Swimming Pools: A Short Story
“I’m your conscience, if you don’t hear me.” – Kendrick Lamar
Something is happening to my brain. It isn’t an hallucination and it isn’t a dream, it doesn’t happen when I am asleep or half awake, it isn’t surreal, I don’t know why it happens and I don’t know where it is happening. It started in June and has been happening for the past couple of weeks. From nowhere, for no reason, I will stop being where I am and instead be outside a swimming pool on a very sunny day. I can’t see myself and I can’t see anyone else, all I can see is this pool and there is a child proof gate surrounding the entire pool area. Towards the left there is a gate and it reaches my waist and though I can’t feel the wind at all, the gate is moving, first towards me then away from me, and then it stops and locks itself. This happens once, twice, three times, and then everything fades to black for an instant, and I am in the lawyer’s office where I have been a clerk, you know paralegals? Well I’m their manservant, for the past five years, after graduating magna cum sucky from John Jay.
It’s a nowhere job for a man going nowhere, I do my time and go to my one bedroom co-op apartment near a graveyard in Hillside. Every other week I spend with my mom and dad in Long Island. My biggest extravagance is season tickets, nosebleeds but behind home plate and an aisle seat, for the Mets at Citi Field. I’m obsessed with the Mets… and the Jets, but I can’t afford season tickets for the Jets so I go to a pre-season game or a late Sunday where people are flogging their tickets because it starts late and it’s cold. It has been depressing going to Mets in 2017, we aren’t going anywhere. I get there early if the weather is nice and just sit and do nothing, not even think, I just sit there waiting for the game to begin. I post a couple of pictures on my Instagram account, my friend Sid always likes my pictures and one time a girl I know at work like one, but that’s about it. Two years ago I was there for the World Series, a sad series but a great series. Sid blamed me for the loss on Facebook: “The curse of Abel Schumer Strikes Again”. I haven’t seen Sid much this year, he has a girlfriend and she doesn’t like me. It’s like a thing but I get it, that’s what happens when geeks get girls, they break up all the old friendships. When I was with Selena I lost track of Sid for the year and then when I lost her, we came back together. I think Sid’s girl will last longer. It has been five years since she went but Selena was always the wrong speed for me anyway, we didn’t make sense together at all. Now, when I call Sid he doesn’t answer and when I wanna catch the new “Wonder Woman” he has already seen it. I don’t mind though I remember being a team of two trying to figure out girls.
“It isn’t us, it’s them…” Sid would declaim.
“It’s them.” I’d agree. We’d had this discussion before.
“Girls are shallow, the girls here are too shallow.”
“It’s Queens… like if we found the right girls, they’d love us.”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“They want jocks…”
“Why wouldn’t they? But we know these guys, remember in Junior High. Before Seth changed, he was one of us and they didn’t like him and now…”
“He’s the same guy.”
“That’s what I’m saying exactly…”
Girls, we were the not doing too well with girls guys. I don’t drink much or do much weed, I don’t have many friends at all, and as for romance, I consider myself a sexual pacifist. I’ve only had one girlfriend, Selena Mendez, while I was at John Jay, but she broke up with me and that was it for love. So I work and I daydream about Selena coming back, though I know she’s married with a child now, and that’s my life. Then for the past weeks this gate keeps on coming to life. Because it is coming to life, I once brought my hand to my eyes while I was by the swimming pool and I could absolutely see my hand: there it was. And it was very hot and I could feel the sweat trickling down my back and I had my Mets Cap in my hand and I could see was the gate swinging, swinging, swinging…
It happened again last night, a calm and warm Sunday that I’d spent watching Jay Bruce strike out at Citi Field before they traded him. Then I stopped off for some pizza and went home and watched ESPN News and had my swinging gate vision or whatever it was and instead of walking through the gate I looked around. This was a change, it isn’t that the vision was changing, it was that I was less nervous about it. A house but not a huge house, and the pool was there but it wasn’t a big pool. Whoever lived there was not rich but the water looked crisp and clean and something to the side of the water I could barely see it… and then I tried to walk around, like I was in a VR game, but I couldn’t see what I was looking for and then I closed my eyes and thought about Selena. It wasn’t memories, not even memories of memories, not going back to a certain place in a story I liked a lot or anything like that: my thoughts were so distorted after spending the day alone listening to the ticking of my brain in the loud ballpark and the sun, and the smell of my skin, stale halfman stench, that it was more like a split second image of where I was six years ago, I would snap it like a camera and push hard and for a millisecond it was like I was there. The second time I kissed her. In a bar on Tenth Avenue and we had the same class and afterwards Selena wanted a drink and when we walked to the bar, she took my arm.
