2009 :: Issue 5/Fall :: Haunting Memories
Margot does not see the lights at first. She thinks only of warmth and water as she enters the pool. It is night in December. She should be wrapped in wool, but this is Arizona. New, arid, open Arizona and she appreciates the mild air, the tepid water and the lights in the pool turning everything a clean, clear aqua. Even her body is clean, clear and aqua. Warm. Not like the sudden blue before death or the invisible blue of soft veins strung delicately under her skin like hidden jewelry.
Alone at the pool, she relaxes under silent water. It releases, resists, then follows in swirls as she pushes through. She swims freestyle, then breast. She doesn’t look up after twelve laps, twenty. She lets her arms exhaust themselves, forcing her feet to hang limp—feeling the thickening of her biceps, the burning of her rotating shoulders. She turns over for backstroke, looks up and starts the long push to the other side. She concentrates on keeping water out of her eyes, her nose, her mouth, and on the swishing rhythm of her arms going up over her head, the flutter-kick of her legs.
Picking up speed, she thinks about Rafael, now on the run. Light-skinned, baby-faced Rafael who had to lie to his mother about kick-boxing and the white girls he dated. Who wore blue contacts on good days and a low white baseball cap on bad. Whose sister got pregnant before she was eighteen and whose nephew is now his after-school responsibility. Who took on the name Loco and tagged it everywhere around school until it was true. Who promised to mix a demo for her of Bob Dylan and Tupac the first day of school, but who today drew a knife on her in the courtyard behind her classroom. Who thought she was out to prove him a failure. Who thought he could run and run and never get caught. Who will not be sitting in her ninth grade class on Monday.
Seeing the knife took time. Margot expected a CD or a scrap of late homework. She didn’t notice his skinny fingers clasping the small silver handled blade until he held it up, saying his mother can’t know about his grade.
“She thinks I’m doing fine.”
The late afternoon shadows on the courtyard walls were long and dark. The sun was beginning to disappear behind the industrial arts building. Margot could not move or speak. She thought only about her older sister who had given birth to a second son the night before. She thought about the twist of his wet red body emerging, and the newness of light and sound. She thought about the dew-like sweat on her sister’s upper lip and the expansion of her heart, big enough now for two.
When Coach Marshall rounded the corner, heading for the field behind the courtyard, he saw Rafael and the setting sun glinting off the knife. He saw Margot as she was, frozen, the new teacher they had hired to reach some of the troubled ones.
“Hey! Hey!” He shouted.
Rafael took off and still she did not move.
Now, on her back at the pool, she feels her blood stir again. She opens her eyes to see the bright desert stars; tonight they are moving, darting around like freed fireflies. They can’t be stars, she realizes. And how can they be airplanes? They are round in shape, circular in movement and leave no scratch marks on the sky. The lights are simply there, then not there.
She follows them with her eyes and thinks reluctantly of her college boyfriend’s famed UFO story. The one he always told in solemn voice over too many drinks. How he swears he followed a hovering spacecraft in his Datsun 240z down a dark country road. How he put the car in neutral and got out, standing next to the open door. The numbing buzz he felt while looking up. A tingling at the top of his spine, right where his head attached. How he knew then he had been chosen for something spectacular and new. A miraculous burst exploding like a holy light inside of him.
Margot stops her backstroke and stays there, floating, looking up at the sky, watching the glowing lights playfully bounce around, entering the atmosphere then bounding out. She imagines her body, shining aqua blue under the water, her wide-open arms, her light hair streaming out behind her. She wonders what it would take to be singled out. Closing her eyes, she waits to feel the buzz in her spine, a tingle of recognition proving something extraordinary could happen to her.
She thinks about Rafael, still on the run. And whether he sees the lights as he hides, perhaps, on someone’s side yard between the garbage can and the gate. And whether he believes that something wonderful is coming for him, a sudden and exact rescue. Deliverance. Or whether somewhere in his mind he knows, like Margot does, that the blinking lights are attached to fighter jets taking off from nearby Luke Air Force Base where young pilots run routine drills in preparation for war.