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Chippertwig Past

           The rain on the RV roof made speech within as audible as whispering and whispering inaudible. The rain fell in perfectly vertical lines, unquantifiably numerous. The rain would not let one think too far beyond it. The rain, it wasn’t hard to believe, was here to wash the stale green out of the September leaves.

Inside the RV, an outpost within the drenched boundaries of near-to-deserted Chippertwig Campground, Olga and two of her grandchildren sat in a line on the couch while E.J., Olga’s husband, napped in the back bedroom. The grandchildren were named Nadia and Richmond, aged twelve and ten respectively. Olga, Nadia, and Richmond all wore shirts, unplanned, of the same shade of blue. A small TV set into the wall above the RV’s cab was on and muted and unwatched.

The grandkids were bored but not saying so. The rain had interfered with their insubstantial plans. They had wanted to bump around the campground premises in the golf cart encountering only occasional late-season hangers-on, waving at them, hoping to goad them into asking why they weren’t in school. But no, not in the rain, plus the air was chilly. Another thing about the rain was that it did not belong to summer although the official beginning of fall was yet days away.

“Do you kids want to play cards?” asked Olga.

“Uh-uh,” said Nadia, shaking her head. Richmond looked intrigued by the suggestion but would only contradict his older sister on certain subjects, their preferred joint activities not being one of those subjects.

There was a window behind their heads and a window adjacent to the diner booth style table opposite them. These and the windshield admitted gray light through complex displays of running rainwater, the kind through which people gaze to operate their melancholy.

“Grand Ma,” said Nadia. She pronounced the two syllables like two separate words, like a Christian name and a surname. “How long have you been coming to Chippertwig?”

“Oh, for years and years,” said Olga. “We started coming when your mom was younger than you are now.”

“Younger than me too?” asked Richmond.

“Younger than both of you,” said Olga.

“OK, wow,” said Richmond. He sounded like his mother.

“What was it like back then?” asked Nadia. “Did they have the mini-golf course?”

“Yes, they did,” said Olga.

“Did they have the teen dance?” asked Richmond. He was fascinated by teenagers, and thus fascinated by the teen dance.

“Yes,” said Olga. “Your mom went to it. A few times.”

“When she was a teen?” asked Richmond.

“You have to be a teen to go,” said Nadia. “I’m going next year.”

“When can I go?” asked Richmond.

“You already know,” said Nadia. “You know exactly. To the day. You just want someone else to say it out loud.”  

Richmond blushed.

“Do you kids know about my Chippertwig memory book?” asked Olga.

The kids said they didn’t.

Olga stood and reached up into the cabinets above the couch, too short to feel around inside of them any way but blindly, bracelets sliding almost to her elbows. But her hands knew how to find the book without the assistance of her eyes, and she pulled it down and flipped the cabinet door closed with the back of her hand.

               The book was a hardbound journal, its cover brown and blank. Olga resettled between her grandchildren. She opened the journal somewhere in the middle. The kids recognized the script on its pages from birthday cards.

               “Are you going to read aloud to us?” asked Nadia.

               Olga nodded. “I’m going to skip around. I hope you don’t mind my writing style.”

               “I hope so too,” said Richmond.


Mini-Golf Memory


               Renée, E.J., and I played mini-golf yesterday afternoon at the mini-golf course by the Chippertwig main office. Renée was excited to play this year because she thought she was old enough to beat one or both of us. E.J. doesn’t golf and neither do I, so we aren’t especially skilled at putting, but we’ve always been more patient than Renée, which gives us an advantage. I don’t know if it’s an age thing or if that’s just Renée’s personality. She was a little better this time, but not by much.

               Chippertwig doesn’t have the fanciest mini-golf course. Our family isn’t a mini-golf family, but I’ve driven past some that are very fancy with big hills, bridges, fountains and ponds, and lots of interactive obstacles to putt your ball into. Chippertwig’s isn’t like that. It’s a modest mini-golf course. The greens just have little ramps, blocks, narrow gaps, tunnels, things like that. There’s a windmill and you have to try to hit your ball underneath without bouncing it off of the rotating arms. And there are a few other fiberglass animals and things around, but they’re mostly decorative. But it’s cheap and it’s a fun enough way to kill a little time.

