You’re waiting for your best friend, Pablo Perez, to call. His father’s recently put in a pool, and you’re hoping for an invite. It’s already past noon, and no call, so the Poor Man’s Jacuzzi becomes your sanctuary, your oasis, on a hot afternoon.
The best way to get inside the Poor Man’s Jacuzzi, once the bag is filled, is to stick one leg in while holding the bag simultaneously, and then, and this is the hard part, to swiftly stick your other leg in without too much water spilling out. Cars drive by, people stick their heads out their windows, watch the pathetic kid sitting in the trash bag, laugh. You think these people are retards and assholes, and that makes you feel better.
You have a dead man’s nail. A few months ago, the nail on your index finger fell off after you’d smashed it with a hammer in shop class. The class was building bird houses. You were excited, because you and Pablo shoot birds with slingshots. During the final parts of construction, you got cocky and pounded the nail too hard. But you missed the intended nail and hit your finger nail instead. Blood pooled on the work table. The teacher, a man named Jones, yelled: “Goddamn it! Get that hand under the faucet!” Someone’s always yelling at you: your parents, your teachers, your neighbors. You thought you saw bone under the stream of water. You found out later it was just the nail, which hung on the finger by a sinew of flesh. Mr. Jones wrapped the finger in gauze, sent you to the nurse, who said, “You’re going to lose this nail. Don’t worry, a new one will grow back. That’s the wonderful thing about the human body, its resilience.” But a new one never did grow back. Instead, something that looked like hamburger meat grew back. Your mother took you to Kaiser Permanente on Edgemont, and the doctor said, “The nail plate’s damaged. We’ll have to graft a new nail on there for you.” And they did. But little did you know then that the nail plate would come from a cadaver in the morgue. Apparently, lots of people who lose their nail plates end up with a dead man’s nail. The guy sitting next to you at the Burger King might be part corpse and you’d never know it.
The nail still hasn’t taken, not completely. Things are tenuous. You sit in the Hefty bag and stare at the nail. It looks pretty much the same as your other nails, only shorter. It forms a half moon next to your skin. It has a nice sheen. You imagine the coroner polishing your nail plate in a little dish. You imagine him being persnickety about the nail, peering at it under a magnifying glass. Ah, what a pretty dead man’s nail, this coroner thinks. Of course you’re proud of the nail. It’s your distinguishing feature. You show it to people in line at the market, teachers, and kids at school. The boys think it’s cool and the girls think it’s gross. You’re glad you’re a boy.
You hear the distant ringing of the kitchen phone. You play this game with yourself where you try to guess who’s calling by the sound of the ring. You’ve gotten pretty good at it, although you can never really hear a distinction in the rings. When your mother opens the kitchen window and yells, “Pablo’s on the phone!” you’re not surprised. You dump out the water from the Poor Man’s Jacuzzi. Ants scatter in the grass. You love the way they look so helpless, drowning, you in control. If you could, you’d drown bigger things. Not dogs or cats–you’re not a psychopath–but maybe squirrels or opossum. You wad up the Hefty bag and walk inside, dragging it behind you. Your mom leaves the receiver lying on the kitchen counter. The T.V. is on in the next room, playing one of her soap operas. You hate those things. The lighting is always strange and you get this weird sensation watching them like you have a fever. “Pablo,” you say.
“Get your ass over here,” Pablo says.
“What’s up?” You try to sound nonchalant, as if you haven’t been waiting all afternoon for his call.
“Eric Manheart is going to jump off the roof!” Eric Manheart is Pablo’s sister’s boyfriend.
You think about this for a moment but don’t say anything.
“Some of my sister’s friends from Eagle Rock High are over,” Pablo says. “Everyone’s gonna watch.” Eagle Rock High is the school Pablo’s sister, Delores, attends. You’re due to attend there in two years, as is Pablo. The idea is exciting and scary. You try to imagine the kinds of friends you know Delores has—long haired stoners with skinny rock star bodies—sitting around the pool watching Eric Manheart jump off the roof. Eric is a stoner and a surfer too. You were a stoner once for about fifteen minutes, but the smoke felt like somebody scrapping the inside of your lungs with a scalpel, and being high was like the lighting in your mother’s soap operas, so you quit.
