The summer before sixth grade, I used to play dead in pools. I waded into the shallow end, and then I fell forward, and then I’d hang, sagging toward the bottom. The sun warmed my neck around my ponytail, and I’d squint through the chlorine sting toward the bottom. Pebbled. Rough. On a curve I couldn’t trace, either up or down.
As the water danced, it captured light in waves and hexagons. Their movement a response to me, my relentless being. I stretched my eyes and looked harder. For a moment, I felt close. The film glazing my eyes seemed like a good sign.
Then I heard my brother’s scream. Curved metal jabbed my ribs. The pool hook almost tore my suit as he dragged me vaudeville-style toward the side.
I twisted away, flipping wet hair from my eyes. “What was that for?”
Isaiah looked blurry through the chlorine film. “I thought—” he said.
I knew what he thought. For him, death was dull but final. You were alive or you weren’t, there or gone. I didn’t buy it. Talk skirted death like a surprise party, like a delicate tinted crystal. I had to know why. I wondered if we kept death out of our mouths because our tongues would smudge it.
At Isaiah’s insistence, I avoided pools for a while. Instead, I’d walk Pasha in the afternoons. Our cocker spaniel could only walk 20 minutes at a go. Then I’d have to carry him, his head on my shoulder like a toddler. But the last day of July, when I rounded the corner, the leash went slack. I heard a cough, a shudder, a high whine, then nothing. I stood alone beside fur that once wheezed.
I bent and pressed a hand to Pasha’s ribs. Maybe I didn’t know where a dog’s heart was. I tried everywhere, found nothing. Pasha’s fur was still soft. His sides weren’t moving. His eyes, open, yawned.
I scooped up Pasha and carried him home. He was both easier and more difficult to carry than before. More docile, denser. We crossed the muddy grass to the edge of the pool.
I don’t know if Dad yelled before or after. In my memory, the yell blooms at the same time as the splash.
Pasha’s fur spread like algae on the water, his tawny ears tinted green. His tail stuck out like a rudder.
Dad ushered me inside, grim. From the back door, I watched him stand at the pool with his hands in his pockets. The sun glinted off the gray in his hair, the gold disc on Pasha’s collar, the ladder. I saw Dad’s shoulders move. Then I saw him reach for the hook.
I wondered what Pasha saw at the bottom. The pebbled hill I’d seen, going both ways at once. Or light refracted in a single strand of yellow, a focused beam through a prism. v