               E.J. won, I came in second place, and Renée was in last place. She was pouting. The fact that her score was closer than usual wasn’t good enough for her.

               The last hole for the course isn’t a regular hole. It’s really just a fancy way to return your ball. It’s sort of like ski-ball. You putt your ball up a ramp and it flies into one of two possible holes. Most balls just hit somewhere on the board and roll down the inside of a big plastic circle into a hole in the bottom. But if you putt your ball just right, you can land it in the narrow hole in the middle of the board and win a prize. The posted sign doesn’t say what kind of prize. It just says that if you hit your ball into the center hole, you get a prize.

               I didn’t have high hopes for a prize. I took a swing and missed the center hole by a mile. E.J. tried harder than me, I think, but he missed too. But then Renée really took her time lining up a putt. I think she thought that if she were the only one to get her ball in the center hole, then that would make up for getting last place again. I got annoyed with her because she was taking so long, doing little practice swings and all that. But just as I was about to say something, she putted the ball, it shot up the ramp, and flew straight into the middle hole. It made a little light flash and a siren go off. Renée was dancing around and pumping her fist. It seemed like excessive celebration to me, but I was glad she wouldn’t be pouting for the rest of the evening.

               Then E.J. noticed that a little slip of paper had come out of a slot in the sign that says you can win a prize. Renée took it and looked it over and she seemed confused. I asked her what it said and she handed the slip of paper to me. I read it out loud so E.J. could hear it too. It read: “Congratulations! Redeem this coupon at the front counter in the main office for permission to impose a 5-year ban from Chippertwig Campground on any current visitor of your choice!”

               I said that didn’t seem like a very nice prize to me. E.J. agreed and said it must be a joke. But Renée got defensive. She said we were just talking down her prize because she won it and we didn’t. It turned into a big thing until we finally agreed to go to the front desk and see if the prize was real because if it wasn’t then we were all arguing for nothing. Well, that ended up being a bad decision because the lady at the front desk said the prize was real. She was shocked that Renée had won it – in fact, she said she had always thought the golf balls were too big to fit in the center hole – but she insisted the prize was legitimate. She took Renée’s picture and said she would develop it in the Chippertwig dark room and put it in a file of prize winners of which Renée was the first and only. She asked Renée if she already had someone in mind to ban for 5 years. Renée said she didn’t and the woman laughed and said she had suggestions if Renée was interested. Renée laughed too, but then the woman stopped laughing and said that in all seriousness she really did have some suggestions, but Renée said she wanted to make the decision herself.

               At this point, E.J. and I pulled Renée aside and said it was unkind of her to want to use her prize to ban someone. But she said what good was winning the prize if she didn’t even get to use it? I said she’d already proven to be a better putter than me or E.J. by getting the ball in the center hole, and that accomplishment would stand even if she didn’t use the prize. I said the impressive thing was winning the prize, not using it. But then she brought up the time she won a coconut cream pie in a raffle at her friend’s church event and she couldn’t eat any of it because of her coconut allergy so E.J. ate the whole thing. She said that was the hardest thing she’d ever had to go through: watching her dad eat the pie she won but couldn’t eat. I could see the argument wasn’t going anywhere, but I pointed out that I’d never seen her eat any of the many kinds of pie she is allowed to have and it went downhill from there.

               The woman at the desk told Renée to come back any time to say who she wanted banned. She said it didn’t have to be her working the counter to ban someone because whoever was there could look at Renée’s picture in the prize file. We told the woman that Renée wouldn’t be banning anyone, and that if she tried, whoever was working the desk shouldn’t listen to her, but the woman said they had to honor the prize so she would not be abiding by our request and neither would any of the other people who work the desk. So I said we would be packing up and leaving right away so Renée wouldn’t have the opportunity to ban anyone, but Renée said that in that case, she would ban me right then and there. I wasn’t sure if she really would, but she was so worked up I thought she might do it, even though it would probably ruin her own chances to come back to Chippertwig for a while. Unless E.J. brought her without me, which I didn’t think he would do, but he does love Chippertwig. Anyway, she might have been bluffing, but I didn’t want to risk it, so I asked the woman at the desk about her suggestions for people to ban, if there was someone who really deserved it, like someone dangerous or obnoxious who hadn’t technically violated enough rules to get banned yet, but who was probably on track. Or maybe someone who was having a bad time at Chippertwig and probably wouldn’t want to come back in the next 5 years anyway, or ever again, maybe. But before the woman could answer, Renée clamped her hands over her ears and said she didn’t want to hear any suggestions, she wanted whoever got banned to be her choice only, not someone else’s suggestion. She was being the brattiest I’d seen her be in a while. Probably the brattiest since she got upset because she found out the neighbors named their new rescue dog the same name as her favorite childhood doll, which I don’t think they had any idea what her doll’s name was and even if they did, why would anyone think that made the name off limits for their dog? I don’t think any name is too sacred for a dog and especially not a doll’s name. And on top of all that, the doll’s name was Queenie, which always seemed like a dog name to me anyway.