Eric has long brown hair and wears a gold chain with a naked woman pendant around his neck. His torso is thinner than your father’s thigh. He seems like a brave guy, someone you could see jumping off the roof into Pablo’s swimming pool. You’ve heard stories of him telling off teachers and beating up his own father. When you think of beating up your own father, the thought seems fantastical. But you believe every word of it. If Eric says he’s going to jump off the roof, you have every reason to believe that he’s telling the truth.
“Be right over,” you say.
Your mother walks into the kitchen drinking a club soda. “What the hell are you doing with that bag?” She burps into her hand. “Goddamn it, look what you did to the floor!” There is a thick line of water on the living room floor. “Sorry,” you say, grabbing a towel from the pantry, and walk out the front door.
Pablo has a funny thing about towels. You always have to bring your own. He’s afraid he’ll get your germs. But bringing your own towel is a small price to pay for spending the afternoon at Pablo’s. There’s the pool to swim in, there’s Eric’s daredevil feat, and there’s Delores. Delores is so beautiful you can barely form words when you speak to her. She has almond eyes, thick lashes, dark skin, and the most luscious ass you’ve ever seen. She favors a yellow bathing suit with the words Smokin’ on the butt. You nudge Pablo whenever she walks by, but he only rolls his eyes and says, “Slut.” Nothing seems slutty about Delores to you. After all, she’s only dated Eric, at least to your knowledge. She treats you with either indifference or disdain. Still, you’ve made it a mission to date her before you die.
You walk down the street, the concrete hot under your feet. You hop from foot to foot, and then decided to walk the front lawns up the block to Pablo’s house. Your neighborhood is officially known as Sagamore Park, but everyone just says Eagle Rock. Eagle Rock is named for a big rock off the side of the freeway that’s suppose to look like an Eagle but actually looks like an enormous brown egg. The rock gives people in the community an unwarranted sense of pride, like they belong to something bigger than themselves. People drive around with “I Love Eagle Rock!” bumper stickers on their cars. Even though you criticize this behavior in the residents of Eagle Rock, you go to Eagle Rock High School football games wearing an Eagle’s tee-shirt and singing along with Queen’s: “We will, we will, rock you!”
The houses in Eagle Rock were built in the twenties and no two look the same. You ate dinner once at your friend Doug Hiurra’s house in the neighboring city of Glendale and every fourth house there was identical. Doug tells you it’s cool because when he visits his friends in the neighborhood he always knows exactly where to find the bathroom.
Pablo’s house is the most unique of all. His father is a photographer for magazines like Time and National Geographic. He once took an impromptu photograph of you with a Dodgers baseball cap sitting sideways on your head. The photo won first prize in the local paper, The Eagle Rock Sentinel. Pablo’s father took you to McDonald’s to celebrate. Pablo’s mother is a traveling nurse. She’s assigned to various hospitals throughout the state which need her to fill empty slots. Sometimes she’s gone for months at a time. Your father works at Eagle Rock lumber. Your mother is a stay-at-home and does nothing.
Pablo’s parents are never home. Their house is a giant playground for Pablo and Delores. You hardly ever hear adult voices when you visit. It’s like being in a Peanuts cartoon. The Perezes paint their house a different color every few years. Now it’s black as your father’s coffee. You’ve never seen a black house before. Your mother calls it tacky, but you think it looks haunted. You once tried to convince your parents to paint your house the same color. “Why not,” your father sneered. “We can sell the Toyota and get a hearse, too.” You’ve decided your parents are jealous, unhappy people with very little imagination.
As you approach Pablo’s house, you hear voices in the backyard. Pablo’s father has constructed a huge redwood fence around the pool, so all you can see from the street is the top of the slide and occasionally water shooting up when somebody canonballs. You walk up to the gate and look inside. It’s hard to get a good look through the slats. You hear Delores’ voice: “Pablo, get off that fucking thing!” But you can’t see Pablo and can only guess he’s taken Delores’ inflatable raft again and is trying to surf on it. You can smell the chlorine, and want to be inside that water really badly. “Hey, Pablo, it’s me!” you shout. When you don’t get an answer, you start to slap at the fence with the palm of your hand. Then you see Pablo’s fat belly as he comes towards the fence to let you in.
“You’re just in time,” he says. Pablo has bucked teeth and fat puffy cheeks. He often has a bewildered expression on his face. He pulls the gate open and you walk inside, stepping over a crushed Budweiser can. You look closely at the can and see that it’s been turned into a bong. A small dent has been made at the top, and tiny holes have been poked into the aluminum.
