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.
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.