While we walked back to our campsite, E.J. kept asking Renée how she was going to pick who to ban, what criteria she was going to use for choosing, but Renée wouldn’t say. She just said she was still thinking about it. She said whoever she picked, it had to matter and it had to make a difference. I was worried about what she might have meant by that. When we got back to the camper, I pulled E.J. aside and told him not to talk about it with her because the more interested or worried we seemed, the more defiant she would get. I thought if maybe we just left it alone, she would either start to feel bad at the idea of banning someone or she would just lose interest. She was quiet the rest of the evening and we went to bed.

In the middle of the night, I woke up when I heard the camper door close. I got up and tried to follow Renée, but I was still putting on my robe and slippers when I heard the golf cart drive away. I was going to follow in the truck, but I couldn’t find the keys because it turned out they were still in the pocket of the shorts E.J. wore that day, and by the time I woke him and we figured that out, it was way too late to catch Renée before she got to the office. We were both sitting up waiting for her when she got back, but she didn’t seem surprised. I asked her who she banned and she didn’t answer. Then E.J. asked her and she said it wasn’t our business. She looked proud of herself. I could tell she wanted to tell us, but she also wanted to hold the secret over our heads.

I took the golf cart to the office, and there was a different woman working the desk overnight. I told her my daughter had just been there to ban someone based on her prize from the mini-golf ball return thing and I wanted to know who it was, but the woman told me it wasn’t her place to tell me. I tried to argue with her but she just kept saying ask your daughter ask your daughter ask your daughter. Eventually I got fed up and went home. E.J. hadn’t made any progress with Renée while I was gone and had finally just told her to go to bed. He was waiting up for me to see what I had to report, but since neither of us had anything to report to each other, we went to bed too. This was at probably 12:45am.

At 2:12am – I remember because I looked at our digital travel clock right away – Renée came into our room and woke us up to say she couldn’t wait any longer to tell us who she had banned, she was too excited and she figured we had learned our lesson. I don’t know what the lesson was we were supposed to have learned. E.J. and I were both groggy and confused but he finally told her OK, go ahead and tell us.

She said she had banned Plumb Article. I made her repeat it a few times before I understood what she was saying. I also made her clarify she meant plumb like the fruit. Then E.J. asked who that was and Renée got upset and said we don’t listen to her because she had pointed out this Plumb Article guy to us a few days before and I guess she had told us he was some kind of singer. Once she said that, I vaguely remembered her being surprised and excited to see someone, but I think the name Plumb Article just sounded like nothing to me so I didn’t retain anything about the conversation. I asked her if she didn’t like his music or something and she said no, she liked it a lot, and we had actually gotten her a Plumb Article CD for her most recent birthday, which I didn’t remember that either. Then E.J. asked why she would ban him from Chippertwig for 5 years if she liked his music. Renée said she did it because she wanted the ban to matter and she wanted people to care about it. She said by banning Plumb Article, maybe it would be in the news and people might talk about it all over the country or the world. She said banning him might cause other things to happen, big things that might change history, maybe for better, maybe for worse, and hardly anyone would know she was the one who made it all happen, but Renée would know and we would know that it was all because of her great putt, which was not a lucky shot because we had both seen how long she took to line it up. I asked if Plumb Article was really that famous and Renée said he was. I asked why he was at Chippertwig, then, and she said she didn’t know, that’s why she had been so surprised to see him. Anyway, I didn’t really agree with Renée’s motives, but I was also kind of sick of the whole thing and so was E.J. so we went back to sleep. Renée seemed annoyed that we didn’t give her the reaction she expected, but it was after 2 in the morning and we had no opinions about Plumb Article.

