The sky turns charcoal. The lifeguard shouts from his perch that he’s going to order everyone out if there’s lightning. Most people leave. You don’t. If you go home, you’ll look at your eye. There was so much blood this morning you imagined the droplets talking as they crept down your cheek. “Get out.”“Run.” You didn’t listen. You put on your sunglasses and went to the pool.
There are only a few people left and you get in the water. You float on your back for a few moments. You feel a tap on your shoulder and stand up. There’s a girl with a purple ponytail smiling at you. She points to her sunglasses.
“Same pair,” she says and smiles. You smile. She’s probably sixteen, the age you were when you were class president, when your Appaloosa came in first at every championship. Only six years ago, but it feels like decades. You have the urge to cry staring at her.
“I’m Lydia Moses,” the girl says. “You live around here? I’ve never seen you before. And I know everyone.”
Lydia is the kind of girl you used to be, the kind that asks strangers questions. This similarity makes it feel like Lydia is someone you know and you don’t know anyone in this town. You’re not allowed. Lydia’s the first conversation you’ve had in six months. You move closer.
“We just moved to the neighborhood. I’m Mary,” you say.
Rain makes tiny pinpricks on the surface of the water.
“Are you a model?” Lydia asks.
This is a question you get. It’s the first one Bill asked. You shake your head.
“Did you come from New York City? I imagine you came from somewhere cooler than here.”
She points to your chair. “Your shoes. I love them.”
Platform sandals, with a black and white zigzag pattern embroidered into the leather, you eyed them for months and three days ago they finally went half-price. Bill said the shoes are the final sign that you’re screwing someone else. You shudder. The girl doesn’t notice. Now you’re remembering the fight, and you want to crawl out of your skin.
“I’m going to New York City when I graduate,” Lydia says. “And when I get there, I’m going to buy shoes like that and I’m never going to look back.”
You said this about Los Angeles, and you had a ticket there, when Bill came into the 7-Eleven and bought a pack of Marlboro Lights. You liked his eyes. He liked your smile. It was a dumb meeting, but somehow it delivered you to this moment, in this pool, with this sweet purple-haired girl whose smile is reminding you of yours when you didn’t live every day wondering if it will be your last.
There’s a loud splash. A boy has cannonballed in, dousing you both with water. You jump back, pull down your sunglasses to wipe your eyes.
“Bobby!” Lydia shouts. “That’s my brother. He’s an idiot….whoah.”
For a second you don’t know why Lydia said: “Whoah” and then Lydia’s staring at you like you’re a dead dog she saw mangled on the side of the highway. You imagine what it would be like if your roles were reversed, seeing a woman like you, you would’ve been so shocked. Bill popped blood vessels this time.
“Are you okay?” Lydia asks nervously, and you say, “Yes,” and she says: “Really?” and you say: “Yes” again.
You smile. You are so good at smiling when something devastates you.
There’s a clap of thunder and a streak of lightning splits the sky. Rain pours down in sheets. You swim to the steps and Lydia is behind you. You run to the nearest umbrella and stand under it. Bobby yells Lydia’s name.
“I’ll meet you at home!” Lydia says and to you: “We rode our bikes.”
“What size shoe do you wear?”
Lydia raises an eyebrow. “Eight and a half. Why?”
You gather your things, hand the shoes to Lydia. “They’re yours.”
“Really? Wow. Are you sure?”
“It was nice to meet you!”
You’re crying and you have to calm down because if you don’t your eye will swell completely and you’ll have trouble driving, and you’ve got a long trip ahead. First you need to stop for a new pair of shoes. You can’t drive three thousand miles barefoot.
Jennifer Dickinson is a graduate of Hollins University. Her writing has appeared in The Florida Review, Maudlin House, JMWW, Blackbird, Beloit Fiction Journal, and elsewhere. She was recently awarded Best Short Story in Isele Magazine's annual contest. The recipient of a Hedgebrook residency and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Foundation, she works as a writing teacher and book coach in Los Angeles. Connect with Jennifer at jenniferdickinsonwrites.com
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.