by Amy Walker
You took all the keys. Every last one. So, he and I sat trapped at home, watching Fist Full of Dollars. Spaghetti Westerns, police noir, it was a Clint Eastwood marathon. We tried to distract ourselves, flipping through TV channels, scared to look at one another.
Earlier, you and dad, sit around the pool, newspaper sections split between you. He and I, siblings on opposite ends, doing laps, syncopated crawl strokes, strained butterfly motions, double dolphin kicks. Breaststrokes, all gangly legs and arms, we glide just below the surface. Pool water sloshes cerulean, to one side then the other, powerful motion heading to an unknown crescendo. Wave after wave smacks siding, aluminum, pressure-treated wood.
Then, the telephone. Musical rings emanating from antique yellow, alto tones spaced perfectly apart. Dad chases the song, and you follow. Outside, between the laps we count--I forget the number now--the house shifting into dissonance. Under water, sweet turns bitter, and your children drink the notes.
He slips from the pool. The screen door opens, slides, then clicks.
Outside, I have whole conversations with myself, the usual teenage angst. Inside, a totally different narrative plays out. I hear the screen door again, but face-down I miss the sound of shut. Something in the silence is so unlike them. I see my older brother’s expression as I freestyle towards the other end, curl into a somersault, touch a sidewall with one foot then the other. I swallow the lap number, rocket into stillness. His look, dark, when I surface, squinting to the right I register this. The underwater voice, ignore him, don’t stop.
His voice from above, Stop, I have to tell you something.
I sense too much. Anguish is a premonition.
Stop!! He is in the water, there to block my movement. He pulls my shoulders up, leaves it to me to raise my head. Up to him to tell me, he fell. Up to him to tell me, his legs are probably broken. Solid lie and hollow truth, repeated. Don’t. I drove him down to the bottom with me, I did. At the deepest end, I close the world and the words out. Inside the water, alkaline and calcium hardness become a new skin. Hey, he pulls me to the surface, let’s get out, dry off, they need to go to him.
You took all the keys, every last one. Multiple keys, hanging on silver hooks in the hallway coat closet. An evaporation or intended incarceration. In your wake, a functional car sits in the driveway, he and I stranded. While you and dad drove through two states to that hospital, your middle child lapped you en route to another. An era before cell phones, this the ultimate time lapse. We knew more before you did, and that night owned more than him.
We called the hospital, every two hours, hostage to uneven hands on a Seth Thomas clock. They tried to tell him, you are not the guardian. They tried to tell him, stop, brother, stop. Up to us to call back, again, again, measured and insistent. Up to them, finally, I’m sorry, he is in a coma. Up to them to say the words, it is not the legs that fail to work.
Our mouths like fish, breathing with a hook in the flesh hurts.
Now every nightmare I have involves swimming inside a locked house, the water rising.