This morning Renée played some of Plumb Article’s songs for me and I thought they were just awful. I asked her if that was the CD we had gotten her and she said it was. I regretted getting it for her, but it made me feel even less bad about his 5-year ban.


Outdoor Movie Memory


Tonight, E.J. and I took Renée to the Chippertwig Outdoor Family Movie Night. It was at the Chippertwig Outdoor Theater, which is just a stage with a bunch of benches arranged on a concrete slab. They usually use it for talent shows and things like that, but for Outdoor Family Movie Night, they set up a big screen on the stage and project a family movie onto it. Or at least it’s supposed to be a family movie but I don’t know what happened tonight. The movie they showed was called Everything Special. I’m not going to describe the plot here, but it seemed like a perfectly fine family movie for the first 20 minutes, although maybe a little boring, and then one character pushed another character off of an observation deck overlooking a canyon and the pushed character fell to his death, and this wasn’t like a cartoon where they just fall out of view and you see a puff of dust, this one was quite graphic with a very realistic dummy bouncing off of several outcroppings on the way down and one of the legs even came off, and then the movie just continued like before like a normal family movie.

When it happened, I was shocked. E.J. didn’t react and Renée didn’t seem bothered but she’s 15 and I’m pretty sure she’s been watching stuff at her friends’ houses since she was even younger that E.J. and I wouldn’t let her watch and then her friends’ parents cover for her or else just don’t know because it all happens in basements and the parents don’t check what’s going on down there. I looked around at the other families. There were probably 100 people there and most families had kids younger than Renée with them, but none of them seemed upset, neither the kids nor the parents. I wondered if they were all that desensitized to violence or if maybe everyone had happened to be looking away from the screen when the fall happened or what.

But whatever the reason was that no one was reacting except me, I was upset that Chippertwig would knowingly show a movie with that scene in it for Outdoor Family Movie Night, which is advertised as being family friendly, so I got up from our bench and walked back to talk to the guy running the projector. He was an older man with white hair and I thought at first that he would be receptive to my complaint, but he wasn’t. I told him it wasn’t appropriate to show a movie to kids where someone pushes someone else off of a cliff, especially when it’s graphic, but he said he didn’t choose the movie, he was just in charge of projecting it. I asked him who did choose the movie and he said he didn’t know. I told him he should turn the movie off because it wasn’t appropriate but he said he couldn’t do that. I asked him if there were any other graphic scenes in the rest of the movie and he said he didn’t know because he’d never seen the movie before. I could see he didn’t want to take any responsibility. I asked him if he could see why I was upset and he said not really. I asked him if he thought it was OK to show kids a graphic scene like that without warning their parents. He said all the kids were there with their parents and if the parents had a problem with it, they could complain. I said that I was a parent and that’s what I was doing. He asked me if my kid was disturbed by the scene and I said sometimes kids don’t know they’ve been disturbed until later, which he took to mean that I didn’t know if my kid was disturbed or not, and that that meant she probably wasn’t.

Just then, something funny must have happened in the movie because the whole audience started laughing loud and hard. I looked to where E.J. and Renée were still sitting and saw that they were laughing maybe the loudest and hardest of anyone. I hadn’t seen what happened in the movie to make everyone laugh so hard because I was too preoccupied with arguing with the projectionist. I was mostly bothered because now it would be harder to get anyone else to support me in trying to get the movie turned off and it would be impossible to get E.J. and Renée to leave without a whole discussion. Since I didn’t know what else to do, I went back to my seat.

It was hard to enjoy the movie because I felt so tense that something graphic would happen. Any time there was any tension in a scene, I worried that it was leading to a violent outburst. But after fifteen minutes or so, I started to calm down because the movie was so dull and uneventful. In some ways it was almost harder to believe that a really funny scene had happened than it was to believe that the violent man-pushed-off-a-cliff scene had happened, especially since I hadn’t seen the funny scene with my own eyes.