Wait, I don’t want to remember that, I want a different moment, better even than that. Maybe a month earlier Selena was sitting on a park bench and I was walking by and I wondered whether to come and say something, she looked a mess. I didn’t know her more than a nod of the head, but I thought she needed help; she had her hands scrunched up into fists and was crying into em and I just stopped and said “Hey…” And she looked up at me. I’m not that tall, I’m five seven, but Selena is tiny, four nine and was so pretty she looked beautiful with red eyes and snot trickling down her face. I thought, “I want to lick the snot off her upper lip.” She looked up and sort of recognized me and put her arms around my neck and cried and cried. We were both twenty-one at the time, I remember that and in my mind’s eye I stop everything and there is just the feel of her arm around my neck, I can taste her tears and I can feel her in my arms and she is pressing her body against mine and I feel like a perv because it excited me. She just said “Pedro,” like that would mean something, and again. “Pedro.” You sometimes wonder why a girl goes for you, don’t you? Well, I didn’t wonder why Selena went for me. Her reason was simple. I wasn’t Pedro. I’d find out later that he was a police officer, a large one, beefy; he got into fights, sometimes with Selena, and had a jealous streak. When I first dated Selena? I was terrified, I think he simply didn’t believe we were dating, he couldn’t envision me as real competition. Finally, Selena pulled herself off my shoulder and handed me her cell phone, opened to a text. “Fuck you back, you fucking bitch. No bitch owns me. I’ll fuck who I want. Fucking disrespect me I’ll slap the taste outta your mouth”. Then she began to cry again.
I lay in my bed with the lights off, totally alone in the world. I mean, except for Sid, and my parents, especially my Mom, the one person I knew who believed in me, who I turned to when Selena ended it with me, the one woman… anyway, alone in bed with the image of Selena in my mind’s eye rocking me to sleep and then I opened my eyes and it was light outside the window, I think, the curtains were drawn but not all the way but I didn’t have curtains, I had blinds and as my eyes grew accustomed to the dark it didn’t look like my bedroom, it didn’t smell like my bedroom either, it wasn’t all stinky sneakers and stale clothes and dried semen. It smelled like a woman, it smelled good and then my eyes grew more accustomed to the room and I saw a woman standing by the window, looking out to the future somewhere and she spoke and her voice was dull and cold, and I recognized it. Selena said, “I don’t see how you can sleep today of all days.” I felt as though I’d just stepped into the middle of a movie but whatever that made me feel mostly I was so happy, I was suddenly the happiest I had been in years. “I may never sleep again,” she said. But it wasn’t registering because I had a theory. I didn’t believe in God, not really, I was a Jew atheist like Sid. We embraced the traditions but not the God who made them. Yet, that constant dreaming about Selena, every single night for years, perhaps it had caused a rupture in time because I knew I wasn’t dreaming, we all know how it feels when we dream, and that wasn’t this. Like when you’re dreaming it is normal, right? This wasn’t normal, I knew where I should be. If I had been somewhere else, like in the middle of Damascus or, I dunno, getting smacked by that stupid gate I don’t know how I got there but there I was in the bedroom and Selena was in a nightgown near the window and I think that meant we had slept together. When I looked down at my hand I saw a ring, a wedding ring, I wanted to jump out of bed and run to her, make love to her, tell her how much I missed her but her voice kept on sounding, bringing me round to something else. “This is unbearable,” she said. “I feel as though there is a weight on my heart and it will never go away or loosen. I’m dragged down, Abel. I have been left for dead and I wish I was dead.“ She banged her hand on the window and the curtain opened a little and I could see her face in silhouette. “There is nothing, nothing anywhere. No God, no one watching for us, no one to say ‘Selena, don’t be stupid, no Selena he isn’t a man’.”
