by Phil Berry
I catch Danielo staring at cracks in the empty pool, where weeds grow in place of the kids who should be twisting and screeching.
Janssen’s got new help this season, some kid lost in late adolescence. Caught him lurking in the shadows the day we arrived. Freya blushed.
Why does Dad insist on hauling us along this empty, desert border? They don’t want what he’s selling any more.
When he saw the state of the john, he took it on. Chiselled grime from between the tiles, got into corners unseen since Maria and I decorated thirty years ago.
Freya on a lounger, fat headphones, face upturned, a dropped finger drawing lazy 8’s in the dust. The other hand covers her scar. And Danielo kneels in the dry pit, weeding.
I cover it up. I know I shouldn’t. But I remember the pain. And Dad, his mind on the journey, telling me it’ll pass. Mom would’ve known.
He scans the shelves of abandoned paperbacks, fat with evaporated moisture and sunblock, but he never reads them.
She used to come with me on these trips with a smile. I could load her up with puzzle books, or leave her in front of the tube. The old lady, Maria, minded her for ten dollars a day.
He’s put the accounts in order, the way Maria used to. Got any number training, I asked? He shook his head. “Just like things tidy.”
When I came back from a day on the road, shirt wet-plastered to my back, she looked up from the shallow end and splashed silver arcs into the air.
I used to stand there, where the family of soda bottles lies unburied, waiting for Dad to appear, his gut fuzzy behind the bubbled glass of the door that leads to reception.
This morning: Dad rolls out at nine o’clock with his two fat cases full of shit nobody wants to buy. Then Danielo, in shorts and sandals, pulls the hose off the rusty wheel screwed to the wall and feeds it into the deep end.
It wasn’t until the pipes started to buck that I realised. You can afford it, he tells me, you’re paying for water you don’t use, have been, ever since Maria …
When I got back there were two and a half feet of milky water. Janssen stood poolside in a chunk of direct sunlight, letting it happen.
The chrome steps, dulled by the seasons, rattled on their bolts. The handrail burned my palms. But the hot concrete hadn’t yet warmed the water through. It was fresh.
Freya stood tall in the water, thrashing the top, showing her scar like she didn’t care.
That’s how I’ll remember this place. Droplets falling diagonally in the heat, Danielo’s flat smile fixed behind the glittering screen.
He left next day. The weeds, luxuriating in the memory of moisture, bounced back.
Phil Berry’s short fiction has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, Bunbury Magazine, Hypnopomp, Liars’ League, Headstuff and Metaphorosis among others. He lives and works in London.