Then, after I got calm, I started to get bored, and I must have spaced out because I wasn’t paying attention and then all the sudden that same character who had pushed the first guy off the cliff was back at the same observation deck overlooking the same canyon with a different character, a woman this time, and I could tell from music that he was going to push her over the cliff too! So I jumped up and turned and yelled back to the man at the projector to turn the movie off, that it wasn’t appropriate for kids to see this kind of violence, but I couldn’t see him very well back there because the light from the projector blinded me a little, and there were families near us who were shushing me and telling me to sit down. And then I heard the music get really tense and I turned around just in time to see the woman falling down the cliff, and the dummy they got for her was very realistic, it looked like a real person falling, bouncing off the outcroppings, and at least no limbs fell off this time, but the scene was even longer, probably worse than the first one even with all the limbs staying on, and the movie cut to a different angle down at the bottom of the canyon so you could see the body hit the ground.

I was disgusted and furious. I told Renée and E.J. to get up because we were leaving. I must have looked and sounded intense because Renée and E.J. got up with only a little grumbling. And I also told all the other parents sitting near us that they should leave too, that they shouldn’t let their kids watch this kind of violence, but no one listened to me or even looked ashamed. As we were walking toward the golf cart parking area across the grass in the dark, we heard another big burst of laughter behind us and I could tell E.J. and Renée were really sorry they missed it. I said we were going to stop by the office on the way home so I could complain and E.J. and Renée said they didn’t want to join me, but they’d leave me the golf cart and walk home, which seemed fine to me, I didn’t think they’d be very supportive while I was complaining anyway. So I took the cart to the office and they headed home.

At the office, I knew the woman working the desk, her name is Jan and we usually get along pretty well just chatting so I thought she’d be sympathetic. But it turned out the movie being shown for Outdoor Family Movie Night was directed by her cousin. I said that my objections to the movie weren’t about its overall quality and that it would be a great movie to show for adults only, or at least with more warnings about the content, although I didn’t actually believe that because the movie wasn’t good except for apparently two hilarious parts I missed. But I also wondered if since I was the only one who found the scenes of people being pushed to their deaths distasteful, if maybe I would have also been the only person to not find the funny scenes funny. Anyway, Jan got defensive and said that kids deserve more credit than people give them and that they’re ready to handle scenes of people being pushed over cliffs and falling to their deaths, and that seeing it happen onscreen can help them confront the fact that it often happens in real life, and can also serve as a warning not to get near the edge of a cliff with someone they don’t trust.  

I said that I don’t think people actually get pushed over cliffs very often in real life and Jan said that it had happened to multiple members or her family including both of her cousin’s parents, which was why he put those scenes in the movie, because those scenes are semi-autobiographical. I asked if the people in the movie who get pushed over the cliff were supposed to be Jan’s cousin’s parents and she said no, they were just characters who the same thing happens to them as happened to her cousin’s parents and that if I had been paying attention to the movie I wouldn’t have asked that question because the characters in the movie aren’t married and don’t have any kids and look nothing like how her cousin’s parents looked. I didn’t bother to point out that how should I know what her cousin’s parents looked like?

I could tell my complaint wasn’t going anywhere and I didn’t know how to go over Jan’s head, so I just said that my family and I wouldn’t be attending anymore Outdoor Family Movie Nights at Chippertwig, which isn’t much of a threat because they’re free for anyone who’s staying there and I knew we’d still be staying at Chippertwig in the future, but I think it still hurt Jan’s feelings because she was clearly proud of her cousin’s movie.

I drove back to the camper and it didn’t seem like E.J. and Renée got there much before me. I felt bad for sort of ruining the fun even though it was really the movie’s fault, not mine, but I suggested we go into Dalcette to get some ice cream at this place called Newsworthy Burger that’s open late. The service isn’t good there, but if you’re persistent you can usually get something close to what you asked for, more or less, and there aren’t many other options. E.J. and Renée liked my idea or were at least willing to humor me so we got in the truck and drove into town.