This didn’t sound very promising at all. What had I done? I wanted to call up Mom and ask her what was happening, what had happened, what had I done. Instead I said, “It will be alright, Selena. It will be OK, I promise.” I walked towards her, to comfort her. Selena turned on me, her face an instant mix of rage and pain, as though she was going to explode. She hit me, punched me hard in the nose and I wobbled and fell back, blood spurted from my nose. “Are you insane?” She screamed at me. “Nothing will ever be alright. Why? Why did I marry you? Why? Why? Why? Weakness and now I’ve paid for my weakness.” She wasn’t crying, she was cried out, she was possessed by something and its manifestation was hatred of me. What had I done? “I never loved you, never ever and anything that comes together that way is cursed by indifference, by indifference to you. My family warned me, “What do you want with a fucking Jew. Bad blood, they have dirty blood, they killed Jesus Christ for fuck’s sake. What would the Pope say? I didn’t listen and if I had loved you, maybe it would make sense. But never, not for a second did I love you. Never loved you, never faithful, and you were so stupid you didn’t realize I was texting my ex on the way back from our honeymoon.” The bit about never loving me wasn’t true, or wasn’t true in the reality I knew. She had loved me for a while, not long, a couple of hundred days, maybe. “But how could I love someone like you, so worthless so…?”
I tuned her out. It reminded me too much of the last time we spoke, I mean in the real world, a telephone conversation, me at my parent’s house, lying on the top bunk in the bedroom I used to share with my big brother. Me and Adam, it’s not that we didn’t talk anymore, we talked fine, but we were never really close and there was less sibling rivalry and more one was better than the other. Dad vastly preferred Adam, I belonged to Mom but even she was proud of Adam in ways I never had given her the opportunity to be proud of me. The phone call occurred just three months after Selena had brutally dumped me, for Pedro of course. I was completely devastated though if I couldn’t be her lover I was ready to settled with just being friends. I was happy just to be friends, to see her from time to time in that hopeless shattering worthless stupid way. I’d called and called. And finally she answered the phone. “Hey there, stranger,” I said. All fake good humor. “You probably don’t remember me but…”
“You’ve been calling me, don’t call me anymore.” Selena said, her voice, her new voice, as cold as she could make it, I’d heard it before, when she left me.
“We said we would be friends, there is nothing wrong with friends seeing each other.”
“Yes, no we won’t be. I spoke to Pedro and we agreed that we were going to break off all connection to anybody we’d dated before. Not just you.”
I rolled over on my side and felt as though I was about to fall off the bed, I steadied myself with my right hand. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“I know you think it’s crazy but I don’t care what you think, maybe we can talk but maybe, we can never meet. It’s over and there is nothing you can do to change—“
“I’m not asking for anything but to love you.”
“I don’t care if you love me or not, it doesn’t matter to me…”
I tuned her back in in this alternate place where we had married, standing over me, “You should have done something, anything, it was your only responsibility… why didn’t you notice? How could you have missed her?” Suddenly Selena was crying and not just crying but the sound of her voice, just a moment before so hard and metallic, the faintest trace of a Spanish accent, was all but gone and the sound she made wasn’t like when she was mad at Pedro or mad at me, it was something else, and it seemed to muffle her in grief, Selena is 27 and she looked as old as time, as lost in something she couldn’t see her way through. I had never seen Selena like that, never, not when she loved me and not when she couldn’t care less about me, even moments ago in this place, wherever it might be, I still hadn’t seen her like that. She looked bewildered, out of control, incapable of anything, lost in pain. What had happened?
I needed to call Mom, she’d know, she’d understand, I needed to see her. I searched for my cell and then dashed out the door, downstairs, into the front garden. I had no idea where I was, I didn’t recognize anything and the sun was now out and it blazed into my eyes, blinding me and I closed my eyes and when I opened them I was back at the swimming pool and that gate was moving back, forth, lock, back, forth lock, I went to walk through the swimming pool gate and my eyes were still stinging from the sun, those little yellow memory dots, I closed my eyes again and when I opened them again I was alone in bed and it was night. No time had passed.It was Tuesday night and I wasn’t scared but I was shocked, and I was also counting my blessings that Selena had destroyed my life. I know I make her sound like a monster, and maybe she was to me, but when we first fell in love, she loved me, and what that proofs is that love isn’t enough.
