He fell in one day and we had to stop using the pool.
Then, he ate our dog, and my parents stopped trying to get him out.
It's my turn to clean the pool. Actually, every day is my turn since I'm the only one who goes out into the backyard anymore. We tried to ignore the problem, hoping he'd leave, but he burst all the pipes in the kitchen and gave my mom nightmares, so, here I am.
My parents are excellent at ignoring problems.
I'm excellent at pool skimming.
The sun glares on the mixed cement, blinding white, and I pause—my hair caught in the arm of my sunglasses. They're a cheap Bakelite and I give them a yank, hissing when they tear free. My scalp stings but I can see where I'm walking now.
The flamingo thermometer stuck to the house says ninety-six degrees Fahrenheit. The weather man said a balmy seventy-five in the shade. He must own an igloo. I just call it hot.
I'm regretting my choice not to change into my swimsuit. My knee-length skirt makes my thighs sweat and my panties stick to my hips. Even tying my blouse up around my ribs doesn't change anything. I'm not showing enough skin to be useful.
Sweat tickles my spine, dampening my waistband.
The water looks delicious, though. It glitters like cracked crystal. Blue fractures trembling under the sun's bright rays. I want a taste. I want to jump in and cleanse the heat away. To smell how summer is supposed to smell: Pool chemicals and suntan lotion. Not body odor and rank salt.
If it wasn't for him.
I drag the net along, catching stray pine needles and keeping an eye on the smudgy figure sprawled at the bottom of the deep end. Ankles crossed, arms tucked behind his head, he lays still—dappled by the changing surface light. On some days I think he's dead, but then he'll push off and glide in laps around the pool. Glimmering in and out of the sunspots before diving back to the bottom again.
Some days he'll do tricks. And he might as well be one of the guys at school because I know he's showing off just for me.
He's not doing anything now. Except, maybe sleeping.
I step over a blood swipe on the cement. It stretches from the lawn over the lip of the pool and onto the tiled wall. The blood is going brown, but the flies keep insisting it's fresh. They crawl quick, here and there, buzzing away when I pass and returning like mindless addicts once my shadow retreats.
I pull the net in and shake out a few feathers and what I think might be a shred of a red dog collar. Not Jenny's. Jenny's was blue.
I hated that dog. I roll my eyes just thinking about her piercing bark and snaggleteeth and those stupid "fashionable" bows the groomer always tied into her silky fur.
I laughed when he dragged her in. Dumb bitch wandered too close and tried to lap up the water. Next thing, she was a blooming blood patch in the deep end.
I shake the net again. There are no bugs in the pool anymore. Never any bugs. And no accidental snakes, either. Although, I have fished out more than one decapitated reptile head. He keeps himself well fed.
It's been weeks since I last swam in my own pool. I just want to strip and jump in. I've seen him watching me while I tan in the yard: his elbows hooked over the cement edge, his dark crest of raggedly scissored hair sparkling-wet in the sun.
I doubt I'd wind up as a gut smear on the diving board if I did go in. I know those looks he gives me. Boys gift them to me regularly—in the school halls and on the street. In the corner of the mausoleum in the cemetery behind the church. Between fumbling hands and overeager kisses.
His gaze thrills me more than any kiss I've ever had. Phantom fingers sculpting the underside of my peaked leg down to my painted toenails. I can't breathe when he watches me like that. Even reclining on the lawn chair in my bikini I'm suffocating.
Irritated, I slap the capricious water with the skimmer. Damp spray splatters my shins. I'm hotter now than before I started thinking. I've been irritated for days. Irritated and sweltering.
I have dreams, too. Not frightening ones like Mom, but equally as disturbing. They're starting to ruin my social life. Yesterday, Billy Marten asked me for beers at the docks and I said no.
I said no. Nobody says no to Billy. He's got a motorcycle and a set of brass knuckles. He smokes Marlboros and rolls the box up inside the sleeve of his too-tight T-shirt. And the teachers let him.
My friend Sukie, nearly had an aneurysm when I told her I'd declined.
But I really wanted to clean the pool.
There's a part of me that keeps creeping closer to the edge. Every day I come out to check the water level or bleach another bloody stain away, I'm one step nearer the water.
Nearer to him.
The shed smells of swamp from the lake behind our house and gasoline. The mower must be leaking again. I shove the pool tools inside and lock the rusty door. Pink paint peels off the weathered siding. Weeds grow a foot tall against the outer walls where the lawnmower can't reach and my father was too lazy to use the hand trimmer.
We live in a dump.
Dad has let the yard go considerably in the last few weeks. He won't even come out to grill dinner on Sundays, or prune his decorative orange trees anymore.