I told Renée she could drive the truck to sweeten the deal for her because she just got her learner’s permit a few weeks ago. E.J. rode in the back because Renée gets too stressed when he’s riding shotgun while she drives because he’s always commenting on how wide or narrow the shoulder is but doesn’t when he’s in the back seat, for some reason. When we got to Dalcette, we were driving through the small downtown area, and we turned to drive past the old elementary school, and just as Renée was accelerating, a human figure came sailing off the top of the school’s roof, which is pretty high, and it landed in the road right in front of us, but Renée didn’t bat an eye, she just drove right over it and kept going, she immediately knew it was a dummy. Whoever threw it, probably kids playing a nasty prank, I think they were hoping we would veer off the road and crash or at least stomp the brakes and jump out panicking and making a big scene. I asked Renée how she knew it wasn’t a real person and she said it was because of the movie, because the dummy looked like the dummies in the movie and it fell like them. So I kind of had to admit that maybe the movie had some accidental value. I say that the value was accidental because I don’t think teaching people to identify falling dummies was the goal of the movie.

               Then at the restaurant, I don’t think the ice cream machine had been getting proper maintenance, because while the kid behind the counter was filling my cone with chocolate soft serve even though I had specified strawberry three times, the machine started shaking and smoking and then it literally collapsed in a pile of parts and ice cream poured out all over the floor behind the counter and it filled the kid’s shoes. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in years. I asked E.J. and Renée if the ice cream machine collapsing was funnier than the funny scene they’d seen in the movie, and they said it wasn’t, but that just isn’t possible. It just isn’t.


Swimming Pool Memory


               We were at the second pool yesterday. I call it the south pool but no one else does. Most other people call it the small pool. It isn’t very small, but it’s smaller than the north pool, which most other people call the big pool.

Just Renée and I went. The weather wasn’t hot; the sun was behind some clouds. E.J. stayed behind to take a nap. He didn’t sleep much the night before because he was scared of something he won’t tell me about. Some people would be more scared to not know, but not me. I don’t mind not knowing.

There was only one other person at the pool. Not a great day for swimming, but Renée didn’t mind and neither did I. It’s nice when the pool isn’t crowded, and that usually only happens when conditions aren’t ideal.

The other person there was a little boy. A few years younger than Renée, I think, age 8 or age 9. His parents weren’t there. Right away he had a crush on Renée. He followed her around and was showing off. He did a flip off the diving board and it might have been his first one ever. He smacked his back pretty hard on the water, his back was all red when he climbed out of the pool. His eyes were bloodshot from the chlorine, I think he’d been there for hours and wasn’t wearing goggles.

After 30 minutes, Renée came over to where I was dozing on a deck chair and she was looking sheepish so I knew she expected me to be upset about something. She told me she had forgotten to take her new contact lenses out before we came to the pool even though I had reminded her more than once and now she had lost one in the pool. I was a little upset, but they were brand new and she wasn’t used to having them yet so I could see how she might forget. The main thing was just that I had reminded her, but I could see she was sorry and might cry if I was too harsh.

I guess the little boy had been listening from the edge of the pool because he climbed up out of the water and came over to us and said he would find the missing contact lens on the bottom of the pool. I was very skeptical. I didn’t think he could do it. I told him not to bother, but he insisted on trying. He asked Renée where she’d been when the contact came out and she didn’t know, but that didn’t seem to bother him. He went to the edge of the deep end of the pool and dived in.

Renée asked me if I thought the boy would find her contact lens in the pool. I said he wouldn’t because contact lenses are too small and they’re clear and the pool has drains and filters and things that the contact lens could go into. But it wasn’t even a long time before the boy popped his head above the water and said he’d found the contact lens. He held up two fingers pinched together to show us but I couldn’t see the contact lens from that distance. Renée asked me if I thought he really had it and I said I doubted it, but he swam over and Renée met him at the edge. She crouched down and held out her hand and what do you know but that little boy dropped her missing contact lens right into her palm. Renée was amazed but I think I was even more amazed.

The boy was very pleased with himself but he didn’t gloat. He was pleased to impress us, especially Renée. Seeing how impressed we were, he asked if we had lost anything else that he could find for us. I told him no, we hadn’t, but Renée said that she had lost one of her baby teeth in the pool two summers before. I said no way, I said that tooth was long gone, but the boy didn’t hesitate, he dived right back down into the deep end of the pool. Renée stood at the edge of the pool and watched him.