The next day, Wednesday morning, I took the 7 to work lost in wonder, it wasn’t a dream, it had happened but what had happened to me? I wanted to talk to somebody, anybody, but I couldn’t think who. I sat on the 7 and googled “alternate lifes” and got something to do with changing your lifestyles. I began to read it because, to be quite clear, an alternate lifestyle wasn’t the worst idea I’d ever heard. So I googled again and got parallel universes.
I worked in an open area with a flotsam of clerks doing grunt work, some of them were friends, but I was never part of the friendship posse, and whenever I worked my way in it was only to discuss the Mets or the Jets and as they came and left, it was a transient position for most, I stuck around growing older. The leader of us was a Twink named Jason, he had a bear boyfriend, a doctor, who he abused for love and affection, his Instagram account seemingly cut in two: half the pictures of James and the Doctor at fancy getaways, mixed with food porn aplenty, and the rest Jason and his gay nightclubbers. Jason headed the quieter contingent -ringleader of the girls who didn’t wanna get laid. The rest were lead by Bowser who thought he was the man, always leading the clerks out on all night parties. The rest of of the clerks was a quiet girl who mostly kept to herself, Constance, she’s the one who liked my picture, and an Asian man named John Wu with three children and a wife. John never spoke to anyone except me, occasionally. I’d known him three years and had never met his family.
I got to work and turned to Constance, if she hadn’t been so diffident she’d have been quite pretty but so shy she seemed to flinch when you spoke to her; when she arrived two years ago I’d imagined the possibility of a romantic alliance but, at the Christmas party last year she looked really pretty and one of the other clerks, Henderson, part of the Bowzer faction, seemed to be hooking up with her. I dunno what happened but I did feel a pang of jealousy, the way you do when folks you know at work hook up… I barely did more than hello goodbye to her since then, but I did know one thing about her, she always asked for the horoscope when I was finished with my paper and one time I was walking past her and she was on her cell talking about reincarnation. I had little choice at all, I really had no idea. I mean, maybe I had driven myself so insane over the damn woman I was having a psychotic breakdown. Well, like Selena, in either world would say, I’m not that interesting at all. I decided to keep quiet, it might never happen again.
I wasn’t always quite such an introvert, Selena had done a number on me , and I just went deeper inside. I had my one bedroom and its mortgage, I had sports and my family but it was a world so closed off… so… I went to my parents’ house instead of home Wednesday, I didn’t call and when I got home there was nobody there. They were at some Jewish social they belonged to, but anyway I had my key and went home and turned on the game on their 50 inch TV, and got a beer out of the fridge though I generally didn’t drink on weekdays. I settled into the sofa and started to nod off and suddenly I was back at the swimming pool gate, watching its constant motion back and stop and forth. Have you ever been in a dream and known you’re in a dream but you’re enjoying it and you don’t wanna snap out of it? I wanted to be in this place, near the swimming pool but I was scared I’d be back watching the game before I could discover where I was. I tried to walk towards the gate, towards the pool, but I could feel the vision fade and so I stopped, then I tried walking backwards as though to fool myself and I suddenly turned on my heels and I could see the house and it was the house from last night, the house that Selena and I apparently shared, and then I was back. Perhaps a doctor was in order, perhaps there was me in a parallel universe and that me had married Selena and something had happened, was happening, and it was so powerful it backfired into my world. So look at it this way, there are two mes and one is here and one is there, and they are all mixed up, so I closed my eyes again and when I opened them, Mom, Dad and Adam and Adam’s wives but not his kids, were surrounding me, sitting quiet, gloomy around me, and Mom was crying and crying, and Dad and Adam looked at me filled with pity. “I know Selena blames you but it wasn’t you fault, son.” Dad never calls me son. I opened my eyes again and the house was empty.