A red-haired guy is standing in the shallow end of the pool. His hair is long, wet, and slicked back. You don’t recognize him, but you figure he’s probably one of Eric or Delores’ friends. He moves around the shallow end of the pool slowly, resting his palms on the surface of the water, like the pictures of Jesus you’ve seen in the Bible study books at Verdugo Chapel, where your mother makes you go to Sunday school. The red-haired guy moves around the pool, and when he turns to face you, you lift your hand in a wave, but he ignores you and you wish you wouldn’t have done that. You look around for Delores, hoping she hasn’t seen you being snubbed, but she isn’t anywhere around. Pablo puts his face close to you, as he has a bad habit of doing. You smell peanut butter on his breath. Pablo’s breath usually smells like salami or chocolate or tuna. “Eric’s in the kitchen, having a few beers for preparation. He’s gonna jump for sure. I’m getting my seat ready on the patio.” On the patio, four deck chairs are lined up in a row, concert style.
You look at the roof. Pablo has a two story, Spanish style house. The tiles up there have always looked a little unsteady to you. In fact, you can see a couple hanging over the edge. You wonder how somebody could actually get a running start on those tiles. The horizontal distance between the roof and the pool is about seven feet, and the roof looks about thirty feet high. If Eric misses, he’s going to die. You know that for sure. If he makes it into the deep end of the pool, he may still die. You know the pool is only nine feet deep—you dive down to the bottom all the time to collect the colored pool rings—and you’ve hit your feet on the bottom of that pool several times when jumping off the diving board, which is only about two feet over the water. Of course you’d bounced and jumped but still you couldn’t have gotten higher than eight feet maximum. You imagine Eric flying off the roof and landing on his head, his skull cracking open, brains oozing out on the concrete. You imagine Delores crying and you consoling her, taking her in your arms and telling her: “It’s okay, it’s okay,” the way you’ve seen men do in the movies when comforting their lovers.
Pablo grabs your hand and looks at the dead man’s nail. “That is so bitching,” he says. “Hey, check it out, Ted!” he calls to the red-haired guy. “This guy’s got a fucking corpse finger nail and shit.”
Ted looks at you with a puzzled expression. “Come here, little man,” he says. You notice now that he’s got freckles all over his face, neck, and shoulders. You walk over to the edge of the pool, holding your hand out stupidly like an old woman asking for help getting out of a car. You put it in front of his face. His eyes, which are bloodshot, widen. “What the fuck is that?” he says, looking at your nail.
“I told you,” Pablo says. “It’s a dead man’s nail. He got that off a corpse in the morgue.”
Ted’s thin pink lips spread into a grin. “Fucking A,” he says, seeming to need no more explanation about how you got a corpse’s nail on your finger.
You try to explain, even though it’s not necessary. You ramble on about bird houses and Mr. Jones, and the school nurse and the doctor, but Ted has already gone back to pacing in the shallow end of the pool and you want to kick yourself for being such a blabbering idiot.
Pablo cannonballs into the pool. When Pablo canonballs it’s a serious matter. Cool water sprays across the backyard, showering the lemon tree on the patio. Water lands on your arm. It’s crisp and cool and makes you think of the first moment you’ll jump in the pool. “Pablo!” Delores calls from an upstairs window, her bedroom window. “Get your fat ass out of the pool! I told you no more splashing!”
“Fuck off!” Pablo says, gurgling water.
“Watch your fucking mouth,” Delores says, and shuts the window.
You decide to go for a quick swim before the big event.
Pablo’s pool is clean. A pool man comes twice a month, checks the chemicals, and puts in chlorine and acid. The water is clear blue, transparent. You take a swimming mask from the side of the pool, slip it over your face, and slide into the pool. Underwater, everything is peaceful. You can see everything clearly. You see Ted’s naked legs. You see the thin, red hair dancing in the water like the tentacles of a jelly fish. You see the bottom of the pool, tiny particles of dirt resting on the smooth, curved floor. You swim around, holding your breath. Your old record is one and a half minutes. You swim towards the deep end, where you see a quarter resting near the drain. You dive down, arms outstretched, as if you are bending to pick up a baby. The further down you get, the more your ears hurt, the water pressure coming down on you like a ton of weight. You grab the quarter and make your way back up to the surface. When you emerge, you reconsider Eric’s prospects for jumping off the roof. True, it’s only nine feet deep on this end of the pool, but it’s a long nine feet. You tilt your head to one side and pound on your ear, then tilt your head to the other side and repeat. Water trickles out of your ear, worm-like and slithering. You take off the mask and stare up at the roof again. It seems so high from here, as if you were looking at the top of a sky scrapper. You’ve always been afraid of heights. Pablo comes out of the back door laughing, his fat body like a giant burnt marshmallow. He’s stuffing his face again, this time a hard boiled egg. He takes a bite, stares at you in the pool, and says, “Just about time.”
