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Authors: Stacey Donovan

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Dive (7 page)

BOOK: Dive
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Surprised? What could be more surprising than the guy who to my silly kid eyes seemed bigger than trees being unable to move?

“Does he know we’re coming?”

“Of course he knows.”

I don’t ask what I’m thinking. If it were me, I wouldn’t want anybody else around. If I were too tired to eat, I’d probably just feel like pulling the covers over my head and sleeping. But if I couldn’t move, then what?

 

Along the approach to the highway, there’s a major intersection. “I’ve been thinking about what I said to you the other night,” my mother says, her eyes watching the dangling traffic light.

What night? I do not say this out loud because I do not want to say
anything
out loud to her. And why is she doing this
now?
But okay, it’s either last night’s charming conversation about Loretta Getz’s drug mishap, or it’s
Monday’s
nightmare . . . my poor Lucky.
I
do not
want to talk about it. I glance at my hands, clenched into fists—red, not pale at all.

 

“Look,” I say, hoping to end any chat here, “I don’t take drugs.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about your dog.”

Oh, no, not now. “Is he still in the den?” I ask, because I can’t help it. I had moved Lucky’s bowls and blanket there this morning because the den is quiet. I hope he will sleep there when I’m not around.

“He’s in the den. I just went home; he’s fine. Answer me.”

 

Will this light ever change? My eyes veer away from it, land on the red side of the Dairy Bam. I hate the Dairy Barn because there seems to be one everywhere I go.

 

Everything is red. I feel like a bull. If it’s red, why can’t I be in my room, looking at my favorite red box? I have a collection of boxes. I could just sit and peacefully look at the red one for as long as I wanted. I could sing to my dog. It’s impossible. I can’t ignore her.

 

| | | | | |

 

I know my mother never wanted Lucky, but I didn’t know why. On Monday, I agreed to work three days a week for Dr. Wheatie, in exchange for Lucky’s operation and cast. I said I would start when school ended for the summer.

 

When Mr. Utley dropped me off, the first thing I did was grab the special green blanket from its place by his food bowl in the kitchen. I fluffed it and smoothed it and laid Lucky down. Then I washed the blood off my hands. With a warm, damp cloth, I wiped all over him, searching for any spots of dried crud the vet might have missed.

 

I murmured and pleaded in the nonsense language that seems to flow in emergencies and that, really, lies. “It’s okay, boy, you’re so so good. It’s okay, my little dog-head, baby bark.” Nothing was okay, but Lucky finally stopped shaking. I carried him, in the new cradle way, to the den, where it was cool and dark, and
I
started shaking. For a few minutes it seemed like I might never stop. Then Eileen called, but I couldn’t talk to her; my throat seemed to close when I tried. So I sat there shaking, waiting for Lucky to fall asleep on the couch.

 

Then my mother called from the engineering firm where she worked. My would-be pet-murderer mother. “So you didn’t go to school.”

“Eureka,” I said. My throat ached.

“Well, how are you?” she asked in her everything’s-fine office voice.

Was she joking? Delusional? Pretty good for a person with a dead dog, I thought. I wanted to spit into the phone. She thought Lucky was dead and I would go to school anyway. Such a big heart.

 

“Poor Lucky; I’m sorry.” Her voice strummed with something. Was it satisfaction?

“Lucky’s fine too.” Saying his name seemed to empty me. I was drained. So how could my eyes fill with tears?

“What?” If satisfaction had strummed, its opposite snapped.

“He’s got a cast. He’ll have a limp.” There was just my empty voice. The tears dried.

“We’ll talk about it when I get home.”

 

We didn’t pretend with “hello” or “good-bye” anymore, so “What’s going on? Who paid for this?” is what she said when she found us later. Lucky was wrapped in the blanket, all peaceful. I was stretched out beside him, reading Shakespeare. Some bright, angry thing climbed into her eyes when she looked at him. My poor dog even tried to wag his tail. Then he howled in pain.

 

“I am. Leave me alone.” I held his tail.

“I’ll ignore that. That’s a lot of money for a crippled old dog.”

“He’s not crippled,” I said. No, he’s not tripping into his grave just yet. She’s such a liar. Like I said, she states only the obvious and lies about everything else.

