” There was always a speech about my mother’s delicious roasts and God bless his wife’s soul he didn’t care that she couldn’t cook he had cleaned his plate anyway. “Don’t remind me,” my mother would say.

BOOK: Dive
8.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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