You have to pee. You could pee in the pool, but you know Pablo’s father has put in a chemical that will turn your pee a different color, so that everybody knows what a pig you are. You dry off and walk inside. The house is cool and dark. The bathroom is on the bottom floor, near the den. Pablo’s father’s photographs hang in the den: cacti, rock formations, portraits of old wrinkled men and women in the desert. You look for your own photograph, the one of you in the Dodger cap that won first prize. It used to hang in this room, but in its place is a picture of a fat woman doing the limbo. You feel a little hurt, but then again, maybe Pablo’s father has put the picture somewhere else in the house. After you visit the bathroom, you go into the kitchen to get a snack. You find Eric Manheart leaning against the kitchen counter, drinking a beer. He’s shirtless, but he’s wearing Van’s tennis shoes, although the laces are untied. His hair hangs long past his shoulders, and his red swim trunks rest just below his hips. You see a thin line of hair running from the bottom of his belly button and disappearing into his shorts. Pablo has told you this is called a whoopee line. There’s something disgusting and intriguing about it. You can’t take your eyes off it. Eric Manheart is guzzling his beer and doesn’t notice you standing at the entrance to the kitchen. You walk over and open the refrigerator. Inside are all kinds of good things to eat: Jell-O, lunch meat, cheese, Coke. Your own refrigerator is stocked with vegetables and Arm and Hammer baking soda. You wish you lived at the Perez house.
You decide on a piece of cheese. As you bite into it, you look at Eric again. But he’s looking out the kitchen window. You look at the curve of his neck and see for the first time how his neck looks like a girl’s neck: long, slender, and gracefully curved. His entire body looks like that. Everything seems to bend in a curved formation, like the bottom of Pablo’s pool. You stuff the rest of the cheese into your mouth and lick your fingers.
“Gonna jump off the roof,” Eric says.
You look up, but Eric is still looking out the kitchen window.
“Gonna jump off the roof,” he says again, and then glancing over at you, he takes a long swig of his beer and crushes the empty can in his hand. The sound of folding aluminum rings in the kitchen.
“When?” you ask.
“Couple minutes,” he says. He doesn’t sound scared, more confused. He seems like a man about to be sentenced to death for something he hasn’t done.
“I’ve got a dead man’s nail,” you say.
Eric looks out the window again, crosses his arms.
You’re hoping he wants to see it, but he doesn’t seem the least bit interested. You look at your nail. From the pool water, your index finger is all wrinkled, like a raisin.
“Delores dared me,” Eric says. It hasn’t occurred to you that this is a dare. You’d just thought that a guy like Eric Manheart was always proving himself, not to the world, but to himself. The thought that Delores has dared Eric to jump off the roof makes the whole thing more exciting somehow. You wonder what you’d do if she asked you to do the same thing.
Eric stands up straight, then scratches his forehead. You try to see if he is shaking, but he looks perfectly calm. He throws his beer can in the sink. It clinks around like a hubcap come loose from a car. Eric walks across the kitchen in an old-maidenly sort of way. You catch a whiff of marijuana about him.
You should go outside now. You should get a seat in one of the lawn chairs, pop open a cold Coke, and watch Eric fall to his death. But you don’t do this. Instead, you follow Eric through the den, the living room, and the back hallway. Wooden stairs lead up to the second story. Again, the walls along the staircase are lined with photographs. You look in vain for your photo. But it’s just more rock formations and desert landscapes. Eric walks in front of you, slowly, each step a laborious undertaking, or so it looks. You try to walk quietly, so that he doesn’t hear you, but the steps are creaking under your feet. When Eric gets to the last two steps, he leaps up them. You try to do the same, but slip on the second-to-last-step and fall face-first onto the carpet in the hallway. The carpet burns your cheek like a slap. Eric doesn’t even notice. He’s already at Delores’s bedroom doorway.