After a while, I got worried, it seemed like the boy had been underwater for too long. I didn’t think a boy could hold his breath for that long, maybe no one could except for one of those pearl divers. I asked Renée what she saw and she said the boy was still swimming around down there, but she also said he looked small. I asked her what she meant and she repeated that he looked very small. I told her that it was probably a trick of the way the light is refracted in the water, but I didn’t really know what I was talking about. I’m not very clear on what it means for light to be refracted or if that could make something underwater look smaller than it should.

I was about to get up to check on the boy when Renée said he was coming up, which was a relief. Still, it took much longer than I expected. Finally, he broke the surface again. Right away Renée asked if he had the tooth and the boy waved a closed hand over his head and said he did. Then he swam to the edge of the pool and Renée crouched and took the tooth from him. I got up and walked over and asked Renée to let me see. It was a tooth, a small one, and not in very good shape. Whether or not it was hers, I have no idea. A new tooth had grown into the gap where the missing one had been so we couldn’t check. Anyway, it would have been gross to try. Renée was convinced that it was her old tooth, though, that the boy had retrieved the correct tooth for her. She was elated, for some reason. I don’t know exactly why. E.J. and I aren’t very generous tooth fairies. One dollar per tooth, that’s it, and she’d already gotten her dollar for this tooth. We weren’t going to deny her dollar just because she’d lost the tooth in the pool, and we also weren’t going to give her a second dollar for the same tooth just because she actually had it now. If it was even the same tooth.

The boy asked if we had lost anything else. I said no, the contact lens and the tooth were the only things we’d ever lost in that pool. The boy said it didn’t have to be things we’d lost in that pool. He said it could be things we’d lost in any pool. As soon as he said it, I hoped Renée wouldn’t remember the story of me throwing the first engagement ring E.J. bought me over a fence into a public pool one night when we were having a fight, but of course she remembered, she’s heard the story a hundred times and she thinks it’s so funny. So she told the boy that I had lost my ring in a pool, she was all excited because she thought she’d finally get to see this ring she’d heard so much about, and she knew how expensive it was, too, because E.J. always includes that detail in his version of the story.

I told the boy not to look for it, that it didn’t make sense to look in this pool for a ring that had been thrown into a different pool in a different state fifteen years before. And it was a public pool I threw it into, so someone had probably fished it out the very next day and kept it or pawned it. But the boy just smiled and dived back under the water. His feet kicked into the air like a whale’s fluke. The feet didn’t look like a whale’s fluke, but it was a similar motion.

Renée and I stood at the edge of the pool and watched the boy dive deeper and deeper. The deepest part of the south pool is only 12 feet deep, but from where I stood, it looked like he was going a lot deeper than 12 feet. His skin was a medium brown color which I mention because after a while, he was just a brown shape in the water getting smaller and smaller. I wondered if I should dive in after him, but I was scared and I didn’t honestly think I could reach him. After a while, he wasn’t a brown shape, he was just a brown spot, then a brown dot – I think of a dot as being smaller than a spot – and then I couldn’t see him at all and Renée said she couldn’t either.

I told Renée we needed to leave. She argued with me, but I was much more forceful than I usually am, and I almost dragged her away. She was upset and crying, but not because she was worried about the boy, but because she wanted to see the ring so badly, she wanted to surprise E.J. with it. I told her not to tell E.J. or anyone about the boy, I didn’t want us to be connected to him. I made her throw the tooth in the garbage. She finally seemed to understand how upset I was and I think that got through to her a little.

When we got back to the camper, E.J. was awake, but Renée didn’t mention the boy to him and I didn’t either. After we ate dinner, we were all sitting in the camper reading our books when someone knocked on the door. I was afraid it was the boy, so I rushed to answer the door before E.J. or Renée could. It was the boy and he was wearing the same swimming trunks as earlier with no shirt, no shoes, and his eyes were even more bloodshot. The look on his face was embarrassed. He said he hadn’t been able to find my ring and he was sorry about it. I told him it was OK and that I hadn’t expected him to find it anyway, which I don’t think made him feel better. I didn’t ask how he knew which campsite we were at. He said to make up for not finding the ring, he would try to find something else for us. I said there wasn’t anything else we’d lost in the pool. Then he said it didn’t have to be something we had lost, that he could get anything anyone had lost in a pool and never found again. He said it was all still down there and he could bring it to us. I tried to close the door but he put out his hand and stopped it from closing. He said that not everything people lose in a pool are things, that sometimes people lose things that aren’t things in pools. He was having trouble expressing it – I don’t think he had the vocabulary to say what he meant – but it bothered me. I said we had no use for anything lost in a swimming pool, that there was nothing lost in a swimming pool that we couldn’t do without. The boy said he didn’t believe me, but he took his hand off of the door and I closed it.

