Two Stories

Two Stories
Last Swim

Late August, and one dying half hour till the rooftop pool closes up for the season. The end of summer sky is holding a fistful of rain.

50-year-old Mabel, her fleshy arm like a slab of cod fillet as she hangs on the edge of the pool. The water prisms her wearing a two-piece she doesn’t have the figure for anymore. Her eyes are fixed on Marty, also 50, who is doing his 20 laps.

The lifeguard, high school senior this year and glad that soon he won’t have to yell at old people anymore. His uncle, the building manager, told him that since no one ever drowns there, this would be the main part of the job.

Mabel lets go of the edge and paddles into the center until Marty laps by, “I want to talk,” she says.

He doesn’t even stop. Splashes and cuts the water like a boat motor.

“I love you,” Mabel calls after him. “I love you.”

The lifeguard is tweeting his whistle. He doesn’t really have to with only those two in the pool. “Five minutes,” he holds up the fingers on his left hand.

“Oh honey,” Mable turns to the lifeguard. “Don’t you have some cute little girlfriend you could call?”

The lifeguard thinks about Susie, the other lifeguard who left for college last week. With her red danger lipstick and belly button ring. Maybe that’s who Mabel means.

The summer sky is getting darker, heavier almost. Any other night there would be thunder.

Marty stops his laps right next to Mabel. “Listen,” he says, water beading on his brow, his dark hair in strands. “I don’t love you. My wife was away. I was lonely.”

The lifeguard can hear their voices. Hears what they are saying and doesn’t want to.

“No you listen,” Mabel says, “I could stop by your apartment. Have a nice little chat with your wife”

The lifeguard has been trained to watch for trouble brewing in the pool. Well, not trained, exactly. Warned by his uncle. His uncle also warned him that Susie put in a complaint, said she was there to earn money for college, not be groped by some twerpy little high school senior.

“You wouldn’t do that. My wife is sick. You might even kill her.” Marty says and goes back to his laps.

The lifeguard tweets his whistle. “Two minutes.”

“That would actually solve the problem,” Mabel says as Marty swims by her again. With that, she swims towards the steps leading out of the pool.

“No wait,” Marty catches up to her, her foot on the first step. “I do love you. I do.”  He wipes the water out of his eyes. “Chlorine,” he says. “Messes with my brain.”

“Well,” Mabel says, “if you love me, then you’ll be glad if I tell your wife.”

Marty dives under the water and pulls her by the ankle back into the pool. Mabel struggles to get away. They are flipping and flapping, spraying water everywhere. The lifeguard thinks how much these two look like the fish his uncle catches when they go out on his boat on Sundays.

“Time!” the lifeguard yells. Then he tweets his whistle ten times.

Mabel and Marty continue thrashing around in the water. Mabel calling out help me! help me! The lifeguard stands there, thinking not about them, but about how he should call Susie up at college and ask for another chance.

He tweets again and finally gives up and begins to drain the pool. The water lowering, the two of them rising into the naked air, a drop of late summer rain about to fall out of the sky.


Father Nails the Doors and Windows Shut

He says we are better off inside. Outside, he says, is made of sickness and guns and inside, we will do just fine.

The living room lamp becomes our sun. We spread towels across the carpet and try to get a tan. At night, when the outside sun is going down, clamping shut the day, Father says we can make up our own minds now about when day is over, and isn’t that nice?

Father arranges the kitchen chairs to look like the car in the driveway. He pretend-drives us to school on his way to the job he doesn’t go to anymore. He says this way we can make up our own minds about what we want to learn and he doesn’t have to face his stupid mule of a boss and isn’t that nice?

One day, about two weeks in, Mother poses a question. What about money? What about food? She offers to get herself a waitress job, but Father won’t hear of it. Instead, he nails her in the closet, just to be sure.

My little brother starts to draw pictures of the sun. Not the light bulb sun, but with rays like the one in the outside sky. Father takes the drawing away and tells my little brother there will be no more food for him. My little brother reminds him that we haven’t eaten in days.

My older brother punches a hole in the attic, climbs out, and drives our real car away. When Father finds out, he harumphs and says that’s one less nose to breathe up our air, and isn’t that nice?

I don’t think it’s nice. Never have, and I’ve been living on sucking candies leftover from Mother’s bridge club. But I’m not so eager to live in a closet so when Father asks again, I tell him yes, yes, it’s all very nice.

Good, he nods, the two of us looking at the living room lamp, agreeing that since the sun is still up, why don’t we walk into the kitchen and take ourselves a drive.


About the Author

Francine Witte stories are forthcoming in Best Small Fictions 2022, and Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton.) Her recent books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (ELJ Editions,) and Just Outside the Tunnel of Love (Blue Light Press.)  She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. She lives in NYC.


Photo by Stefano Zocca on Unsplash