“Hey, Baby,” Delores’ voice sings. From the floor, you watch her come out of the bedroom and give Eric a big kiss on the mouth. She’s wearing the yellow bathing suit. Her dark brown breasts push out against the top of her suit like eight balls. She hugs Eric around the waist, then looks over his shoulder at you lying on the floor. You feel blood rush to your face. “What the hell are you doing?” she asks you. You do a push up, rise to your feet. “Looking for Pablo,” you say.
“Pablo’s in the pool,” Delores says. She looks you up and down like you’re some stray animal that had died under her refrigerator.
“Oh,” you say.
Delores turns to Eric, takes his face in her beautiful, dark hands. Her slim fingers are like ripples of muddy water, caressing his face. “You ready, Baby?” she says, as if they were going to the movies.
“Yeah,” Eric says.
“Okay, I’m going down stairs,” Delores says. “I’ll be cheering for you. You can do it,” she says.
She walks by you, that great ass shaking, the Smokin’ insignia bobbing back and forth as she heads down the stairs. You stare at the back of her thighs and wonder if you should follow her or not. But something makes you stay. Eric walks past you and into the master bedroom, where Pablo’s parents sleep. He opens the door and walks inside. You follow. The room smells like cinnamon. The master bedroom leads to the balcony. You know this because you and Pablo sometimes throw lemons at cars from the balcony. Eric opens the balcony door and walks out. In order to get on the roof, he has to do a pull-up, grabbing hold of the Spanish tiles. He does this without hesitation. You walk over to the edge of the balcony. Near the wall is a cardboard box. You open it and see all kinds of trash: old newspapers, magazines, and crumpled up photographs Pablo’s father has obviously intended to throw away. You pick through a few and find your picture. You stare at your face, the Dodgers cap, the gap between your front teeth. The picture is covered with dust. You tear it up and drop the pieces off the balcony. You watch them flutter to the ground like feathers. Then you do a pull-up and follow Eric onto the roof.
Once you’re on the roof, you see that Eric is walking slowly from tile to tile. You can see everything from the roof top: all the houses, the street lights, even the Golden Jug liquor store down the block. The wind feels stronger up here. You see clouds moving across the sky at an incredible speed like herds of animal—buffalo, deer, lions. You see your house. The roof is pale green, like a giant dollar bill. You imagine your mother watching her soap operas, and you feel depressed, imagining her looking at the handsome tall men—nothing like your father—in their business suits and styled hair. You imagine your mother drinking her club soda, burping into the empty den.
Eric is standing at the edge of the roof now. He’s looking over the edge. He doesn’t look afraid. To your surprise, he sits down on the edge of the roof. His legs are dangling off the side. You hear an occasional tiny voice calling to him from the backyard: “Come on, Eric, what are you waiting for?” Eric picks up a stray chip of tile, cocks his arm back, and tosses it off the side of the roof. Not in a hostile way–he’s obviously not trying to hit anybody–more like he’s just throwing rocks, sheepishly, into a lake he’s sitting by. You listen for a splash from the pool, but none comes.
You shift your weight, and when you do, a tile cracks under your foot. It’s a sharp, quick sound, like the breaking of a bone. Eric turns around and sees you standing behind him. He doesn’t seem surprised. He moves the hair from his face and runs some strands behind his ear. “They want me to jump,” he says.
“I know,” you say, crossing your arms. “Are you going to?” It occurs to you for the first time that you want him to say no, to chicken out. You want him to be small in the eyes of the people watching from the patio, especially Delores.
“What’s it feel like having a dead man’s nail?”
You look at your nail in the bright sunlight. For some reason, the angle of the sun, maybe, it looks pink now. You’re surprised that Eric is asking you this, as you hadn’t thought he’d been listening in the kitchen. “Doesn’t feel like anything,” you say, and you realize that this is the truth. It feels just the same as it did when you had your own nail. Sure, the tip, where the nail is yet to grow in, is a little tender, but other than that it feels exactly the same.
“Come on, Eric, we don’t have all day, Honey!” Delores calls.
You could jump yourself right now and make Eric look like a total pussy in front of everyone. But you haven’t even glanced over the edge yet. And you know if you do, you won’t do it.
