Home > The Kind Worth Killing(6)

The Kind Worth Killing(6)
Peter Swanson

There were many peculiarities to Monk’s, including some unused solar panels that were smothered in ivy, a screening room with an old film projector, a wine cellar with a dirt floor, and a small kidney-shaped swimming pool in the backyard that was rarely cleaned. Over the years it had devolved back into a murky pond, its bottom and sides covered in algae, its surface constantly filmed in rotting leaves, its unused filter clogged with the bloated corpses of mice and squirrels. At the beginning of that particular summer, I had made an attempt to clean the half-filled pool myself, pulling off the mold-blackened tarp, finding a butterfly net that worked for skimming the leaves, then filling the pool from the hose over the course of one tepid June day. I asked my parents separately if they would pick up pool chemicals the next time they went shopping. My mother’s response: “I don’t want my darling daughter swimming around in a bunch of chemicals all summer.” My father promised to make a special trip to the store, but I watched the memory of the promise fade out of his eyes before we even finished the conversation.

I swam in the pool, anyway, for the first half of the summer, telling myself that at least I had it to myself. The water turned green, and the bottom and sides became slippery with dark algae. I pretended the pool really was a pond, deep in the woods, in a special place that only I knew about, and my friends were the turtles and the fish and the dragonflies. I swam at dusk, when the cricket whine was at its highest, nearly blocking out the sounds of parties starting up on the screened porch at the front of the house. It was on one of those dusk swims that I first noticed Chet, a beer bottle in his hand, watching me from the edge of the woods. “How’s the water?” he asked, when he realized he’d been spotted.

“It’s all right,” I said.

“I didn’t even know this pool was back here.” He stepped out of the woods and into the remaining light of the day. He wore a pair of white overalls that were spattered in paint. He sipped at his beer, foam clinging to his beard.

“No one uses it but me. My parents don’t like to swim.” I paddled in the deep end, glad that the water was green and cloudy, so that he couldn’t see me in my bathing suit.

“Maybe I’ll go swimming sometime. Would that be all right with you?”

“I don’t care. You can do what you want.”

He finished his beer in one long pull, making a popping sound when he pulled it away from his lips. “Man, what I really want is to paint this pool. And maybe you’d let me paint you in it. Would you let me do that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What do you mean?”

He laughed. “Just like this, you in the pool, in this light. I would like to create a painting. I mostly do abstracts, but for this . . .” He trailed off, scratched at the inside of his thigh. After a pause, he asked, “Do you know how goddamn beautiful you are?”

“No.”

“You are. You’re a beautiful girl. I’m not supposed to say that to you because you’re young, but I’m a painter so it’s okay. I understand beauty, or at least I pretend to.” He laughed. “You’ll think about it?”

“I don’t know how much more swimming I’ll do. The water is kind of dirty.”

“Okay.” He looked into the woods behind me, slowly bobbing his head. “I need another beer. Can I get you something?” He was now holding the empty bottle upside down by his side, drips of beer falling onto the unmown grass. “I’ll get you a beer if you want one.”

“I don’t drink beer. I’m only thirteen.”

“Okay,” he said, and stood watching me for a while, waiting to see if I would get out of the water. His mouth hung open slightly, and he scratched again at the inside of his thigh. I stayed put, treading water, and spun so that I wasn’t facing him.

“Ophelia,” he said, almost to himself. Then, “Okay. Another beer.”

When he left I got out of the pool, knowing that I was done swimming for the summer, and hating Chet for wrecking my secret pond. I wrapped myself in the large beach towel I’d brought to the pool and ran through the house toward the bathroom nearest my room on the second floor. My chest hurt, as though the anger inside of me was a balloon, slowly inflating but never going to pop. In the bathroom with the rattling vent turned on and the shower going, I screamed repeatedly, using the nastiest words I knew. I was screaming because I was mad, but I was also screaming to keep myself from crying. It didn’t work. I sat on the tiled floor, and cried until my throat hurt. I was thinking of Chet—the scary way he looked at me—but I was also thinking of my parents. Why did they fill our home with strangers? Why did they only know sex maniacs? After showering, I went into my bedroom and looked at myself naked in the full-length mirror on the inside of my closet door. I’d known about sex for almost my entire life. One of my earliest memories was of my parents doing it on a large towel in the dunes on some beach vacation. I was three feet away, digging in the sand with a plastic trowel. I remember that my baby bottle was filled with warm apple juice.

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