Thursday morning I left from my parent’s home and I almost ran to the office, to my desk, and then I walked three desks down but Constance hadn’t arrived and anyway she was too jumpy, she’d have fainted if I jumped out at her. I kept leaning back in my chair till I saw her chair filled and then I instant messaged her: “I need your help, can we talk?”
And I waited, five minutes, ten minutes and then she replied. “Why?”
“It’s personal but I think you can help me.”
“No I can’t help you.”
“It’s very important.”
“I’m coming over.”
So I went over. Constance looked up from her desk and she looked angry and I’d never seen a strong emotion on her face ever before and that look of passion gave her face an attractive personality, one I’d never seen before. “I’m going to report you.” She hissed.
“Constance, we’ve known each other for nearly two years, do you think I woke up today and thought, you know what, I’m gonna harass that woman? Please, I would never do that. I need help…”
“You had your chance…”
“What are you talking about, I need your help.”
“I don’t want to help you”
“I’ve never done anything to you, why won’t you help me.”
“You’re no good.”
How can somebody who has never done anything to anyone be so hated? “How am I no good? How have I hurt you or anyone? I need help, seriously, help me and I’ll never bother you again…”
“Lunch,” she hissed. “Lunch”.
I sat back at my desk and I was not at my desk but at a pew, sitting next to Selena, who was sobbing into her handkerchief, the church was filled with people and it was obviously a funeral service but who? What? There was a coffin and it was really small a child, a child was being buried and there was a picture of a lovely little girl who looked so much like Selena and yet, her hair was lighter, more like… and then I knew.
I was back.
I wanted to cry right then and there, I don’t know what had happened or where but I knew something for sure, somewhere and somehow I had had the biggest tragedy of my life, the death of my daughter, and it had spilled into this world and I didn’t know what I could do about it. Why was I being pulled in? What did that world have to do with me? What I knew from just that moment was that there were worse things than a useless life, there was pain that wasn’t bearable, mine there must have been terrible and mine here isn’t as bad, isn’t as frightening: it’s like I am seeing the horror through a veil, I can’t click it into shape, it is amorphous. But even a residual pain of losing a daughter I never had was powerful and I could feel my hands shaking.
I walked over to Constance’s desk at 1230 and she didn’t say anything, just slopped off her chair and took her bag, and umbrella. It was raining and as we walked to a nearby Chinese restaurant I huddled next to her, she pushed me out as we got there. It was fast, busy, and loud: maybe not the best decision I’ve ever made but I couldn’t afford a nice place om 47.5K a year. We stood in silence, uncomfortable, waiting for a seat and Constance grew impatient. “Just tell me what’s wrong…”
I didn’t know how to say it so I just said it: “I think I’m taking trips to an alternative world and I can’t control it?”
“You mean like, Mars or something…?”
“No, no, it’s exactly like here but it is different, thingd are different, even worse if that’s possible and it is possible.”
“Much, much…” We were seated and I had her attention, I don’t know if she thought I was crazy but I know she didn’t think I was lying. “I think my daughter died.”
“You have a daughter?”
“Got it… now explain.”
“I told Constance everything, everything, both the here and the there, “Do you see what I am saying…”
“I do, I understand… we all have our stories.”
“Pretty bad, I got stood up at the altar just before I joined the company.”
“You were the first guy I was interested after him…”
“You mean Henderson,” I replied.
“No, I was always looking over at you smiling, you hd gentle eyes and I needed gentleness… I gave up.”
“It’s alright now. But…”
“But am I going crazy…”
“I don’t think so, I think one reality is entering into the other but? It seems that all you can is be a nuisance in the other word, why are you being pulled there? And the gate…”
“It’s in the same place…”
“What do you think?”
“I think the reason you are going there is to do something here…”
“So now what?”
“We don’t have enough information to work on, but my instincts are good on this and I think once we know how she died we might see who we have to save here…”
“I’m going with you tonight, or at least I am going to try… I have a friend, it’s like he’s a psychic hypnotize.”
“He can get us both back there, together?”