“We read in biology class about transplants,” Eric says. “People getting livers, kidneys, hearts, even eyeballs from the dead.”
You’ve heard of these transplants too. But you’d never heard of a person getting a corpse’s nail, which makes your transplant seem special.
“This one guy, he got a corpse’s ear. His crazy bitch of a wife cut his old one off. So he gets this guy’s ear, and he swears he can hear things he’d never heard before.”
This sounds ludicrous. You know that the ear is really the same thing as a cupped hand. It’s just there to catch the sound waves. But still, the idea is interesting, and you lean in a little as he finishes the story.
“He started hearing God talking to him. The guy who’d donated his ear to science was a minister or some shit. And now this guy said he could hear God telling him things like: Judge not, least you be judged; Covet not ye neighbor’s wife. All this shit. Can you imagine?”
You wonder if maybe the guy who donated his nail to you was a famous electric guitarist.
“When I die,” Eric says, “I won’t donate anything. I don’t want my consciousness and shit walking around in some fucking asshole’s body. No offense.”
Eric stands up. “I’m not going to do it,” he says, brushing off his butt with the back of his hand. He wobbles for a second, nearly teetering, and you consider the possibility of pushing him off the roof. You could do it. You could get away with it. Nobody would ever figure it out. But you don’t do anything but stand there and stare at him.
“I’m going down and drink another beer,” Eric says. “I don’t need this shit.”
You hear Pablo call, “Oh, man, what a chicken shit!” And then everything is silent down there.
Eric walks across the roof casually, as if he’s walking out of a room where the conversation is not to his liking. You watch him go the length of the roof, his head bent forward, as he steps from Spanish tile to Spanish tile. Eventually he gets to the other side of the roof, sits down on the edge, and lowers himself back onto the balcony.
Now that he’s gone, the roof seems larger and more frightening. It’s like the sensation you get when you go into the ocean by yourself. It seems as if unlimited possibilities of peril have opened up now that you’re alone on the roof. You look around the neighborhood again, and this time you see something you hadn’t before: A man is standing on the roof about four houses down. You calculate this to be the house of Mr. Basin. You watch him pacing back and forth on the roof. He bends over, picks something off the roof, like a man pulling weeds, and tosses it aside. He stands by the air vent on the top of the roof, and knocks twice on the aluminum surface. But you can’t hear the knocking, only see it, and you’re reminded of being under the water with the mask on, no sound, but everything perfectly clear. The top of the roof is like this. It makes everything perfectly clear and crisp, like looking through freshly washed windows. Suddenly, Mr. Basin lifts one leg in the air and holds his hands out at his side, like the Karate Kid. You laugh. Of course he thinks no one can see him. He balances like this for a time, then lowers his leg and arms, does a couple of karate chops, and walks back to the ladder that is leaning against the side of the house. You walk over to the edge of the roof, the side looking over into Pablo’s backyard. The drop is not as bad as you’d imagined. Eric is down there, talking to everyone. Ted says, “You chicken shit.” Delores laughs. It’s not a mean laugh, more like a pretty, joking laugh. You’d have thought she’d be upset with Eric. But now you can see it was all a joke, and she doesn’t seem upset at all. You can’t believe it. You watch Pablo get out of the shallow end of the pool. He dries off with a towel and says, “I would have done it.”
Delores laughs harder. “You’d can’t even get on the roof, fatso!”
You back away from the edge. The wind has picked up a little, causing you to feel unsteady. You think about how easy it was for Eric to back down. You had expected something else entirely. Had you backed down like that, everyone would have railed you. It pisses you off. You know what you have to do. You hadn’t known it until this second, but now it seems perfectly clear. You get set in the starting position, your knees bent and your hands on the hot tiles. You push off, and just like that you’re running towards the edge of the roof, determined to leap as far as you can. When you get to the edge, you push off, and the next thing you know you’re in the air.
