The House Next Door had a Swimming Pool
My sister and I could see the pool if we crawled out the second story window and perched ourselves on the edge of the roof. It was in-ground with red tiles around the perimeter. July called these Spanish tiles. She said people who wanted to be interesting but weren’t used Spanish tiles to look exotic but not ethnic. There were wooden deck chairs poolside, used more often by birds than our neighbor, who came and went, but never swam. July said he was in his thirties. I guessed fifties. We both admitted his age appeared ambiguous, if not amorphous. July said his clothes confused things, pleated pants and punky leather jackets. I suggested the pool was magic. July said that was dumb.
Our neighbor taught poetry classes at the local university and sometimes went on trips to read his work. July found some of his poems online. How she knew they were his, I don’t know. She said they, like most poems, were incomprehensible.
Maybe they are particularly incomprehensible, and that’s why they’re good, I said.
July said that was dumb.
Once, our neighbor paid us fifty bucks to feed his cat while he was away. There were books in every room of his house. There was cat food and a bowl for the cat to drink water from. The bathroom was unexceptional except an abundance of chocolate coins and pink candles that were made of tiny wax beads piled around wicks. One room had an upright piano, a guitar, a stand for sheet music, and a leather-headed frame drum, which was odd because when we sat beneath the windows we didn’t hear noise, not that kind of noise. In the bedroom we found fifty bottles of cologne, a bed made with sheets pulled so tight you could bounce coins on them, pictures of sheared sheep on the wall, single-pound ankle weights, an assortment of cat collars, all manner of bells. The kitchen had coffee, a coffee maker, boxes of sugary cereal, plastic toys, a twenty-two rifle, and tangerines. We didn’t check the fridge.
July had a nice camera she used for photography class. She took photos of the poet’s house from our roof, from the sidewalk, and from the tree across the street. She held the lens against the windows of his bathroom. She squeezed herself into a storm drain to shoot low angles. Once, she knocked on his door and took pictures of the living room before asking permission. He never asked us to watch his cat again.
That summer, we saw the pool used for the first time. Our neighbor lay supine on an inflatable raft while eating cereal, sometimes naked, sometimes clothed. On occasion, a woman would join him, never the same woman, but always the same type of woman, petite with dark hair. They would sit on the wooden chairs, sometimes naked, sometimes in bathing suits. They didn’t eat and never said anything, nothing we could hear. The women were always younger than him, older than me and July, but not by much. July was positive one of them was a senior who played the lead in her school’s production of Noises Off. This is the only girl he touched. He rubbed lotion on her back and chest then masturbated while sitting next to her. July captured the event on film. She framed the picture and hung it on our bathroom door.
The poet sometimes fired his rifle into his back yard. If he missed his target, he'd run outside, gun still up, ready to fire. Toes on the Spanish tile, He'd search the yard moving only his torso. If he found what he was looking for, he'd fire shots into the tree or bush sheltering the varmint.
Why does he hate squirrels? I asked.
July said they ate his garden.
Doesn’t got a garden, I said.
July snapped pictures of the poet, one after the other. Click, click, click.
Our neighbor pointed the gun in our direction. July took another picture. Then he fired, hitting a branch in the sweetgum tree that reached onto the roof. The next shot hit the gutter. We had scrambled ourselves through the window by the time the third shot hit the vinyl siding.
July told me not to worry, to ignore the big, full fist knocking on the front door.
Our parents wouldn’t find out.
We turned off the light and waited in our beds until the knocking stopped. July went downstairs to see if he was still around. She called me when the coast was clear. The note he left on the door looked like this:
of my preciousprivacy
I pray for punishment, lest they
learn nothing from impunity
And I would like the pictures they took,
Like an Amish, I believe they hold my soul
or something like it.
July slipped the note into her pocket. The next day at school she snuck into the copy room and laminated it.
July printed the photo of our neighbor aiming his gun at us on t-shirts, which we wore on the same days. We never walked by his house wearing these shirts, but we did wear them to the bookstore, where we stood next to his collections in the poetry aisle. July grabbed a book called Summer’s Songs in Winter’s Time Signature and shoved it, author photo first, at anyone arm’s length away.
You should buy this book, she'd say.
If the person stopped, they would ask if the author was the same man on our shirts.
Yes, ma’am, it is. Would you like me to sign a copy?
Are you his daughter?
No, but he tried to shoot us, which isn’t entirely different.
Upon bewildered looks, July became indignant.
Do you want the book or not, she insisted, because if you buy it, I’m going to sign it.
From then on, we dressed in black and waited until dark to watch our neighbor. A few times we saw him outside clutching a bottle and pounding his fist on the ground. Other than these outings, we only caught glimpses of him passing through the yellow light of windows. Mostly, we saw his shoulders and torso, a little bit of waist. Night after night, he paced, tapping a pen against his chest. We were prepared to investigate other neighbors when we heard the popping of his twenty-two. Then the window broke, and the lifeless body of his cat flew through the empty frame. A nude girl jumped out after. Her hair fell out and dripped down her back like melted chocolate as she sprinted away, silent except for the sound of her bare feet slapping pavement. He was arrested the next day.
While the house stood vacant, July downloaded our neighbor’s mug shot and made it into a mask. She picked the lock on the back door of his house and made me use our parents' camcorder to film her recreating his life. She paced back and forth in front of the windows and ran into the back yard holding a make-believe rifle. She lay nude on the floor of the emptied pool.
This isn’t the same, July said when we watched the videos.
It’s close, I said.
No, it isn’t, she said.
All we knew about the new neighbors, we learned from photographs July made and hung on our bedroom walls. They had tilled a plot for a garden. They had a child they dressed in tiny slacks and polos. Only when they drank coffee were they without water bottles.
July said they weren’t good enough.
Good enough for what? I asked.
Good for nothing, she said.
We glued the photos to sporks stolen from Taco Bell, which we stabbed into their front yard, photos facing their door. Our neighbors called the cops first thing in the morning and our parents took July’s camera. July, confined to her room, spent the rest of the summer sneaking out to pry the Spanish tile from the edge of the pool.
Andy Myers is an MFA candidate Bowling Green State University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly and Rougarou.