JUNE 19, 2015
Someone was screaming.
For a moment, with the ceiling fan whirring quietly over my head, I allowed myself to believe it was a benign sound—the kids next door on their play structure, maybe, sliding and swinging and climbing, their voices carrying on a breeze.
I propped myself up on my elbows, blinking myself awake. How long had I been sleeping? Twenty minutes, an hour? The tank top I was wearing was streaked with dust and damp with sweat. Dizzy, I focused on my bare feet, where chipped red polish dotted my toes. On the dresser was a nearly empty bottle of Riesling, a slick ring of condensation bubbling on the wood.
I reached a hand onto Phil’s side of the bed, groping and coming up empty. Of course. Phil was gone, and he’d taken everything with him—armfuls of shirts and pants, suit coats and blazers, slippery mounds of ties and belts, even the dry cleaning in its plastic sheeting. Shoes, too: wing tips, loafers, sneakers, the pair of black Converse I’d never once seen him wear. He’d taken the neatly folded stacks of T-shirts and boxers, the lumps of paired socks, the heavy woolen sweater that smelled like a Greek fishing village—or at least, how I’d imagined a Greek fishing village would smell, briny and deep down damp.
After he left, I’d searched the floor for a button, a collar stay, a lonely sock, as if I could keep that one discarded thing as evidence of our life together. For a long time, I’d wanted to go back, to pin our relationship to a wall and study it, like a specimen, from every angle. I wanted to be able to say: Here. This is where it all went wrong. This was the point at which the inevitable was not yet evitable.
But that was a long time ago. Months now.
I shook my head, chasing away the thoughts, and heard the screams again, over a relentless pounding of bass. Was the television on downstairs? That was the simple explanation, and for a moment, I allowed myself to be reassured by the thought of actors following a script, raising their voices on cue.
And then I remembered: the girls.
The screams were coming from outside, distorted by the triple-paned windows, as if they were being filtered through a kaleidoscope, splitting and fracturing.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed and moved toward the door. My head pounded, an angry thing.
No—not a baby. Fifteen and so angry we’d barely exchanged more than a sentence in a month.
I stumbled on the stairs, catching myself with a hand on the rail. Steady, Liz. I had to navigate around the stacks of boxes in the foyer marked Towels and Office and, helpfully, Stuff.
Closer now, the screams became words, and the words became language, mixed with the thumping of the stereo, the music that had been playing all afternoon.
I yanked open the sliding door, catching my foot on the frame in my hurry. A bright bloom of pain flowered in my vision. After the interior darkness, the outside was a trick of sunlight, bright against the water, a shimmering, endless blue. I squinted into the glare, trying to understand what I was seeing.
It looked at first like a game of tug-of-war, a three-headed, six-armed monster writhing in the water.
But of course, it wasn’t a game.
It was another inevitable, a thing that had been coming and coming, a thing I’d let come. There were three girls in the water and one of them was limp, her head flopped forward, blond hair plastered over her face.
Still the shouts came, an unrelenting swirl of voices. In that half second while my mind puzzled, before my body could snap into action, I realized that the loudest voice, the one that couldn’t stop screaming, belonged to me.