Fiction

 

A HARD RAIN'S GONNA FALL

The rain came unhurriedly at first, fat droplets smacking the stagnant surface of the pool like a brood of tiny splashing baby hands. Billie lit another cigarette, watched the splattering spectacle from under the lanai. Jeff would be disappointed that she was smoking again. She thought back to when she quit a few years ago, how easy it had been to quit, knowing a small life was growing inside her. She shook her head at no one and smoked the cigarette until the butt burned her lips. She flicked it into the pool, lit another one. 

            She hated the pool, that gaping monster of a hole.   

            A week after their son’s death, Jeff had hooked up the drain hose, allowed the pool water to spill into the street. They emptied it as best they could, then strapped a cover over it. Soon grass clippings and twigs and dead butterflies gathered in the center dip. They did their best to ignore it, to look the other way.

           Then months later, Inez the real estate agent had told them to clean it, refill it, make it sparkle. “If you leave it like this, buyers will think something is wrong. I’m sorry.”

           After Inez left, Billie had grabbed Jeff’s wrist and said, “There is something wrong with it. Please don’t fill it up again.”

           Jeff’s arm was rigid but for a moment he looked like he might pull her into his arms. Billie felt her breath catch. Her husband’s eyes darkened. He said, “I just want to sell this place and be done with it.” He freed his arm from her grip, went into the bathroom and shut the door. 

                                                                                                      *

           In a mere few hours, the moving company had emptied the house of all their belongings. A lifetime packed up and gone in half a day. That night, Billie and Jeff would stay in a hotel along the interstate. There would be one bed, coffee, and a secret cigarette for Billie in the morning.  They’d shower and dress in silence, though one of them might flip on the TV to mask the noiseless room. 

           She missed the giggles, the morning laugh-a-thons, the tiny hands against her skin. 

           How had it happened? 

           How had she let it happen? 

           Somehow she had left the sliding glass door open a slit, which disengaged the child alert chime. In the blink of an eye, it happened. Where is he, where is he? —she had taken too long looking everywhere else. Running around the house screaming her boy’s name—Connor! Connor! —because it didn’t occur to her that he might have gotten outside. What a stupid bitch she was for leaving the patio door open. 

                                                                                                     *

            The rain came heavier. A broken gush of water from the heavens; the marshy grayness consumed her view. Billie closed in on herself, walked to the edge of the pool, squatted down, wrapped her arms around her legs and stared at the churning water.

            When potential buyers toured the property, they walked outside and marveled at the beautiful in-ground pool, the lush landscaping, the size of the lot. It was a great find in their city. Inez said it would sell fast and it did. 

            But when Billie walked outside, all she could see was a splotch of her boy’s body at the bottom of the pool. No matter how many pills she took to help her forget, she couldn’t wipe that image from her memory. It was painted onto the walls of her mind like a mural. The breezy day, the soft trill across the surface, briefly—the distorted image of her son’s body, then horror as her heart cracked open with a surge of realization. 

            Heavy rain slackened to a steady downfall. Billie dipped her fingers into the pool. “I miss you, sweet boy,” she whispered.  

            Twenty minutes later, Jeff arrived to pick her up. She heard him open the sliding patio doors, heard the damn door alarm chime, and felt something swell up inside her. Her husband stepped outside and said, “Billie.” She stared into the water, unable to budge. 

            He put his hand on her shoulder and said, “You’re soaked. Let’s get you out of the rain.”  He helped her stand. 

            She started to cry. “I don’t want to go.” 

            Jeff’s shoulders slumped. “I know.” After a moment, he put an arm around her, the rain soaking his clothes too. There had been dreams of watching their boy grow from baby to teenager in this house and now there was no boy and no house. 

            Billie was afraid to leave her son behind. He would forever be stuck there in the pool, the new owners and their family splashing around so happily though, not knowing her tragedy. She shivered. 

            Sometimes when she looked into the pool, she saw her son floating, not dead but alive and staring at her with big, blinking, questioning eyes. She hoped he wasn’t angry with her for not doing a better job of being his mom. 

            She folded in on herself and Jeff guided her back toward the house where they would collect the rest of their things and leave. She stared straight ahead, afraid to take one more look at the pool, afraid there might be a flicker of something to catch her eye, afraid that she would try to reach out and grab it and not understand why all she felt was rain.

 

Author Bio:

AJ Miller is a freelance editor and writer. She sometimes writes under different pen names and has had her work appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, Every Day Fiction, and Flash Flood Journal. She's been nominated for Best Small Fictions and has work forthcoming in Miramichi Flash. AJ lives in Florida with her husband, daughters, and two dogs. 

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