Joshua Hebburn ~ Bob

We had spent many hours watch­ing peo­ple talk on the T.V.

Well, Joan said. So we drove back.

The hills were down to the earth. Each was a bare dirt heap, or a com­pli­cat­ed geo­log­i­cal jut.

The trees—which we had known and liked well enough—reminded me of the fouled bris­tles of the wire grill brush that hung by a greasy leather thong from the Weber bar­be­cue behind our house.

We looked through the win­dows. I occa­sion­al­ly saw parts of my own face reflect­ed back at me in the dri­ver side window’s glass. I usu­al­ly find my reflec­tion unpleas­ant. Unsettling, or unreal.

The propane tank of the neigh­bor’s bar­be­cue had explod­ed and it shat­tered their sunroom.

Our neigh­bors, the Riblett cou­ple, would find a palm sized shard of met­al wedged in their poster of Van Gogh’s night café.

The poster had seen so much sun that it seemed like a swel­ter­ing day­time picture.

Joan would find a del­i­cate look­ing curve of the Riblett barbecue’s tank on our patio. It appeared like a dec­o­ra­tive ash­tray, some­thing from a Goodwill nei­ther of us would buy, a rel­ic of the snif­fling ‘80s. She would tilt it, turn it over, and then place it gin­ger­ly back down to where it would sit for the next month.

I’m get­ting distracted.

We drove down what was our street and end­ed up at our house, which was our house. We got out.

When we left, the sky wasn’t the usu­al sky col­ors. It wasn’t the kind of thing that could be on a Pantone strip. It was a col­or that was a tex­ture and a depth. There was smoke that made it, and light angled from some­where oth­er than the usu­al angles.

We left the doors of the car open. We cir­cled our house. Really, it was just our house. I don’t think I could’ve cried. The ding ding ding of the car’s open door alert got qui­eter, then seemed to have went qui­et, as it was occlud­ed by the house.

Our plants were gone, and so was our grass.

Gray and black instead of lawn. Some brown.

The walls that marked our prop­er­ty from the neigh­bors’ were tumbed.

We had had a lemon tree.  The lemons were dropped snow­balls of ash, with cores of  loose­ly stri­at­ed, translu­cent pulp, swarm­ing with flies.

It was blue with one cloud, and immense­ly quiet.

Long before we’d dri­ven our­selves away, one thing we had dis­cussed was the expense of repair­ing our pool. A hair­line seam had formed in the bot­tom. It had been improp­er­ly set dur­ing the devel­op­ment of our home two or three years before we bought it.

The con­tract that made us proud home­own­ers, and liable, it was total­ly watertight.

We’d even­tu­al­ly had to drain the pool because it was seep­ing out. The only liq­uid it had con­tained was from rain. In the deep end there had been about two feet of it.

When we came up to the lip and stood, there was mud.

Our pool was kid­ney-shaped. A clas­sic. Mud con­gest­ed the blue of the bowls of the kid­ney. There were hun­dreds of prints in the mud. Every mark you can imag­ine a cloven hoof, paw or claw or pad could make. There was a hor­ror movie hand print, some raccoon’s lit­tle fin­gers, on the side wall, slid­ing smeari­ly down. I could imag­ine it scream­ing like some blonde girl who I’d lat­er see in a car deal­er­ship com­mer­cial. Animals had come to what had been our pool drink, or to take shel­ter, or we did­n’t know what. If only I could drop a lay­er of var­nish, or some­thing, over all of it. We couldn’t swim in the pool, but then peo­ple could look at it. Whatever was here, it had been safe. I couldn’t see any blood.

I’d been to New York once. I thought of Jackson Pollock. That wasn’t right. I said it out loud and knew imme­di­ate­ly. Joan lift­ed her phone and took a picture.

We went back to the car after we’d been through the house. We sat in the car. We looked into the mir­rors. Our eyes touched in the mir­ror, then she and I looked away, then we looked back. I winked. Her eye crin­kled. Joan can’t wink. I can’t whis­tle. The world turns to the right and con­tin­ues to turn until it’s left. That’s what my moth­er used to say.

We looked back again, away again, and each made a dumb face.

We drove. I stopped too abrupt­ly at the lights, those stops that pull your cen­ter of grav­i­ty all around all queasy. We drove back. We ate pan­cakes and fried chick­en with plas­tic sachets of maple syrup. We didn’t talk. We sat on the lip of what had been our pool, our feet dan­gling. Joan’s feet had been swelling. Joan was wear­ing new white high tops. The laces were loos­ened. She kicked out as she forked her meal down. I kept think­ing one of those white high tops would drop—or leap— from her foot, into the pool muck, into the record of the truce of the beasts.

It did­n’t.

The food was from a Denny’s. That was the only thing open. The wait­ress or host­ess or what­ev­er said hel­lo and smiled. She wore a sher­bert orange t‑shirt with a name tag that said Bob. She saw us look and smiled and said, I for­got mine. You’ve got to have one. Company pol­i­cy. I picked up the plas­tic bag. I said, Thanks Bob. When we were back in the car, Joan looked at me and said the stu­pid­est thing, the stupidest.


Joshua Hebburn’s rec­om­mends Zac Smith’s “Healthy, Fit, and Fulfilled” in the New World Writing archives. He lives in Los Angeles.