Last night, E.J. slept fine and I was the one awake. In the morning, he kept asking me what I was afraid of; he and I are not opposites but we are different. I told him that I had been trying not to think of things people might lose in pools, especially abstract things. He asked me if I meant fear of water, for example, and I said I supposed that could be one, but that I didn’t want to think of more because I might decide I wanted them. Fear of water wouldn’t be one I would want, of course. E.J. sat there for a while thinking and then said he’d thought of a few more possibilities. I told him not to tell me and he didn’t and here I am now and I’m not even mildly curious, thank God.


               Olga closed the book.

               Richmond and Nadia, who had listened to Olga in silence, began to stir, pecking their way out of a reverie.

               Rain still fell from cloud to earth, simple and direct. In the back bedroom, E.J. began to stir too, his pre-awakening throat-clearing nearing its climax, which would be his awakening. He did not have a Chippertwig memory book, it perhaps goes without saying.

               “You use a lot of run-on sentences,” said Richmond.

               “Does that bother you?” asked Olga.

               “Not me,” said Richmond. “It would bother my teacher, though. She hates run-ons. It’s the only bad grammar that’s made her cry so far.”

               The rain sound filled a pause to the brim. The storm utilized mellow thunder to grumble at the monotony of its job, and the thanklessness. Richmond crossed the RV to kneel in the booth seat to look out the window. He watched something happening outside.

               “Is Chippertwig still like that, Grand Ma?” asked Nadia. “Like how you wrote it down?”

               Olga felt Nadia’s meaning. She patted her granddaughter’s wrist. “I don’t know,” she said. “Writing it down only ever tells you how it was.”

               “Then how can you know how Chippertwig is?” asked Nadia.

               Olga might have answered, but she was interrupted by Richmond. “Who are those people?” he asked. “Why are they doing that?”

               Olga and Nadia joined Richmond at the window. Across the gravel road at the edge of empty lot number 733 stood two women covered head to ankle by gray ponchos. Their feet were bare and muddy. One held a can of white paint, the other held a paint brush. The woman with the brush dipped it in the can and tried to paint the numeral “12” on the trunk of a tall oak tree, but the paint would not adhere to the wet surface, it washed away. After this failed attempt, the woman with the brush painted the numeral “53” instead and it stayed on the bark with no problem, bold and legible. Then the women walked away and out of sight.

               Nadia looked at Olga. “Are you going to write that down, Grand Ma?”

               “No,” said Olga. “I have enough.”

               “Maybe I’ll write it down, then,” said Nadia.

               But she wouldn’t. Nadia was more like her mother, Renée, who opposed Olga’s Chippertwig memory book in a way that she couldn’t articulate but Olga understood. Nadia would prefer to let this memory warp and shift until it either fit or fell away. She wouldn’t want some written account limiting her options, boxing her in, fixing this moment in time. She would want, someday, for the women to have been wearing sandals, for the numbers to have been part of a publicized tree species census, for the disparity between the numbers to have been caused by an initial misidentification of the tree, for the rain to have diminished between painting attempts. She would want to have been aware of all these things at the time. She would want it to be mildly noteworthy.

She would want it and, if she wrote nothing down, she would have it.

Discussion Questions

  • What’s a memory your sensitive mind has adjusted to accommodate your changing tastes multiple times throughout your life?

  • What’s the most valuable thing, including objects, mindsets, conditions, attitudes, beliefs, and states of being, that you have so far lost in a swimming pool?

  • At what age is it appropriate for kids to learn through the medium of film about the sad reality of people being pushed off of cliffs by other people and what could happen to the bodies on the way down?

  • Who could YOU realistically punish in order to make the biggest impact on the flow of history?

  • Which of these alternate names for miniature golf is most dreadful? 1. Putt-putt 2. Mini-putt 3.Crazy golf 4. Goofy golf 5. Par-three golf 6. Peewee golf