Maybe Now, I Can Stop

by | Feb 8, 2021 | February 2021 Writing | 8 comments

My barefoot husband walks towards me in ankle-deep slush. Dream fog fades into a muddy brown, revealing nighttime, a parking lot. But where? He stops. Slush oozes through his toes.

I circle, body following head. Club house, pro-shop, a green (If I remember correctly, it’s the eighth hole.), the ninth tee, and the scoreboard where in my youth, after long days of swimming, I sat on a bench lit by orangepink hues: legs dangling, looking out over the fairway through the multitude of rainbows, shimmering through fanning sprinklers, waiting for my mom or dad. I cherished this aloneness. A deep serenity, that like the waning day, dissolved as soon as I left this place. I forced the entire aesthetic to overwhelm my senses. I needed it, too, buried deep within my DNA.

“Let’s take a swim,” he says. In blue swim trunks, my husband stands against the cold, mud-brown dark. His pale Irish skin lights the periphery of his body, causing an aura-like glow.

I know it’s winter. I know the pool is empty but ask, “Did you bring our towels?”

“I left them in the car.”

“It’s okay. We can use the ones in the locker room.”

“No, I want ours,” he turns and squelches through the lot.

I walk around the pro-shop and past the first tee. My yellow A-lined linen dress bellows in the winter wind. Why is John here, when I’ve never, in twenty years of marriage, brought him here?

I stop at the steps leading to the pool. It’s empty, of course. An L-shaped crater-mouth in the earth thirty feet below me. I didn’t expect there to be any water. I didn’t expect to swim. But I had to come. I had to look. Just in case. Because that’s what I do.

I stand on the ledge remembering the hottest summer of my youth. 1978: I was thirteen. In southeastern Iowa, we experienced ten days in a row of temperatures above 100 degrees. A crack delayed swimming by two weeks. Everyday my best friend and I road our bikes to the club, stopped at these same steps and stared into the empty hole below. We had to see for ourselves. Just in case.

Why are you here? And, John? In swim trunks? I turn back towards the pro-shop. As I walk to the scoreboard, the season changes to late summer, the night, to an early evening sky. I ask myself, how many times will I continue to look just to prove to myself something I already know?

How many times do I have look at crazy, to know crazy? How many times do I have to look at the cavernous eyes of my parents to know they are too far away to be found? Just in case.

I dangle my legs over the bench. The sprinklers emerge shooting their rainbow producing fans across the plush green fairways. I close my eyes. I open them to see my parents pulling up beside the bench. Dread and panic defeats peace and serenity. I reluctantly walk towards the car.

Lying in my bed, back-to-back with John, I instruct my dream self. This is why he’s here. You don’t have to do this.

“What?”

That’s why John came. He’s in the car, your car, waiting to take you home.

 

8 Comments

  1. jennifer vanderheyden

    Wow, Connie, this is riveting! Just the right mix of reality and dream, and the narrative voice’s emotions. Beautiful images contrast with the “cavernous’ pool. Some of my favorites: “How many times do I have look at crazy, to know crazy? How many times do I have to look at the cavernous eyes of my parents to know they are too far away to be found? Just in case.” ( I might omit the “just in case”, but I know you are repeating it, so I’m not sure) And the last line is so powerful!
    Suggestion, although it’s picky: this line drew me out a bit…maybe tweak it? “I needed it, too, buried deep within my DNA.” I also wonder if you could move the paragraph that begins with “I stand on the ledge remembering the hottest summer of my youth. 1978: I was thirteen.” up just a bit…maybe after the sentence where he walks to the car? Great job! Thank you.

    • Constance Malloy

      Jennifer, thanks for the suggestions. I thought about the line you talked about, and wondered if maybe just taking out the “too” would help.