“Leave me alone—don’t ignore it.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, get away from me! Can’t you hear me?” I tried not to yell because I didn’t want Lucky shaking again.

Then another part of me, quiet and calm, said, “Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re the crippled old dog.”

 

She reached for me then, and I stood up. Lucky didn’t budge, but Shakespeare thudded to the floor. I hadn’t realized I was bigger than she was. “Don’t touch me. You’ll be sorry.” My hands were fists.

“Well, that figures,” she said, as if that made any sense. But she backed away, and her shoulders slumped and she looked so small.

 

My mother began to leave, but then she turned, her mouth twisted, like a rag being wrung dry. “I never had a dog. I found an abandoned puppy once, all alone in a cardboard box on the street, and I brought it home. It disappeared the next day.”

 

Her voice was filled with something wild. There were branches in it. Like the ones that smashed against the living-room picture window in a bad storm, scraping and scratching. “My sister and I couldn’t stop crying,” she said. “We had meat loaf for dinner that night, and it tasted bad. We didn’t know why; all we knew was that we had to eat it, every bite of it, before we were allowed to leave the table. It was dog food—I had scraped the change together myself and bought the first can.”

 

My mother’s eyes shone like the steel-capped streetlights. The whole room seemed to glow. She crossed her arms and gripped her own shoulders with those pale hands.

“I didn’t know until later that my mother had drowned the dog. She told me, no, she confessed to me, when she was dying. You know why? She wanted me to forgive her.”

 

“Why?” Was that my choking voice? Were those branches in my throat?

And then her eyes were dark. “You tell me, little girl, since you can take care of everything yourself.” I opened my mouth, which made no sound.

“My mother said we were too poor to have a dog. But my father had just bought a new car. So you tell me why, since you’ve got all the answers.”

 

And then she was big again. So big those words filled the room and the rest of her yanked all sense away with one choking look. I had no answers. The world vanished until I heard the ice cubes clattering into a glass in the pantry. It sounded like someone falling down a flight of stairs. I looked at the place where my mother had been standing. It was just empty space.

 

| | | | | |

 

I’m numb. The light changes and the car inches forward. “Yes. I thought about it.” I sound like a stranger. “Well, I should never have told you that, and I’m sorry I did.” My mother returns to silence, her eyes on the road ahead.

 

Why? Don’t say it, my mind says. Not a word. I can barely see her face because she has one of those sleek haircuts that sweeps forward, in a supposedly carefree way, around the face. But it looks good on her, like everything else does, in that tailored, polished way she has that gives off the warmth of a stone. She’s decent-looking for someone over forty, I decide. The thought surprises me. Why shouldn’t she have told me? Wasn’t it true? It’s a bigger surprise when I start to wonder if I’ll ever know her. Does she ever tell the truth? Or is it me, not being able to tell what the truth is anymore?

Where Are the Windows?

 

My dad is still green.

 

All that moves are his eyes. They are unparalleled, really, in their way of seeing everything at once, with a look that digs holes in whatever he’s focusing on. In this instance, me.

“Hey, Dad.” I stand in the doorway, willing my voice to sound regular, not full of the shock I feel when I see him. A jolt rushes up my legs as if I have jumped from a dangerous height.

 

“Hey, Virginia.” My dad is horizontal under a faded yellow blanket on the steel bed. The blanket does little for his moldy complexion, but the blue of his eyes deepens above it. “You just missed Edward,” he says. His voice is as flat as his hair, which is stuck to his head with sweat.

 

“So there is a God.” I roll my eyes heavenward. At least he can laugh. Then he starts coughing. I want to apologize. He’s actually green, like damp moss is stuck to his face. Only his eyes are the same, unwavering blue. “Are you okay?” I say. He sits up slowly, but he
can
move. Relief floods my throat, and at that instant I gulp so much air I choke on it.

 

“Are
you
all right?” He stops coughing finally and stares at me. Why didn’t I just walk in and crash my face into the wall? I’m choking like I swallowed a chain-link fence. That my dad doesn’t have on the blue plaid pajamas he was wearing when he left the house yesterday doesn’t help. The green-striped pair he’s got on shocks me—because maybe they make me feel like he’s going to
stay
here. But I eventually swallow and say, “See, Mom said you were . . .”

