The summer before kindergarten, I lounged in a small pool in our backyard. The days were hot, landlocked humidity weighing heavy in the air, and my mother would fill the small plastic pool with our garden hose.
“Fill it deeper,” I’d demand, pointing a small finger at the water as she turned off the hose, the pool only halfway filled.
“That’s as high as I’ll go, sweetie, you could drown,” she said.
“In there?” I looked in the shallow water. “It’s too low.”
“That’s not too low. All it takes to drown is a teaspoon of water,” she said, and dunked her hand in the pool, pulling out a cupped palm. She held it in front of me and I looked in the liquid, rippling, dribbling between her digits and down her knuckles.
“That’s all it takes to drown?” I asked, puzzled.
“Even less,” my mother said, and a breeze picked up, sending a chill down my bare back. I looked in the water, feeling suddenly skittish, deciding the park sounded more fun than the pool on such a sunny day. Maybe we could work together planting and pulling weeds in the garden? The pool could wait, my mother agreed.
When my father came home from work, a blue button-up wrapped around sagging shoulders, ‘maintenance’ stitched neatly on his breast, he sunk in his recliner with a loud sigh. I jumped in his lap to tell him about my day.
“We pulled weeds in the garden, but the bunnies are eating mom’s flowers,” I told him.
My mother came in with a glass of water, set it down on the table next to the chair, “those rabbits are destroying my roses,” she said. “Don’t even get me started on the hibiscus. You really need to do something. I dusted the whole garden with talcum powder, but they don’t seem to mind,” she shrugged.
“I set some traps,” he said, bouncing me on his knee. “I’ll take a look after dinner,” and he sipped from the glass.
We had cold meat sandwiches on wheat bread for supper, macaroni noodles mixed with bits of celery, tuna, and mayonnaise that my mother called ‘summer salad.’
After dinner, I took a short bath. My mother had to fill a pitcher with water from the faucet and pour it over me to wash the shampoo and soap from my hair and face.
“Is there more than a teaspoon in there?” I asked, refusing to sit in any standing water.
“I’m right here, honey. Nothing is going to happen to you,” she said, plugging the drain and turning on the faucet. But once the water reached my toes, I screamed until she turned it off.
She dressed me in my summer PJs, light cotton shorts and a tee-shirt. I sat at the kitchen table to have a snack of apple slices before bed while my mom went to the basement to check the laundry. The windows were open, and I could hear birds chirping in a still dusk. I finished my apples and decided to say goodnight to my dad. I slipped the thongs between my toes and walked out the back door. The light was on in the garage, but he wasn’t there. I moved through the backyard’s long grass, whiteflies fluttering from the blades with each step. I walked to the pool, kneeling down, and brushed my fingers above the water, small mosquito larvae twitching under the liquid.
I heard a squeak and splash from behind the garage, and I walked over, peeking my head around the corner. His back was turned away from me, blue button-up untucked from his jeans. There was a white plastic bucket in front of him and boxes of metal wire next to his feet, traps for the rabbits that were eating mom’s flowers. He bent down, reaching a hairy arm into the trap, pulling out a small rabbit by the scruff of its neck. It thrashed and squirmed in his grip. He studied it for a moment once it became still, letting out a breath, and dropped the rabbit into the bucket with a splash.
I screamed, running toward him.
“Jason? What are you doing out here?” he said as I pushed past him, looking into the bucket. There were three small balls of curled rabbits at the bottom. They had sunk like stones.
I screamed and ran toward the house, tears streaming down my face. He called after me, but I rushed inside where my mother was folding clothes in the living room, grabbing onto her breast, sinking my face into her shirt. She carried me to my bed, asking what had happened, but I refused to tell her.
I heard my father come into the house, and the low grumble of adult conversation. He opened the door to my bedroom, but I clinched my eyes shut and turned away. He stood for a moment, murmured a ‘goodnight,’ and I heard his heavy feet walking down the hallway.
I laid awake in bed, the window open next to me, a beam of the moon pushing through the tattered screen, slow roll of a car driving by, listening to the cicadas singing.
Anthony is a MFA Fiction Candidate at Columbia College Chicago. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Barren Magazine, Mosh Lit, the Magnolia Review, and elsewhere.