“He can try…”
The psychic’s name was Zed and he was expecting us. I expected something more gypsy like but his apartment on Avenue A was pricier, more moneyed, less sleight of hand: I assumed it wasn’t a con because, really, why would Connie waste my time, it either happened or it didn’t plus there was no money changing hands so yeah, no con allowed. Constance had told me that Zed wasn’t what I thought he was, that his father was some Russian industrial giant who got too big for his rubles and was Putin’d out of existence. Zedd and his family sold everything and moved to the US when Zedd was in his early thirties and ten years later lived on a family allowance of a couple of million a year, enough to keep the wolves at bay. He also had the gift. “You never can tell,” Constance explained as we teetered close to the edge of the platform and a voice intoned something about signal problems, it was hot and crowded and loud and then another announcement, indefinite delays. “Wanna walk?” I asked. We were at the Herald Square station and walked out and across to 3rd Avenue, while Constance warned Zed we’d be late. We walked in silence for awhile and then I smiled and said “Thank you, you’re not at all what I thought you were… I mean you are nicer”
She smiled up at me and replied “So are you.” We walked on in silence. “I have an older sister and brother and a younger sister and brother, I always felt like there were two camps and neither belonged to me… I guess I’m too quiet, I never really speak enough or speak up for myself.”
“My mom loves me but the rest of the world seems a little cold.”
“Yes, it is this ridiculous fallacy that if you don’t shout like you were on ‘Fox And Friends,’ you have no inner life.”
“I don’t think that about you, Constance,” I nodded looking at her from the corner of my eye. “I know you d have a heart…”” She looked really pretty in a summer skirt and a tank top and flip flops, her light brown hair almost bleached blonde from the sun. Constance didn’t say anything yet imperceptibly though I was very aware of it, we were walking closer together, and I could feel her arm brush mine. I’ve never been so aware of another body next to me. Selena, from the start, was more aggressive, the first time we went out, she held my hand and squeezed it, and seemed to look at me with an intensity, maybe a desire. I’d never had any one look at me like that, it’s not that I’m ugly but it may be that I’m invisble and what Selena did was notice me. At dinner before the theatre, Selena was very sweet and very certain. “You’re not like the guys I usually like,” she had said, and queezed my hand between hers. “You aren’t some tough guy swearing and being a fucktard. You are kind… No, no, you…” as though I’d protested or something. “I need a good guy, I really do.” Though Selena barely had a Spanish accent, she was born here not in Puerto Rico, when she got excited she muffled her words and changed round her syllables, drawing them out and rounding em off. “When Mama asked about you, I tell ya, she liked ya…” Before the show, “Wicked” –which Selena loved, we kissed for the first time 50th and 8th with people all around us, in the bumping loudness of New York City I was transported. It was very much like that now with Constance, it felt like new love happening while everything else was so strange surrounding us, I felt so alive the way a new attraction, I mean mutual attraction, can make you. Then she went quiet and when we crossed 14th street I took her hand, laced my fingers with hers and I didn’t let go.
Yeah, Zed had money, he looked like a Backstreet Boy gone to seed, a little overweight, though he mustn’t have been a drinker, he wasn’t bloated. Zed had an Eastern European accent like a woman I know, a friend of my parents who lived two doors down, from the Czech Republic, –which must be the same as Russian, and he spoke a little too loud though his grammar was excellent. “This isn’t pseudo-science or hocus pocus,” Zed explained, though it was of course. “Constance has an open mind to what is happening, and if it is more than a dream, but in fact some forewarning or alternative life, she might be able to join us.” He made us both tea and added some powder. “It is like a roofie, but don’t worry, it is just to open your mind a little, to ease you all the way in. Try and stay awake, fight it, because I don’t want you sleeping but sleep waking, ok?”
We sat down five, ten minutes and then I was there, at the swimming pool with the fence and the children’s gate, and I was confused, should I go forward, go back? Where and what now? I felt a tug on my shirt, it was Constance, it had worked. “No, follow me,” She said. We walked away from the pool, through to the house, the kitchen, living room, through the front door. “This is where I had the fight with Selena,” I told her, a little excited. “We were in a pleasant , stodgily middle class area. Constance looked at her cell, “I’m gonna request an uber… give me your parents address.” I did so. We were in Deer Park, Long Island, half an hour from my parents and we stood together waiting for the can and then we were awake.