His dreams must truly be nightmares. He won't say—but the dark circles under his eyes are telling. And he's been popping amphetamines with his gin and tonic, calling them "aspirin" when I catch him.
I don't go inside right away like I'm supposed to. Instead, I duck under the moss arranged like Christmas tinsel on the branches of our Banyan tree and lean my back against the trunk. The shade is most definitely not a balmy seventy-five. Arms crossed under my breasts, I chew my bottom lip until it hurts a little. Sweat moistens my neck, frizzing the tendrils of hair at the nape that are too short to fit into my curled up-do.
Gnats hum in my ears. Mom will be hollering for dinner soon. My red lipstick feels gummy in my mouth where my teeth have raked it off—shit. I have to go inside and powder my shiny nose. I don't need a mirror to know I'm probably glowing.
I should go inside. Mom will flip. She's not adjusting well to having an elemental as a backyard tenant.
Sometimes, when the weather is gorgeous—or just after a hurricane—the water folk wade in from the harbor or squidge out of the Everglades and then dogs go missing and cats get turned inside out. And if you're stupid enough to leave your kids alone, babies are snatched from prams and toddlers off peddle trucks.
At best they'll leave your hose running. At worst they steal your children.
But this, this never happens. Water folk, elementals, don't stay longer than a day and night. They don't take up residence in your pool.
This elemental is like the alligator that decide to wedge himself under Sukie's boss convertible for a nap. Six feet long and immovable. Bloated white-cotton mouth open and hissing at every professional attempt to dislodge his scaly ass.
All those teeth...
I rub a finger across my front two, just in case the lipstick has stained. Staring at the pool, I shudder, excited, and decide to go for it.
He's still in the deep end, motionless, glittering. I keep to the shallow side because I'm not that desperate, and unbuckle my sandals.
The cement is warm when I sit down and I lift my skirt so I can feel the grit on the backs of my legs. Nerves tender, I sling my feet over the edge.
The temperature shocks me. The water is so much colder than it should be. Goose flesh ripples my browned skin, prickling the feather-soft hairs on my thighs and forearms. I wallow in the electric cool of the water, but it's not what raises my skin.
The danger does.
I'll only stay a moment. Mom will holler for dinner and I'll pad away, leaving wet footprints behind and taking the adrenaline with me. And tonight my dreams will be better because I've sated my curiosity. I won't long for the water. Panting. Gulping mouthfuls of unbearable blue with his fingers tangled in my hair and his teeth on my throat.
And blood in the water.
I seize at the thought, my bones suck the cold from the pool straight to my head.
What am I, stupid?
I pull my legs up because, while I may live in a dumpy concrete ranch with a weedy backyard, it's still a life. And while other girls may worry about boys—and take yeast pills to gain weight and get pretty—I've never gone nuts over to anyone just because they flashed me the right kinda moon-eyes.
And I'm not about to start.
Water sloshes onto my flowered skirt. One leg. Now the other. My left heel caresses the rippling surface, and I'm about to swing myself to safety when a hand clasps my ankle.
I never saw him coming, and I don't quite know what to do.
Mostly, I don't want to do anything.
His fingers press into my skin, dragging my foot into the swell as his head and shoulders sift from the water and rise into the sun.
I've never witnessed anything so beautiful in my life—not even last summer when I saw Elvis Presley wiggling his pinky at the Flordia Theater.
"Hi," I say. And it's out before I've caught my breath. My mistake.
He smiles and suddenly, I never want to see anything else.
I jump when he rolls his thumb across my ankle. "What's your name?" He asks, small waves slapping his chest.
I hesitate. Pastor Buckley said it was a sin to talk with the elementals. He said they are murderers luring people into swamps and rip currents. Soulless. Discarded by God and morally bereft. But then again, he also likes to hug me a bit too long when my parents aren't around.
"Wanda," I say, mesmerized by the light glancing off the water, netting his face. He is all points. Cheekbones made from razors. Ears wicked-sharp like the Devil.
His skin is stormy sky and swamp colors—brackish pigment spreading up from his hips, turning into mottled green and then gray. I can't tell his age.
"How, disarming," he says, stroking his thumb up under the anklet I wear. Sukie made it for me out of different colored cord. Girlfriends Forever.
I'm melting. My other foot dips back into the pool. The cold rouses me some. "Who are you?"
"I am me, of course."
"No. I mean, what's your name?"
When he smiles, this time, I see he has points on his teeth, too. "You have to come in if you want to know."
I realize he means me to get in the pool. My stomach clenches, part fear, part something else that makes my breath hitch. I remember the way he slunk easily underwater. How he turned bubbles into strings that winked and glowed like diamonds, wrapping themselves around his bare chest and arms tighter than a python. "I don't want to."
