Fragments

Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word ‘red’ but use words that engender the color red when you hear them.
When I was 9, there were some perfect days. There was one summer day that I recall – one of the few – that was filled with the perfect and simultaneous presence of my parents. As if I realized that we were hurtling toward the ending of us, I grasped at the remnants of that day and captured a few tissue-thin memories before they could vanish. I needed to retain a perfect memory of the three of us, together.

It was rare at that point in our existence for them to be home together. The transient fragments of my memory tell me that it was a weekday. The heat was oppressive and in the horse paddock, billows of dust rose under the hooves of the horses. Hot bugs buzzed and dry grass rustled in the scant breeze. I was sitting in the shade of the porch with one of the cats, avoiding movement and wiping beads of sweat from my upper lip, when my mother’s face appeared in the screen of the kitchen window. “Come get your bathing suit on,” she said. Her mouth worked into a wry smile at my delight.

The three of us climbed into a car, I don’t remember which one, and rode past country houses devoid of life. I imagined that the heat had caused everyone else to evaporate. They hadn’t been lucky enough to get a ride to the pool before the scorching sun vaporized them. The radio played the perfect song, causing my father to sing with his arm slung over the seat behind my mother.

We went to Hebron Camp to swim in the public pool together, the only time I remember my father swimming with me. I showed off for him, demonstrating my ability to dive into the deepest water of the pool to retrieve his quarter. I’d burst through the surface triumphantly holding the shining trophy in the air, but also making sure that they were still there. Each time I went under for the quarter, I half expected that when I rose through the bubbles and rubbed the water from my burning eyes, he would be gone. His presence was tenuous.

From a distance, I tread water with only my eyes resting above the surface and quietly marveled at them sitting in the water together. I desperately wanted to witness proof that this day wasn’t a fluke. I wanted to see evidence the day’s warmth was permanent and that our appeal was strong. I swam in circles around them, driving them close. I wrapped my arms around their necks, enjoying the intimacy of our limbs intertwined and my body kept afloat by the water. I clung to them in the pool, eagerly waiting to turn the page on their discord, clinging to the hope that feelings had changed.

The sun began to sag in the sky and, despite the heat, I found myself shivering. I protested when it was time to leave and hid my hands, as if my pruned fingers would be used as evidence that I’d been in the water too long. I hung in the water, unwilling to emerge and return to our home. Through clenched teeth, my mother ordered me to get out.

Sulking and wrapped in my towel, I followed them to the car already noting the distance between them as they walked. We drove through the dusty heat and, from my quiet perch on the backseat; I studied the waves of his brown hair lifted by the wind from the open windows. She said nothing but her eyes came to rest on the view beyond the passenger window. I followed her gaze to the direction of the blazing sun and watched as it began descending into the rolling hills, casting its fiery glow on the horizon.