He’s Still There (Flash Fiction)

I stood outside of the fence for a long time, next to the gate that had the funny latch, the latch that sometimes didn’t latch, the latch that sometimes…

The water was warm. Warmer than I expected. When I stepped into the pool, I did so slowly. It was as if I didn’t want to disturb the water I was getting in. I watched as the subtle ripples rolled their way across the pool and the sun amplified the light rings that traced along the bottom. I looked at the bead that formed around my ankles, and I just stood there on the first step. It was quiet. The sun was hot. I thought about putting sunscreen on even though I knew I wouldn’t be out there long. I remembered putting sunscreen on you.

As the heat bore down and sprouted sweat from my brow, I stared at the shallow end. It didn’t look nearly as deep as it did then. When you were there. In it. Under it. I moved to the second step and let the water come to my knees, still careful not to disturb the surface. I stepped down again, waist-high, and waded out.

I kept my hands up, out, hovering over the surface. I went to where you were, where I found you. I remembered the splash of my frantic movements trashing through the water. I remember how cold your skin felt in my hands, even with the water so warm, the summer so hot. For a moment I thought I was drowning as well. Water everywhere. In my mouth. In my eyes. I remember yelling for your mother, for her to call 911. I remember screaming your name. But honestly, I don’t remember much else. Just water everywhere.

I stood in the shallow end with the heat pounding against my back urging me to go in, to go under, but I didn’t dare. It’s as if that’s your world now, and mine is here. I knew the latch didn’t latch. Not every time. Usually, I’d make you wait, but you were always so good about being patient, about being careful. But it was hot that day, I know. And you were excited. I was excited too. We loved that pool.

We really used to love that pool.

I turned then, disgusted with myself, with the world, with the fact that I was still alive and you were gone. I didn’t worry about disturbing the water this time, but as I got out, I saw your shoes. Those white sneakers with the Velcro tops and mud-stained sides. They were still there, left outside. We had gathered your clothes but apparently not seen your shoes. You usually left them inside. There they were, proof of the nightmare.

I looked back then, at the water, as if it was happening again, happening now, and I still had a chance to do something about it. To be a little faster, to find you sooner. The shifting water created shadows in the shallow end, and for a moment I did see you. You were still there, still just under the surface, but this time you were moving. My arms jolted on their own, but I stopped just short of jumping back in. The shadows caused by the stirring surface shifted, and you were gone again.

You’re gone again, but you’re still there.

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