"Why ever not? It's hot out." He tips his head, watching me. His eyes are a shade grayer than his face, laced with trailing green. I'd cut myself open on his lips, they're so thin.
Tilting my chin, I look down at him, "You're an elemental."
"Truly," He says, pleased that I know. "What of it?"
"You'll kill me if I come in."
He stands up in a rush, parting my knees and grabbing both of my wrists where I grip the cement edge of the pool. His skin shimmers, iridescent in patches like a sickly fish. Water drips from his nose, bursting on the fabric of my skirt.
Long fingers squeeze against my veins, my heart pounding in my pulse.
I feel twisted and terrified all at once. Twisted—because the smooth fit of his waist between my legs is all I've dreamt of for weeks. And terrified because, now that I've got what I wanted, I've also got an insatiable ache for more.
"I've watched you," he whispers. Tattoos brand the soft parts of his neck. They resemble faint streaks of mud. Some are handprints, half formed on his chest.
I study the taunt, wet skin of his throat and nod. I remember those hours spent in the sunshine, his eyes haunting my curves. "I know."
"No, before," he says. "From the lake I watched you, every night. Until my dreams were riddled with you, Disarming Wanda. My only thought was to meet you. Why would I hurt you, now?"
My bedroom window faces the backyard. I never pull the shade. We have no neighbors behind us, nothing but the exotic birds and reptiles. And I wonder—how many of those glowing red eyes in the inky nighttime water were really alligators at all?
But it doesn't matter. I'm glad. Glad I infected his thoughts like he poisoned mine. A silhouette imprinted on his mind. I feel pleased—how I feel when boys like Billy Marten ask me for beers at the docks. They think they'll get me drunk. But they always peak first, and beer mixes as good with bay water as it does anything with else. Ha! You just pour it out when they're not looking.
I'm a Kahlua and cola, girl. I sneak up on you.
I don't fool around on dates. But they keep wanting so they keep coming back. That's my way.
I lean forward until I notice his face is tinged powder blue in all the right places, contouring his harsh lines. "You ate my dog."
His grip flexes; a tendon on his crisp jawline flutters. "You didn't care."
"Let go of my arms."
He does, sinking back down into the water. He makes a slow show of it, eyes never leaving mine. I scooch nearer, the waterline ringing my calves.
"Why did you wait so long to meet me, then?"
He takes one of my ankles again. And strokes the arch of my leg from under my knee to my tender sole. "I was waiting for your invitation."
I don't decide to shiver, but his touch is barely a touch and more a tingling sensation on the bottom of my foot. He smiles.
"I didn't mean it," I say.
"Yes, you did."
I'm not sure which we're referring to.
Mom will be hollering for dinner soon, and I don't know how to explain this. She knows I don't always go to Sukie's house for sleepovers, but she's never seen me with a boy before, either.
Especially not one who's young but isn't. Not an elemental.
I'll be grounded until I die.
"Come in," he whispers, lifting my foot to press a kiss to the inside, under the anklebone. I've sliced myself there before. On accident. Nicking the blue-green veins while shaving. His lips don't hurt how I first imagined, they are soft and pleasant—like the damp sand when the waves drag back out on the beach.
"I like ankles," he says, and I see the posters in Sunday school. The words "thou shalt not" on the front in big letters, highlighting a surreal painting of an elemental: a disgusting, slimy creature, gnawing on human body parts all gone to ragged bone.
"They're such small things," he continues, "but they bear our weight all the same. Tell me, Disarming Wanda, do you bear all the weight?"
I'm only out here because Mom is too fragile to handle the unseemly, and Dad is on his pills. The pool is clean and the yard isn't. I'm sure I'll have to start using the mower on my own soon enough.
I think about my parents, how they both pretend when I come home late, smelling of cologne. Like, by ignoring it they can believe I've been somewhere wholesome. And I think of those boys that push me into corners and of Sukie and her friendship bracelets. Trapping me. Using me. Keeping me still like Pastor Buckley and his heavy, deodorant-scented arms.
What am I rebelling against? Well, whaddaya got?
Elementals are dangerous. They thrive on Nature—a whimsical goddess that pledges fair skies and sends tropical storms instead. They change their skin and kidnap children and drown you for fun. But then, so do humans.
Suddenly, I can't think of a single reason why not to jump in. I invited him, after all, the moment I slipped my toes in. And I so badly want a swim.
I bite my bottom lip—sure I'm staining my teeth, again. I'm leaning over far, and he reaches up to smear what's left of my lipstick off one side of my mouth. It colors the gray pad of his thumb like blood.
"Will you?" He asks.
But I am already on my feet, unzipping my skirt and shimmying free.
Mom will holler for dinner, but I won't come.