“She looks worse than I do, don’t you think? Where is she? Come in, come in, sit down.” He impatiently waves his hand toward a metal chair with an orange vinyl seat. “And don’t tell her that.”

 

I sit. We both ignore the sound the puffy seat makes, and I momentarily feel that the “intestinal” problem of Eileen’s father has become my own. “She’s getting you some stuff in the cafeteria. You do look a little—drained.” My own face is hot. “That’s good.” He nods. “Drained. Accurate. The way they’re taking my blood, I will be drained. She tell you?”

I nod. “Uh-huh.” I look around the dismal room. There’s another bed, which is empty; another, I’m sure, flatulent chair; and a large shelf near the ceiling with a television set on it that tilts down in an unbalanced way. “Nice place,” I say. “Cozy, huh?”

 

“You said it. Take a cozy disinfectant and call me in the morning. If you’re going to die, start in a clean place. That ensures your trip to—what’s that place?—heaven.” One of his hands presses against his chest. Maybe it’s sore from coughing.

“Shut up, Dad. Nobody’s going to
die,”
I say, which is possibly the most inane statement I’ve ever uttered. For all I know, the previous tenant of that empty bed just did. I’m in a
hospital.
People croak in hospitals, V.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Sorry. So, anything happening?” He slides himself back under the covers. The coughing fit brought a ruddy tinge to his face, but it’s draining fast.

“Oh, you know. Not much.” Right. So tell him some tall dog tales. “Yeah. Sure.”

My thoughts exactly.

 

“So how is she?”

“What?” I say. My mind is wandering—no, sprawling.

All I see for a few moments is green, and it’s not my dad’s face. It’s that damned VW, racing through my head again. “Your mother. She looks like hell, as we’ve already mentioned. So how is she otherwise?”

“I guess she probably feels like hell too,” I say. I can feel myself blink. This room is too small.

 

My dad rubs his hand over his eyes, winces, looks at me. “It wasn’t always like this,” he says. “She used to be . . . like a light switch. You wouldn’t believe how much she used to laugh. The reason I married her is because of the way she used to slap her leg when she laughed—as if that might help her stop, because she couldn’t once she got going.” He slaps the air with his hand. “You wouldn’t believe it. . . .”

 

Embarrassed, I feel my forehead furl. I’m uncomfortable because I do—and I don’t—want to hear this. What happened? I really want to know, but it’s too much to ask that now. “She’s not laughing too much these days” is all I say.

“We do the best we can, isn’t that right?” He’s still wincing.

 

The black telephone has been pulled so close to his bed, its cord looks ready to snap from the wall. It sits on a high, wheeled table, next to a box of tissues and a maroon plastic pitcher.

“So you’ve been working?” I say.

“Nah, just in case they need me.” We both gaze at the phone. “Deadline, you know.”

My dad’s in advertising. A long time ago, he was one of the first to put live animals in TV ads. Sounds dumb, but his company made a fortune. Now he does “concept” stuff, which really means all he does is talk.

“Big account?” Why am I saying this? Go ahead, tell him the smell of the room is making you dizzy.

“Nah, small potatoes. Toothpaste. Some print ads.” He can move. He’s not exhausted. I wonder if he’s faking.

 

“You could watch TV.” Oh, I see. My brain won’t stop chattering these stupid things because it’s not used to my dad like this. So green and helpless in that huge bed. It makes me nervous.

“Not today. Got a headache. So tell me something.”

“What?” Why is his hair plastered down on his head so that he looks like somebody in a cartoon? Does he know it? So that’s what she meant by “cleaning him up.”

“Anything. How’s the lucky dog? Today’s favorite philosophy flavor.” His hands rest on the blanket. I don’t know why they look so big.

 

“Wrong kid,” I say. “I’m not Baby Teeth.”

If it’s possible, his eyes frown.

“Okay. Lucky ate breakfast, he walked a little, hooray.

What I learned in school today is the foundation of any romantic attachment is passion.”

He doesn’t blink. “What the hell does that mean?”

“You tell me.”

My dad groans.
“Attachment
is the wrong word there.

Try
engagement, entanglement,
even better. Now you’re talking. That’s English, the class?”

BOOK: Dive
11.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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