Of course you’ve heard that when people have a near death experience, they see their life flash before their eyes. But as you plummet toward the pool, you see your death. You see your lifeless body lying on a stainless steel table, as men in white coats pull off your nail plates with pliers. They talk to each other. “Hey, this is a good one” or “This boy obviously got his fair share of calcium.” Just before you hit the water—head first, as you’ve spun around in mid air—you yell out Delores’s name, which comes out sounding like Tortes. As you rocket down through the water, it rushes up your nostrils. You push your hand out to avoid hitting your head against the bottom of the pool. You’re hands pound against the concrete on the bottom of the pool, but you push up, and swim towards the top. When you emerge, you imagine the cheers and the cries from all those people who watched Eric chicken out and you jump. But once you’ve gotten your bearings, you realize there’s no clapping, no cheering, nothing. You wipe your eyes in disbelief, look around in 360 degrees, but the entire yard is empty except for Ted. He’s sitting in a lawn chair, eyes closed, the crushed Budweiser bong lying on his lap. You swim over to the love seat and sit for a minute, your heart thrashing in your chest. After a while, you step out of the pool and grab your towel. You look at your swimsuit and see that it’s turned pink. It takes a second for the color change to register. You look at the pool and see a cloud of blood near the love seat. You panic, examining your arms and legs, pulling out the waist band of your bathing suit, peering inside to see what the damage is. But then it occurs to you that there is no damage. You’ve simply urinated, and the agent Pablo’s father has put in to trap would be pool pigs will give you away to everyone. You try to think of a way to conceal the red chemical cloud. You decide to jump back inside the pool and splash around.
You’re at the edge of the pool, about to jump in, when you hear scattered clapping coming from Ted. He’s clapping very slowly and nodding his head. “Fucking beautiful, Man,” he says, and then lifts the Budweiser can to his lips, strikes a match on the patio, and starts lighting his bowl. He holds the smoke in for a moment, his throat crackling, then releases the smoke slowly. “You fucking flew off that mother fucker, Man.” You feel proud. There was a witness after all, even if he is stoned.
Pablo walks out the back door, holding a Ding Dong in his hand. The swim mask hangs around his neck.
“Hey,” you say. “I got to go.”
“You just got here.”
“My mom said to be back by four.” You have no idea what time it is, but it feels like days have gone by.
Pablo stuffs the entire Ding Dong in his mouth. Then he looks at the pool and nearly chokes. “Hey, you fucking pissed in the pool!” he screams, pointing to the blood red cloud.
“I did not.”
Delores walks outside. The yellow bathing suit is skimpy around her crotch, and you see two or three stray pubic hairs. You stare for a moment, trying not to, until she notices, and narrows her eyes at you. “Take a picture,” she says.
“This guy peed in the pool, look!” Pablo shouts. He points again to the red cloud, laughing.
“I jumped off the fucking roof!” you yell, although the declaration sounds like a lie, under the circumstances.
“Sure you did,” Pablo says.
You look at Ted in the lawn chair. His eyes are closed again, his body slumped over. It looks as if he’s passed out. “He saw it,” you say.
Pablo says, “Whatever, bed-wetter.”
You grab your towel and are determined to leave and never come back. But as you’re reaching for your towel, you notice something funny about your hand. You do a double-take. You realize the dead man’s nail is gone.
“Hand me the mask,” you tell Pablo. You take the mask from around Pablo’s neck. You secure it over your face, and then dive down into the pool. Your hand stings once it hits the water, but you don’t care. You dive down to the bottom, through the cloud of red, until you come to the drain. You search around for a while, bits and pieces of small rock, but no nail. Then, just as your about to swim back to the top for air, you see it, floating like a tiny fish right in front of your face. You swipe at it, but miss, and the nail floats around your face. You swipe at it again, clutch it in your hand, and swim back up through the red cloud until you reach the surface. When you emerge, Eric is outside too, and Delores is sitting on his lap, brushing the hair from his eyes, her tan legs crossed. You step out of the pool, holding your dead man’s nail.
“Look, Honey,” she tells Eric. “It’s the pool pisser.” Then she turns and gives Eric a big kiss, all tongue.
You grab your towel again and head for the gate. You walk outside into the neighborhood. The concrete has cooled down considerably, and you should be able to walk all the way home without using the lawns. But you don’t walk. You run. When you get within twenty feet or so of your house, you look down at the dead man’s nail in your hand. It looks so tiny, so insignificant, but you hold onto it anyway.
About the Author
Dennis Fulgoni is the winner of an AWP Intro Journals Award and a James Kirkwood Award for Fiction through UCLA. His stories have appeared in Parting Gifts, Quarterly West, and the Colorado Review. He teaches high school English at John Marshall, in Silver Lake, California. He and his wife live in Highland Park and are expecting their first child in March.