by Jonathan Edward Doyle
The water was conspicuous in its absence, the emptiness a physical form with weight and meaning. The lining was surprisingly drab; the blue sheet pale and dull and unrecognisable from the brilliant shimmering presence it normally commanded. The pool was hexagonal in shape and not at all large, maybe six meters in diameter. He stood at the edge and peered in, the weathered wood decking already hot in the morning sun. The floor had a crease that was normally unnoticeable but now obvious and worrying. An assortment of twitching arthropods struggled with unknown futility to rise from the bottom of the damp pit, their legs exhausted and wings wet and bodies slowly cooking in the sun’s early but endless tirade. The walls were sheer and lined with a slippery green-white scum – the product of many sun-creamed swimmers and some algal species that could evade chlorine or whatever else they used in pools these days. He turned away from the scene and looked back at the house. It was long and boxy, a single story building painted white and yellow with deep orange ceramic features and wooden window frames. It was a fine house. The living area opened out onto a patio with plastic tables and chairs and a ‘roof’ of wooden beams and a tacked material for shade. A green lawn spread from the terrace and abruptly terminated about 50 feet out, a row of arylide rocks separating it from the wild dry scrub. There were no houses or buildings in sight from this side of the house; the (illusion of) complete isolation was strange and welcome and felt a little special. He saw the vague silhouette of someone inside and promptly the door opened. His nephew stepped out wearing bathing shorts that passed his knee and no shirt. He raised his hand in a small gesture and his nephew returned it.
The boy sat on a dark green chair scratching his belly and watched his uncle approach. He looked troubled in a distant way, but the boy didn’t ask why. He thought he already knew.
“Seen the pool?”
“It’s been emptied. A man named Jose came first thing this morning to do it for us. Apparently he always does it on the fourth.”
“Doesn’t he fill it on the fourth too?”
He shrugged and shook his head at the same time. “Apparently I’ve got to do it.”
The nephew was still scratching his belly. “We didn’t even swim in it yet.”
The uncle walked to the side of the house and began uncoiling the hose. The pool guy had taken a phone call, and, removing the draining tube and giving half-comprehensible instructions on amounts and concentrations of something called Tricholor, pointed madly at the hose pipe. The decidedly animated man had said ‘fill!’ several times before driving off in his van. He dragged a few armfuls of coils to the edge of the pool and returned to the source to turn on the tap. He saw the brightly coloured tin of chemical tablets lying nearby and found instructions (in English) on the back.
“Don’t you need gloves or something to do that?”
“Don’t worry about it.” He added the recommended amount and turned the water up full. “Easy peasy.”
The boy peered into the pool with a grimace. “That’s going to take a while.”
He got them each a glass of orange juice and they sat together in the shade. An egret landed on the lawn and waddled forwards with its head nodding and bobbing. It was a brilliant white in the sunshine and stood out against the patchy green surface and the surrounding backdrop of thirsty yellows and browns.
“Everyone is wondering about you, but you seem okay to me.”
“If you are okay?”
“Yes. I am.”
The boy nodded as if this was the only fair answer. “Yeah.”
The nephew and uncle sat and watched the bird wander across the lawn in a weaving pattern that looked as if it had no intended purpose. Water fizzed into the pool and he remembered that he had not removed the fauna from the bottom. A deep melancholy fell over him that he did not fully understand but had to endure all the same. The nephew averted his gaze to the gaping blue void.
“That pool sure looks sad.”
The boy looked behind him into the house to see if anyone else had stirred. He had wanted to go the beach early, the secluded one where there was nothing but sand and sea and cliffs and rocks, and watch the shadows shrink and the sun rise high in the endless blue sky of hope and escape. They hadn’t gotten up and it was too late. Besides, now they had to stay and fill the pool. An increasingly familiar sense came over him, a sort of strange homesickness that was not necessarily linked to the immediate present and could come and go at any time or place, home or otherwise. He was beginning to think that life itself was all just an overly complicated attempt to avoid this feeling. He asked again because he didn’t know what else to say.
“You sure you’re okay?”
