Over the next couple days I will post here, on this blog, the stories I used as my portfolio to apply to graduate schools for fiction writing.
I applied not only to the University of Texas at Austin, but also to Texas State at San Marcos and Portland State in Oregon.
The one I am posting today is the one that made my mom cry and threaten to run down and “whack”, with a wooden spoon, anyone who rejected my application.
A row of mothers – reclined – watching us; draped a-top white rubber deck loungers in sunglasses and pastel swimsuits. We stare across the length of the pool at them – our toes curling around the wet lip. The sun licks every divot in their thighs – glazed in tropical scented oil. Magazines spread open – pages slicing air under their voices. They smile and pass around tequila soaked pineapple slices. Behind them a short dark haired man in a khaki uniform mows the lawn.
In science class we learned that the sky is blue because it reflects the oceans of earth. We saw a picture of what the earth looks like from space; a sapphire marble. I take my little brother’s wet hand in mine, and tell him this. The sky is like a mirror, I say, Then how come we can’t see ourselves? He asks. Because it’s very far away. His stomach is drum-tight and round, his skin a deep caramel color, and getting darker everyday. We don’t need sunscreen like the other kids do. Their mothers press and rub their skin with the thick white cream. Don’t forget your ears – don’t forget the tops of you feet – Don’t forget to rub it in – if you don’t rub it in it will come off in the water. My mother smiles – You have your father’s skin, she says, It protects you, like a shield, from the sun. My father’s skin is covered in hair like black spiders legs. I want my mother to rub the cream into my skin. Maybe then I would look milky, and soft.
It’s Saturday afternoon, Dad tells me to come to the garage he has a surprise for me. He holds his hand out toward my bike; white with a pink seat and matching sparkly handlebars the training wheels are gone. We go around and around the cul-de-sac with him gripping the back of my seat. Let go, let go! I say. He shouts that he already has. I look behind me to follow his voice and he is standing with his hands on his hips, blocking the sun making his figure glow like pictures of saints. Turn! He yells. I jerk the handlebars to quickly and slam into the asphalt.
Last Saturday, a man named “Angel” fell from our roof. We were having it re-tiled. But no one called him ‘angel’; they called him “Ann-Hell”. We heard a crackling of tile, then a bunch of yelling, a large scraping sound, and then a body hurdled past the kitchen window, a comet trail of broken tile rained down after him. The other workers jumped down and crowded around him saying his name It’s Ann- Hell, they said, Ann-Hell has fallen. Mom called the ambulance, Hi, yes one of the workers fell off our roof, please hurry…Watching with my face pressed against the window, It’s Ann-Hell, I tried the sounds out, Mom, Ann-hell fell from the roof. I watched his eyes rolling around in his head, a bloody pool forming and the other workers, lifting him up with their dirty hands.
The sun presses down, we are almost dry, and stinking of sour chlorine. My mother smiles – waves – a half-slice of pineapple between her fingers. Our toes grip the wet edge. The deep end – the darkest blue – I can see the drain at the bottom where that girl got her hair stuck and drowned last year. Her name was Michelle, and she had beautiful long blond hair. We had to go to a church service for her, and light candles. She died and the pool was closed for a week. Her mom moved away after that, but we can still see the drain, although there is now a cover on it. The Drain of Death we call it we dare each other to swim down and touch it. Everyone in the neighborhood has done it. If you swim in the pool at night, she will grab you by the hair and pull you down to swim with her. I squeeze my bother’s plump hand;. We will jump in on the count of three and swim down to the bottom to touch the Drain of Death, every kid in the neighborhood has to do it – my brother’s hand is smaller than mine – today is my day to touch the drain of death – he grips my finger 1…2…3…
Silver shadows sweep across my ceiling; the glow-in-the-dark stars are peeling off. There is an uneven tapping on my window. Dad is standing down in the court-yard, swaying, something has stolen his skin. He is whispering up at the window: Let me in – His face is not his face – Dad it’s me, mom is asleep, I whisper down to him. He repeats Anne, I love you, I’ll do anything, please let me in. His car is parked on the lawn – the headlights point up, humming at the sky. I am clean Anne, I’ll get sober, just please, let me in Anne, please, I just want to come home…His eyes are blank caves, his body starts shaking. Dad – I say – it’s me. He leans back and screams, he wails up at the roof. A light goes on across the street. A cool hand presses on my shoulder and I jump. Go to bed in your brother’s room. My mother is behind me, stiff as a tight-rope-walker – steady and tense, the phone in her hand, like a brick. The neighbors – she repeats – Ed, keep it down, the neighbors – her voice compressed, livid – Please, he says, Anne, I love you, I promise to be better, please, let me in.
Brother is huddled under his bed with his blanket and a flashlight. I crawl in next to him and we stay like that singing songs until we both fall asleep.
Dad is slumped on a thin cot in a small white room. I wrote him a note on the title page of the book I brought him to read – Call of the Wild. We had to read it in class, I really liked it, I got an A on the book report. The note says – get better. His shirt is huge and wrinkled, his eyes are cavernous, he is unshaven. My mother hands him an overflowing duffle bag. It’s “Family Visit Day” and the staff has provided ice cream sundaes. The toppings are organized floral printed-paper bowls on a folding table in the center of the cafeteria. Mom sits opposite him, she is silent. My brother talks about his baseball team, in the way that little boys do: coach says… coach says… The problem with putting gumballs in your ice cream is that they freeze and are useless, they just bleed unnatural color all over everything else in the bowl – you begin to realize that the colors mean nothing – that they are all the same flavor. My father makes little pigeon sounds when he hugs me goodbye. My tongue is swollen and heavy, my stomach wants to come up and meet it – I have eaten two whole bowls of ice cream with syrup, and Mom didn’t even turn to frown at me. He lifts his hand then lets it fall to his side. The nurse touches his elbow. My mother turns, takes us firmly by the shoulders, I lift my hand in some kind of salute, then turn and follow. I hear the nurses’ shoes click-click down the hall like doors closing. The hospital doors suck open – a blast of hot hair and baking asphalt. I wait until we get close then I lean over the planter, grip the neck of a tiger lily and let my stomach out. Jesus – she says – at least it wasn’t in the car this time. She scratches my back with her thick fake nails, pulling my hair away from my face.
We are in the air – clinging to each other between sky and water we are tense and waiting for the blow our eyes are closed and our mouths are open and we are thinking about that little dead girl at the bottom of the pool and how the color of our skin protects us from the sun unlike others – we are thinking of the dead girl and deepness and coldness and our mother. We are thinking of our mother in the row of mothers and how she looks like them and we don’t. We are thinking of the sun and our skin and the dead girl and her skin. We are thinking of the color blue and the lips of the dead girl and the eyes of our father and the difference between sky and water. We are thinking of the dead girl – we are clinging to each other – we are waiting for the water – we are smiling at our mother.