I walked Constance to her apartment in the West Village and she was very quiet, I wondered if she was upset or what was wrong but I didn’t speak. I just waited and when she finally spoke she’d thought it through. “So, this house is where you and Constance live as a married couple right? Well, she probably chose it and she probably chose where she lives in this reality as well. Same house, different husband, right?”
“Speculative, but certainly possible.”
“So maybe what you are seeing has nothing to do with you. It might have if you had married but since you didn’t…”
“What are you saying?.”
“Maybe the girl who was killed in this reality was Selina’s child from a different marriage?”
“But then why…”
“Or maybe she isn’t dead yet.”
That night I wasn’t thinking about Selina for once, I was thinking about Constance and about the way her hand felt in mine, so full of life and love and hope and then I was with Selena in our living room. Her bags were packed and she was standing over me while I sat defeated in an armchair. “If only we had heard her, if only you had checked the gate.”
“I know you blame me, I understand.”
“I’m sorry, the last two weeks have been hell… I know you miss Sarah as well, I know but I can’t stand it here. I can’t look at you, I see her, I can’t.” Selena began to cry and I could feel the pain deep inside me. “I can’t be in this house, near this house, anywhere near you. I have to leave you, Abel. We were never meant to be and now it has cost me. I stood up and saw her glance out the window. “I’m going to stay with the family and… I’m sorry…”
“Yes, he has been a rock for me, a rock.”
“I’ll never be the same, Abel. I’m damaged now and I am all damaged now. It’s all I am, damages. But with Pedro, a new start…”
I felt damaged as well… but my mind was elsewhere, Selena had said “the last two weeks have been hell,” it happened two weeks ago. I glanced at my cell phone, it was Friday, August 4th, and it happened two weeks earlier. What was my date? It wasn’t August yet.
The scene changed and I was in the living room making love with Selena, I had a summer Friday from work, me on top, her whispering in my ear and everything was where it should be, Sarah was asleep in her cot, the world was quiet and we had taken the day off, and we hadn’t done this in a long time. I heard something , like a ruffle, and out of the corner of my eye I could see a tusled brown hair, I thought THOUGHT thought. “Did you hear something?”
“No, don’t be distracted now.”
When we were finished, Selena left to check on Sarah and came running down in a rush. “Sarah isn’t in her bed…”
“She must be.”
“We began to search the house and I searched out a clock, it was 1035am but it suddenly came like a horrified realization and I rushed outside to our little swimming pool and at first I didn’t see her but then I did see her. She was at the bottom of pool not moving. Laying there. I dived in but I knew , of course I knew.
I woke up and checked the date, July 21st. This was the day it happened. I called Constance. “Call out sick, I think this is the day Sarah dies.” It was 8am.
“Where are you?’
“Home, come to me, she dies at 1030ish, we have to find her.”
I sat on Facebook, there were some Selena Mendez’s but none of them were mine. Where was she? Maybe under her married name, which I didn’t know, or maybe I was blocked. Constance showed and she tried to Facebook her but nothing. “She is in Deer Park, we are running out of time.”
“Don’t you remember the address.”
“I didn’t see it.”
“Google Selena Mendez…”
“It’s not her.”
“Fuck, how about Pedro… the police…”
“I don’t know his last name…”
Constance pushed me aside and googled “Most Popular Puerto Rican Surnames”: Acosta, Agustín, Albino, Alicea, Almodóvar, Alvarez, Arroyo, Ayala, Báez, Bermúdez, Bonilla, Busigó, Camacho, Casiano, Castro, Colón ….” We searched each name with a Pedro at the beginning and finally found him in the white pages, Pedro Colon. It was 10am and it rang and someone picked up, it was Selena.
“Selena, it is Abel, where is Sarah.”
“What the fuck? I told you to never contact me…”
“I know but…”
She handed the phone to somewhere else, “It’s that jerk I used to date.”
Pedro almost jumped down the phone, “You bothering my wife, you asshole? Are you crazy? I’ll kill you…”
This wasn’t going to do it and we were running out of time. I said “Wrong number,” and turned to Constance. “Let’s go, we’ve got 25 minutes.”
