Eliot punches me so hard I shove back into the water and land in the deep end of the pool. I let all the air out of me in fat bubbles and sink until my back touches the tiles at the bottom and I look up at the sun and there she is, like some water angel, floating on the surface, her hair all spread out like a hair-sheet. The next thing I know, Eliot is slapping me in the face to come out of it.
Come on pussy, don’t be a pussy, look, I’m sorry ok? Don’t tell mom. I’m sorry.
He’s out of breath and the water droplets from his chin keep landing in my eye. I tell him it’s fine and to go fuck himself. He puts his arm around me and makes me lean on him and we walk out together, all the moms looking at us, rubbing suntan lotion on their kids, looking for our
mom, looking for their kids. I don’t look back because I’m afraid to see her still floating there in the water still, and I’m afraid to pass out again.
The next time it happens is when I see her is walking down the fucking street with a fucking ice cream cone of raspberry sorbet. Which is depressing for some reason, maybe because it’s what my uncle eats when he’s depressed. The ambulance comes and I sit in the waiting room with an icepack strapped to my forehead until my mom picks me up after she gets off work.
The third time is the most tragic because it’s when Eliot brings her over after school one day and it turns out she’s his new girlfriend. As soon as I see her through the front door screen I pass out again and Eliot lays me in my bed upstairs and I take three aspirin and wait until she leaves before I come down and make meatballs for dinner.
She’s great, huh? What do you think? You like her? Plus great body, right?
Eliot says he loves her, for sure. Mom thinks she’s a sweetheart. Neither of them put two and two together and for that I’m pretty thankful. I try not to cry into my meatballs. I try not to think about her hair underwater or raspberry sorbet. But my uncle is depressed and so he’s having it for dinner and I think he not only puts two and two together, but also notices me touching my eyes with my napkin.
After dinner he leans in the doorway of my bedroom staring at me, holding the quart of sorbet in one hand and a spoon in the other. I pretend to be asleep, but I can feel him standing there for at least twenty minutes. When I wake up the next morning, there is a note tucked into my fingers:
Shes just a girl Billy dont mind her just keep being a good kid love your uncle
Whenever I pull it out of my wallet to look at it, I wonder: did he mean Love, your uncle or love your uncle? But he died in his sleep that night, so I’ll never know.
Your uncle was a good man before Regina died.
Yeah Mom, I know.
But honestly, it was his time. Help me with this.
My mom is trying to shove our new air conditioner into the window next to the kitchen sink. It looks depressing, sitting there on the counter like a turkey. He was a good brother to me. He was like a father. She sweats a little bit.
Call your brother. ELIOT!
Eliot comes pounding down the stairs. I can always hear him a mile away. As mom shoves the air conditioner into the window slot, Eliot motions for me to come over in a way that means there is an issue. When I meet him at the base of the stairs he grabs me in a headlock.
She’s upstairs, ok, and we gotta get her out. His face is hot and sticky next to mine and his shirt is sticking into the back of his pants and I know that mom will blow a gasket and kill Eliot with her bare hands especially since she’s been kind of nuts since our uncle died.
Yeah, thought ma wasn’t getting back till dinner.
She’s upstairs? Now?
I know she’s upstairs, I can already feel it but I can’t go up there because then I’ll pass out and then everyone will know and mom will start crying and Eliot will lock me in my room or maybe on the roof like last time but worst of all and I will definitely never not ever not possibly ever have a chance to talk to her because I’ll be so embarrassed I’ll die and two deaths in the family would make our family pretty much extinct. Eliot whacks me on the ass towards upstairs:
Help her out the fire escape and I’ll keep Mom away from the windows.
Why can’t I keep Mom away from the windows?
Because Mom always knows when you’re lying, Billy. Besides, I want you to meet her.
I already met her!
Meet her better then!
BOYS? Give me a hand!
He whacks me on the ass again and I know that just by talking to him I’ll be in at least as much trouble if we get caught.
On my way, Ma!
He runs into the kitchen and I go up the stairs and breath deeply, the way the doctor suggested, but I can already feel my ears getting cloudy and my palms stick to the walls when I press on them for support. I peer into Eliot’s room and she’s applying lip-gloss in front of the mirror attached to the closet door. I don’t know what to say so I just lean my way inside until I’m leaning next to the light switch and I accidentally flip the on ceiling fan and she turns and jumps.
My goodness, you scared me, oh my god. Jesus. Billy? Hi.
She reaches out her hand. I want to kiss it. All of the blood in my body seems to have rushed to my head and is probably starting to drip from my ears. But I take her hand and bring it through the tiny hall, her nails are painted pink, and into my bedroom and over to the window by the fire escape and the whole while she’s whispering things like:
I’m so sorry, thank you so much, this is so embarrassing, this has never happened to me before, is she usually home before five?
And she might as well be saying my name over and over again. I try and open up the window and it’s jammed, which has never happened before and which now feels like the greatest tragedy since my uncle. I try again but the glass is loose in the frame and makes too much noise. She sits on my bed while I do this, then after the third try she gets up to try for herself. Finally the window flies open and she sticks her head out, the wind picking up the ends of her hair and flapping them around, and I touch her in a very small way on her arm, so that she knows to go forward. She starts to climb out. And then:
Mom’s footsteps up the stairs are getting closer and angrier and Eliot is right behind her trying to stall for time.
Shit. Shit shit shit!
I say, pulling my neck back inside and she also says shit a couple of times and then she grabs my hand and my whole face goes pink and where before, I thought I might make it without losing it, I now feel everything start to tilt, starting from the inside of her palm.
Are you ok?
She whispers this to me when my head starts to tip onto her shoulder and I feel like I’m spilling onto her and before I can think, I run to my chair at my desk, pick it up, run over to the door, balance it on a tilt, with the handle underneath the knob so it’s locked from the inside. Then I run over to her and take her soft face in my hands and I just don’t care anymore, I just kiss her. And she freezes. And my mom pounds on the door. And we look at each other. Then I run over to the door, move the chair, open it for my mom and pass out.
Photo by Elise Kibler