He took a shower to remove the salt from his hair. The water was warm and he increased the temperature gradually until it turned his skin pink. He dried and dressed and went outside onto the terrace. They had made it to the beach eventually, watching shadows grow rather than shrink, watching people leave instead of arrive. They didn’t know if it was better or worse that way. They drove back to the house across dusty roads and through tiny villages of low peeling buildings and cobbled streets. Now they sat together but did not speak. The dusty, xerophytic land ran on to anhydrous hills, now peppered with worn looking animals of deep brown and off-white. He returned inside to get a sweater, the cool breeze and setting sun producing a piloerectory chill against the deep heat of the day past. The nephew watched him get up without saying a word and he returned the same way. The silence was not an awkward one. The sun was low but bright, casting stretched shadows over the burnt orange tiles, turning the pool from its diurnal cerulean into an uninviting steel blue. An array of crawling creatures emerged in the soft light, a variety of insects and arachnids and crustaceans, seemingly aimless in their scrabbling and buzzing. A faint ringing could be heard from the cow bells.
The nephew turned to him and nodded.
“Why not grab a jumper then?”
He got up and went inside, down into their wing of the building. From outside the faint hiss of a shower could be heard. They were still washing the day from themselves. The nephew came back out with a hooded top and sat back down.
“They still showering?”
“Yeah.” He scuffed at the patio with his foot. “Is gran?”
“I think she’s reading inside.”
“They are going out for a meal I think.”
“No, I’ll stay. There’s food in the fridge, leftovers from yesterday.”
“Mind if I stay?”
“Of course not.” The wind was picking up and he folded his arms for warmth. “It’ll make me look less self-pitying too. That’s not why I don’t want to go; I’m just enjoying it here.”
“It’s nice right here.”
The sun was halfway behind the horizon, the sky powder blues and pastel pinks. The burning disc looked placid, sinking into the land as if it had accepted its fate. Across the neighbouring field to their right the dark outline of a little owl could be seen on the telephone wires. He was a nightly visitor, sitting and watching the floor during the twilight hours. The mass stridulation of creatures unseen was beginning again.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Do you believe what you write?”
“In what way?”
“In the only way.”
“I’m not sure.”
The nephew nodded as if this was the only fair answer.
They came out of the house one by one and sat near them. No one greeted another aloud and they all knew they shouldn’t. They sat a while, staring out across the land and the heavens, listening to the land and whatever inhabited it. After a short while they got into the car and drove to find somewhere to drink and eat, leaving the nephew and uncle on the patio, wrapped in clothes against biting insects and the cold, like ancient men watching the earth spin.
“They told me a lot of what’s happened. They told me about you.”
“I hope not.”
“They told me about him. They said that he was lost and my mother was lost too but you helped find her.”
The sun had gone now, off to fulfil promises to other nations. The sun keeps its promises.
“They said that you have been nobly running from something inescapable all your life but you refuse to give up.”
“Who said that?”
“She did. My mother.”
“I think I’m starting to feel it. I think it’s at my door. It’s a panic, right? Something you can’t describe any better than that. Panic.”
“It’s nothing, that’s why it can’t be described.”
“It’s a hole that loses anything you fill it with.”
“It’s not impossible.”
“It’s something to do with the future and the past and how they are sad when thought about.”
“People try many different ways but I think the solution is pretty much a variation on a theme.”
“You can do it. People have done it. They have done it. Your parents.”
The obsidian night was close but it did not worry them.
“I believe what I write wholeheartedly. I believe that I’ve never written anything but a true word. If someone thinks something, and experiences something just as vividly as if it had actually, physically occurred, what’s the difference? If someone goes throughout life believing in a God that will save them on the Last Day, and then they enter their last moments and whatever physiological or biochemical things happen at that time happen, and they feel weightless and weird and maybe see a light or some scenes from their past and a few familiar faces and now they are crying with joy at these faces and it turns out it was all true and then they die. That person gets to heaven, irrespective of whether or not it exists. Can you see that?”
“If someone dies and their loved ones are hugely upset, I mean wailing at the funeral upset, and then those people go out into the world as society states they must and start doing things slightly differently just in case that person is watching over them. And in times of need they find that extra strength because that person is with them, supporting them. Where is that person really?”
“He’s with them.”
“I think I’m almost there. I can see what I need to do. I’m figuring out ways of doing it. We’ll do it. I promise.”
Jonathan Edward Doyle is a graduate of Zoology. He lives in the UK with friends and his twin brother.
Artwork: “Mad Tea Party” by Abigail Larson