Town

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CHAPTER ONE

It was late in the day, summer’s last. Erik Lehmann stood at the edge of the town pool, keeping guard over his two young sons even though there were four lifeguards on duty, whistles quelled. The pool would close, for the 1972 summer season, in an hour. His children didn’t need to be watched; he just wasn’t good at lounging.

Erik curled his toes over the concrete edge; he could feel the exact line where the rough concrete met the smooth blue painted gutter. The town pool. It sounded public, but it wasn’t. He’d worked here during high school, at season’s end only, hauling and stacking lawn chairs, breaking down ping-pong tables, tarping. He knew this place better empty than peopled.

He heard his name, or part of it, behind him. It was two women talking; he didn’t turn.

“..the cute cop? His older brother. Moved back! That white house, the big Colonial, where Grove ends? He’s got two boys, Tory and Gunnar, I saw him with them today. I’ve seen those boys here all summer with their mother, I didn’t make the connection. The red head?”

“She’s beautiful.”

Slowly, Erik bit back a smile. He couldn’t disagree.

“Moved from where?”

“City.”

“I love that house.”

“I had the biggest crush on him in high school. On Erik, that’s his name. He was older, a senior…Seniors didn’t date freshman and now that I have my own girls….I’d stare at him, in the cafeteria, in the halls… We all did. He had this girlfriend… It didn’t matter, we’d stare at both of them. They were gold.”

“That house! It’s…I heard they used silk on the walls.”

Erik nodded, but thought: only in the dining room…

“What’s he do?”

“City. Downtown. Trader? I don’t know: something that makes money.”

Erik snickered silently. Lots and lots of money.

“His girlfriend, Laurie Hildebrand?”

“Hildebrand? Like, the brand?”

“It used to be. I think her father is a lawyer. She’d have us over, for sleepovers, all the cheerleaders, didn’t matter we were freshman. I wanted to hate her! She had Erik, and then the hair and nails and frosted pink lipstick. But she was sooo…nice. And I’m not saying that because now she’s dead.”

Erik felt a small wet hand slap his foot. “Dad!” Erik leaned over, grateful for the interruption. He didn’t want to think about Laurie, falling to her death, left to be pecked by gulls and nibbled by rodents, to rot by the river’s edge.

“The papers said it was an accident, that she slipped, but her husband went to jail. He was cute, too. Otherworldly, like one of those people who looks like their dogs. Ice blue eyes.”

Erik’s other boy swam to him, paddling in place. “Wanna come in? Dad, come in!” Erik shook his head but with his fingers flicked some water playfully at his boys. He stood up, and glanced back at the talking women. Bodies in bikinis, like every other mother…He didn’t recognize either one.

“He joined the army.”

Marines, Erik corrected silently. Special Forces.

“Joined?”

“I know. But it was the beginning of the war. When it seemed like a good idea to fight communism. He won all sorts of medals, for bravery…It was in the papers.”

“Nixon went to China. That has to mean something.”

“I don’t know, I just want it to be over. I can’t watch the news.”

“The red head. Think it’s real?”

“Yes. Very little body hair. I sat next to her at Parents Council. We met the new first grade teacher. British, cute. Her husband works for one the car companies north of here. What is going on?”

Like the women, Erik turned to the pool’s entrance, and kept his eyes fixed on the unusual group walking towards the pool. To the minister leading them, Erik nodded his greeting.

“I wouldn’t do that to my kids,” one of the women said. “I wouldn’t be the only blacks in town.”

“I think it was bold of the minister. ‘For those who have much, much is expected.’”

“I agree. I’m saying I wouldn’t do that to my kids.”

Over the loud speaker came the dreaded 4:30 announcement: “Adults only, 15 minute swim.” Children groaned and moaned but did not tarry; they knew they would be benched — kept out of the water even longer — if they didn’t leave the pool promptly and completely. Erik’s two boys lifted themselves from the water and darted to the Nok-Hockey boards. He turned to follow them but turned back at the shriek of whistles, all four lifeguards bearing down simultaneously.

“Out of the pool!” one called. “Adults only!”

Like crows on a line, the four black children hung at the pool’s side. “Stay there,” their father instructed. He swam over to one of the guards. “We just got here, and the pool’s gonna close at five.”

“Adults only, sir.”

“They won’t get a chance to swim!”

“Those are the rules, sir.”

Sensing an opportunity, other kids edged closer. “Let us in!” they yelled. “It’s the last day!”

The guards’ whistles shrieked again, ricocheting children back to the grass. That was the pool rule: during adult swim, kids waited on the grass, not on the concrete apron. Their last-day-of-summer rebellion had been quickly quashed — but the black kids were still in the water.

“There’s eight minutes left,” the guard pointed out. “Get your children out of the pool, onto the grass. Just like all the other kids.”

The black father shook his head, but finally agreed.

“C’mon,” he said, lifting each of his children out of the water. “Get yourselves to the green.” They did as he said, then he turned and dolphin kicked strongly into the water, moving like a targeted missile.

“I forgot! The end of my story. When I saw him today, when I realized it was Erik, my dream date, my jock, my gilded high school…”

“Is he bald?”

“No! No,” she squealed. “He looks exactly like every other man around here who commutes into the city and sits behind a desk…”

Erik’s boys brushed by him. “Everybody in the pool!”

The women giggled. “He’s got love handles!”