Drained long ago, the gray pit fills with layer upon layer of soggy leaves, twigs, plastic bags, pop cans. Leading into that abyss is a fiberglass slide, emerging now like a ghost in the low morning light, taunting him with its unfaded aquamarine, its phony tropicality. From the window, it’s the only evidence of color he can see among the murky earth tones that spread like a stain throughout the neighborhood this time of year. He refuses to have the slide removed, never mind the pool itself.
A padlock and chain link fence keep the other grandchildren safe, he explains every time his daughter drops them off for a weekend visit. He apologizes again, and their disappointment sinks his heart. In good weather, he distracts them with ice cream and a walk to the park with monkey bars and swings. Now, at the bitter end of autumn, and when the swimming season has ended anyway, they make cocoa and play indoor games until it’s time to snuggle under blankets for bedtime stories.
For him, the fence also protects the memory: her shriek of delight as she slides down headfirst, like she has done a hundred times before. Then, from an open window, on his way back downstairs with arms loaded with fresh towels, he sees her little body twist and splash awkwardly into the sparkling summer water. And not resurface. He arrives too late.
Her final, gleeful sound is etched into him like an album groove, the needle forever skipping, skipping, skipping, his guilt never letting her voice grow scratchy and small with age.
Paul Ruta grew up in Niagara Falls, Ontario and lives somewhere else now. He writes for children under the pen name Andy Spearman and reads prose for No Contact. He regularly updates his website: paulthomasruta.com