I rode shotgun as Constance threaded her way through the traffic, she was a good driver which was important because I didn’t know how to drive at all, and we were making good time but then we got stuck in a traffic jam, Constance took a look at her GPS and we crawled for the five longest minutes in my life and then we were at a turn off which she took and we were back on track in Deer Park, going past some smaller houses till we reached Selena’s home. “we double parked and ran towards the house, but we couldn’t get to the back yard.
“Ring the bell…”
“And have Pedro kill me…”
“Throw a stone…”
“And have Pedro double kill me…”
“Try the front door…”
It was open and we dashed through the living room where Selena and Pedro were having sex, Pedro jumped up and glared and went for me, but Constance tackled him and he fell down missing me by an inch, the gate was open, I rushed through it and I could see Sarah beging to sink to the bottom of the pool. I jumped in and pulled her out and put her on the grass,. She wasn’t breathing, I pushed on her heart and breathed air into her lungs, nothing, nothing, but on the third try she sputtered, threw up some water, and began to breathe.
I only returned to the alternate Selena one more time. one year after Constance and I had saved Sarah, and I was back with Selena, and I could tell some time had passed for her as well. We were sitting in a bar, I had a beer and she had a martini, she was twirling the straw. “Thanks for seeing me. It has been really rough”
“I know, I know… it just happens, life happens and I just want to tell you that…” Selena began to cry. “Ot was nobodies fault, we didn’t… you didn’t do anything. “ She pulled herself together. “Pedro has helped, my family has helped. People say you get over it but I don’t, I see her face when I close my eyes, I hear her calling to me, and I think she is in the next room and I run into the room but it is empty.” She ordered another martini and I did something I don’t do very ofter, I switched to whisky with a splash of coke. We sat in silence till she started up again. “I did love you, not love you but I loved you. You were such a nice guy in a world of people who are just too harsh… like me, right? I’m too harsh, I just lose it and I do things to you, that I regret.
“I have always believed in God, believed there is a purpose but taking Sarah had no purpose except to destroy me. It doesn’t seem to go away, the pain is a mountain and I can’t move away from it, wherever I move it follows me. It’s as though she never leaves my side but instead of joy she is an exquisite sorrow…”
Selena took a breath and I knew this was what life meant to her, it was all life meant to her, a constant harrowing ordeal where she is haunted all the time. She took a sip and another sip and stared straight at me and past me at the same time. “I don’t wanna get better, I don’t want to be normal, I will never remove her from my side and into memory, that’s not what I am capable of doing to Sarah. I can do it to you, loving you is barely a memory now, but our daughter? My girl? How I have loved her, always, all the time. I loved her when she was in my stomach,” Selena giggled for a moment and then she began to cry again. “And I love her where she is now, I never want her a part from me, I don’t want another child: I still have Sarah, she isn’t gone, she is still here with me.” I wanted to comfort even though I think she didn’t want to be comforted, I wanted to tell her about the other world, my world, where Sarah was still alive and safe, but there were no words that could really express it, there is no world where Selena wasn’t in worlds of pain. “How are you moving on?” Selena asked me.
I couldn’t tell her the truth because I didn’t know what the truth was but I did know that the me in this world would be devastated, would be as sad as Selena. I ordered us another round. “I’m not a religious man, Selena. But I see the opposite of what you see, I see God’s hand in this and that while our loss is unbearable, while we can’t even live through our pain, perhaps God has saved you elsewhere that you don’t know and can’t see. Perhaps there is more to us Selena, maybe there is something else…”
I opened my eye and bolted upright and I was back in bed and I noticed the silhouette of a body next to me, like a memory of a returning disorientation. I recognized it though, I knew where I was. She stirred against me, half asleep, “You okay, honey?”
“Yes, Constance, I’m fine, just a little jumpy.” She yawned. “Go back to sleep.” I kissed her on the cheek. “I’m going to check on Sarah,” I said, and went into our daughters bedroom, where was sleeping. I thought about going to bed, but instead I wanted to hold my child so I gave the crib a little push and Sarah woke up and began to cry. “Hush, baby, hush…” I picked her up and sat in the rocking chair, opened the window, and looked at the starry summer sky.