Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “The Swimming Pool”
Note: excerpt from the new Adam Gnade novel The Internet Newspaper
Cassidy and I float in the pool. We hold onto the edge, the heated water steaming in the darkness around us. I close my eyes and kick my feet behind me, just enough to feel my muscles move.
“You tired?” she says quietly, her voice hoarse.
“I’m tired as shit. You’re not.”
I open my eyes.
The pool glows neon blue in the darkness like a plastic gem, the reflection of the surface swimming in patches of light on the white stucco wall of the pool house.
Along the stone wall bordering the property there are red and blue spotlights the size of soup bowls that shine up from the grass illuminating the palm trees and ferns.
Behind us is the cliff.
Below that, the sea.
You can hear it. The tide is low and there aren’t any waves to speak of, but the ocean hhhish hishhh hhhissshhhhs down beneath us. Hhhhissssshhhhs like a breath gently rising and falling. It’s a sound that lulls you off, softens you.
“James, how weird would it be if we were rich like this?”
“I think I’d be a good rich person,” I tell her.
“Not me,” she says. “I’d be a nightmare like some shitty, evil baron. I’d be a terror.”
“You’re already a terror.”
“What did Dr. Evil tell Mini-Me?”
“You complete me?”
For a while we say nothing and the silence feels nice.
I think of a pool I swam in as a child in Palm Springs. The desert sky darkening from blue-streaked pink to deep red at dusk. The air so dry it felt alive, and from inside the house the sound of a TV, laughter, applause, a game show.
“You don’t have to thank me,” Cassidy says after a while, her voice so hoarse now it sounds like she’s been lost for years in the same desert I was just thinking of, and the thought of Cassidy emerging from the desert of my childhood shatters my sense of reality.
“I, uh—wait, remind me why I’m thanking you?”
“For this,” says Cass. “This. This whole place. Isn’t it sick?”
“It’s pretty sick.”
“Bitch, c’mon, this place is fucking dope. I should kill Glory Hole’s ass and move in.”
I kick away from the side and half-swim half-float toward the deep end.
“Don’t drown,” says Cassidy. “Think of what your public would say. Think of the community. James! What would the community say?!” she shouts, fake-desperate then laughs quietly, pleased with herself.
Treading water in the middle of the pool, out of breath, I say, “If. I drown. You can have. All my—”
“I’m thinking. You can have—” I try to think of something cool and valuable I have worth leaving when I die, but there’s nothing. “If I die you can eat my body.”
“Hells yeah,” she says happily.
I let all the air out of my lungs and sink below the surface.
On the bottom of the pool, eyes closed, I sit cross-legged and feel the smallest push of current moving me—the current from my own body sinking.
All the sound of the world is muffled, blurred to a steady, droning errrmmm like machine noise.
Sometimes when I want to die I go through the motions of dangerous things.
Driving and veering just slightly to the cliff’s edge but not committing to the fall.
Simulated drowning with no chance of drowning because it’s harder to drown than you think.
Did Virginia Woolf weigh herself down with river stones?
It helps to be at sea or dropped from a great distance to hit water as hard as concrete.
When I can’t hold my breath any longer I kick off the bottom and break through the surface with a gasp.
Tired, my lungs aching and my arms like lead, I swim back to the edge which feels miles away, oceans away, seven seas to swim across.
When I get there Cassidy says, “Let’s have a contest to see who can hold their breath the longest underwater.”
I belly up over the side of the pool and lie on my back on the cool, dry, rough concrete.
“You suck,” she says.
“I need to sleep.”
The sky above is black with a gray wash of city light and sea haze.
There are no stars.
“James, sleep is for fools.”
“I feel kinda—I dunno—like maybe I’m not actually here.”
“James, if you go to sleep I swear to god I’m calling the cops on you.”
“Please do. I have their phone number if you want. It’s 9-1-1. That’s their number.”
“I’ll tell them you’re a serial killer and you’ve taken me hostage because you want to make a suit out of my skin and they’ll come shoot your ass.”
I tell her I hope she’s serious and she laughs and says, “Always, baby.”