She’s staring into the pool, like the light might change and she’ll see her son on the bottom, tiny bubbles escaping his mouth, his face distorted by the water to look the way he did when he was a baby again. He’s run away, angry at them both for divorcing.
“I ran away too, the day my parents divorced,” she tells the blue tiles on the bottom of the pool. “Got pregnant that day.”
“Bubbles,” says the water.
“Bubbles,” she agrees.
And the husband of a few years she’s freshly sown by the way? People in his circle say mean things about him these days, and dislike spending too much time with him, but if he knows or cares he doesn’t show it. Since the separation he’s been imposing on them all. He farts in their guest bedroom en suite bathtubs, and burps when he sits in the passenger seats of their white BMW 5.5s. “I used to have one like this,” he says, talking cars. “Gave me problems with my asshole, I don’t know why.” People laugh at his jokes, but not as loudly as he does, and they hope he’ll talk to somebody else but he never does. His jokes are not jokes, they’re just normal sentences with extra fucks and arseholes, a bit like the nightclubs he sometimes frequents.
He wasn’t always like this, though. Once, he was romantic and lovely.
“I went to a bookstore,” Bubbles told him back in the wooing days. Her accent (Brazilian) was strong, so sexy too, and he loved it. Loved her. “One of the places on Charing Cross Road? I asked for a book by Chickens. I said, ‘I want a book by Chickens. I don’t care which one. Chickens.’ And the man in the store, he said ‘Chickens? We don’t have any books by chickens.’ I said, ‘but darling, you must. Chickens, the famous London writer. I want a Chickens book, please.’”
Farts-and-arseholes smiled, before she reached the end of the story, and told her he had great expectations.
And before frequenting, before romantic and charming, when Farts-and-arseholes was a boy, not much younger than her son? He came home once to find men’s handprints on the walls, and he put his own hands up against the prints and watched them swallowed whole. He scratched at the paint until it was mostly gone, leaving him with the colors of the rainbow under his fingernails. They’re still there, somewhere.
He’d always been a good stepfather, for everything else he’d been bad at. Her son loved him like a real dad, hell, he was his real dad. She’d never forgive him for that.
The wooing phase. He called her smart, sexy, and a jukebox, always making music in his heart. Told her she was bonny, too. “Bonny?” she repeated. It was a new word for her, and she loved the way it leapt from her tongue. “Bonny bonny bonny,” she said. She reminded him of that once, and he laughed. “Playboy bonny,” he said, spoiling it.
A day near the end. The contents of a casserole dish in the bin, and pizza in a box on the table. She said she couldn’t cook with him watching over her. Chicken and a white sauce in the bin, flecked with spots of green and red, mingling with satsuma peel. She’d already taken her half of the pizza away, and what remained was presumably his.
He ate some, and squished the rest into the wall, dragged it across and let it fall to the floor for her to find in the morning. A low point. In the night he’d worried about the boy finding it. He should’ve gone then and cleaned up the mess, but he didn’t.
Another low point. Outside a club, in an alleyway, on a “business trip.” A man punched him again. Kicked him too. Stamped on his face. The hooker joined in, kicking him in the ribs. They must’ve planned this all along, waiting for him to follow her down here, where it was discreet. How nice that they could work together on something.
How would he explain this to Bubbles? In the end, he didn’t have to. She saw his black eyes and looked away, never asked him what had happened. Already she knew she didn’t want to know, and not long after that she suggested he move out.
Now, Bubbles lays on the bottom of the pool, her dress pregnant with chlorinated water, her top losing color and showing her bare breasts, the nipples large and sad. She’s still such a beautiful Brazilian woman. She comes up to breathe. “I need a time machine,” she says. Like everything else that happens these days, it scares him and thrills him the same. This afternoon she divorced him, not long after that her son ran away, and then she called him and asked him over to talk. “I need a time machine.” She doesn’t say what for. It scares him, but thrills him too.
“Me too,” he says. “We have so much in common.”
She saw him once, standing on the balcony overlooking this pool, people swimming in it many floors below. He was spitting over the edge. Rhythmically spitting, every thirty seconds, until at last he realized she was standing behind him watching.
She didn’t ask, but he told her anyway. “No reason.”
On a day approaching the divorce, her son said, “Most butterflies die after laying eggs.” She tells this now to Farts-and-assholes. She’s in the water. He gets in the water too, and stands a respectful distance away, whatever the appropriate distance is to stand away from the woman who divorced you that afternoon.
Their son comes back, reddened eyes, shaking. He goes to the opposite end of the pool, far away from them both, and dives in.
The ripples in the pool touch them all.
Christopher James lives, works, and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has been previously published in print and online by Tin House, Camera Obscura, Smokelong, and many others.
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