  2. Meg Tuite

    Connie! This is mesmerizing. And your visceral details are excellent: love the word ‘slush’, but you might take out one of them in first paragraph. ‘orange-pink’ , then ‘I circle, body following head. Club house, pro-shop, a green (If I remember correctly, it’s the eighth hole.), the ninth tee, and the scoreboard where in my youth, after long days of swimming, I sat on a bench lit by orangepink hues: legs dangling, looking out over the fairway through the multitude of rainbows, shimmering through fanning sprinklers, waiting for my mom or dad. I cherished this aloneness. A deep serenity, that like the waning day, dissolved as soon as I left this place. I forced the entire aesthetic to overwhelm my senses. I needed it, too, buried deep within my DNA.’ (Can you work on the gerunds? rewrite so you can take out the ‘ing’ of ‘swimming’ ‘dangling’ ‘looking’ ‘shimmering’ ‘fanning’ ‘waning’). Would tighten up this paragraph. Also used ‘dangle’ and ‘dangling’. Try to go through this story and work toward unique words to use. The musicality is beautiful, but also ratchet up the tension. Great first draft! LOVE!

  3. David O'Connor

    I love this transition, “and the scoreboard where in my youth” so smooth. Great details here, world build, dream entered. Love the crossing into and out of the dream/real world. And the golf club setting (so eerie) is perfect for that. Wondering if you could get out a little earlier, avoid the summation, let the reader do the math. My impulse would be on “Just in case.” Just a suggestion. Perhaps the difference between non-fiction (reflective) and flash (only in the moment). Either way, love this piece, feels so real and dreamy. Great music!!

  4. John Steines

    Hi Connie. There is a lot in here, and I feel a lot of it is not revealed directly, but walked around. You do a good job of holding back . At first I am unsure who is the italicized voice, yet with more reading I see it is that connection between the young presence and the current or later presence, safe with a different character yet troubled by living memory. I feel a confusion in the text as the time frame shift lags from early self to later self, like it is a challenge to understand and pull out of. I want to know bit more about that yet I am satisfied by the passage and missing information – a sign to me that it is too early, or not the right time, or to engage it is not allowed…or some mix, and it doesn’t matter as that confusion itself comes across well.

    BTW – I really appreciate your comment about not using the word ‘doubt’ in my piece. I wish I had thought of that and I will follow up. Thanks. John.

  5. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Connie, I love the way this piece circles between sensual details, the pleasant feel of a summer’s evening, the rainbows from the sprinklers, the surrounding green, and the winter season of absence, and the summer absent water in a pool, as well as the disruption and fear of parents tearing away the peace. That need you point to, to see for yourself, just in case– feels right. You truly catch the way trauma memory circles back and circles back, and I do love the sense of hope generated by the consciousness of the husband, there, in the bed, present. And some wonderful phrases: “Slush oozes through his toes” and how the husband “squelches through the lot” Yes!

    I really don’t have any suggestions for improvement. I love it just as it is.

  6. Suzanne van de Velde

    Connie – this has such a strong pull, so powerful the way you evoke the compelling undertow of dream world, how images adhere and our insistent brain knits a narrative. Love: How many times do I have look at crazy, to know crazy? How many times do I have to look at the cavernous eyes of my parents to know they are too far away to be found? Just in case.

    Suggestion: instead of “The sprinklers emerge shooting their rainbow producing fans across the plush green fairways” perhaps “The sprinklers shoot rainbow fans across plush green fairways.” Two letter-hyphen combos seems a lot in such short piece. The yellow A-line linen dress is a great image, especially in winter, but does it matter that the pool is L-shaped?

    There’s an intense sense of emptiness, of voids, the empty swimming pool, and of course the public spaces devoid of people. This impression was so strong that I was even aware of the emptiness under the bench she’s sitting on as she waits for her parents (this made me remember being afraid of what’s under the bed). Somewhere to explore further perhaps? I want to know more about the dread and the panic – the fear of her parents, wow. That last line is really wonderful.

    There are just a few typos to clean up: A-line[d] dress; [road]rode our bikes

    Thanks for this! Suzanne

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