Animals with lungs can float easier than those without.
Sometimes I remember her like she had lived. I don’t remember when I forgot, but it was easier to forget. I don’t remember when I noticed the bridge. The water. The river. The dark green gray water and thought about the car and being trapped inside and how cold the water would be and would my hands be too cold to get out. I don’t remember when I started dreading the drive over it or the return trip over it or when I started imagining ways to avoid it.
There was a swim meet that day. Our class met at the cove. The teacher placed a sign with her name on it calling it Lacey’s Cove. The sign was wood, engraved. I was too young to realize our teacher, Mr. Adams, had it specially made or he’d made it himself or that Lacey had it made. The implications, I understood them now. We were teenagers. Mr. Adams was tall, thin, with wavy blonde hair down to his shoulders and tan. The two always seemed to go together, blonde and tanned. Our class had a barbecue or some kind of water side picnic. We did some water skiing. I don’t remember why we even had the event. I had to leave for a swim meet. Lacey did too. We didn’t drive together. I don’t even remember her arriving at the event or how she got there or if Mr. Adams was there too.
Jacob, her boyfriend, her same age boyfriend had not been at the picnic at the cove, but he’d been at the swim meet. He was not in Mr. Adam’s class. He didn’t even go to the same school. He had run into me in the hallway in the break between the IM and the Butterfly for Girls age 14-16 grilling me on Lacey’s whereabouts and why we hadn’t ridden together to the meet. I told him the drive was almost an hour and Lacey hadn’t wanted to leave when I did. Jacob dragged me into the indoor pool where everyone was warming up. He jerked me by the shoulder. I pulled away and pushed at him. He smacked at my shoulder, yelled some kind of curse word and threw me in the shallow end. I didn’t hit anything but I yelled back and I cursed at him and called him a liar and a cheater.
Jacob was also tall, thin, blonde with curly hair and tanned. He would cheat on his workouts, skipping lengths he was supposed to swim. The Coach heard me yelling at nice sweet angelic Jacob and kicked me out of the meet.
When Lacey was discovered, they said it was an accident. Jacob told the Coach I had something to do with it because I was mad for being kicked out of the meet and for not having Mr. Adams name the cove after me. I didn’t give a crap about having some bank named “Helen’s Cove” but by then it stuck and I was stuck and I began to doubt whether or not it was accidental.
I was ostracized at school but somehow graduated packing all my crap in my beat up gray Chevy hightailing it to Nashville where I decided I would give up everything and pour my heart into writing crappy lyrics that I somehow turned into country and western songs. I got a contract, enough to buy my own place and the place I bought was an abandoned pool and building in old downtown across the interstate from the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was quiet enough for me to do my songwriting and singing.
“Dance with a Stranger”
Walking into a mystery.
Could that tall dark stranger belong to me?
You can’t believe everything you see,
what you always want, can’t always be.
I turn around and he’s standing there.
How can someone you don’t know seem to care?
And it’s just like taking a dare to
dance with a stranger.
Take a chance into danger.
When you dare to dance with a stranger.
Dance with a stranger.
It might end in romance or in anger,
if you dare to dance with a stranger,
if you dare to dance with a stranger.
The sound took getting used to but the acoustics were great for song singing and practicing lyrics and a good poor man’s or poor woman’s studio. I couldn’t afford studio time and my publisher wasn’t buying it for me now. Not enough hits. Not enough current hits. I could get the publisher to buy it for me after I sold my first hit, a country western ditty called “Infatuation.”
Comes from longing looks of invitation
Wrongful, unreasonable temptation
Only seems to result in frustration
How do you ever get over the fascination?
The fascination of infatuation.
I’d heard it so much that I had taken some time off, quit listening to the radio and especially to the five or six artists that had recorded the song and the other eight or nine that had rerecorded it. It meant the residuals were good. It meant I could keep the lights on at the old pool a little longer.
I stood up pushing my lawn chair back. The chlorine smell was thick today. I kept the pool drained. Hadn’t ever taken a dip. Rows of fluorescents glared down at me. I eyed the skylights. It was raining again. Typical gloomy Nashville weather.
In the coach’s office, I kept my bed, a coffee maker, a mini fridge, alarm clock, clothing stuffed in the lifeguard lockers. Next to the office, was a small restroom and a hallway leading to what had been the front office where they sold admission, checked passes. The locker rooms were where I showered. The novelty of showering in the boys locker room had worn off after a few days but I would alternate so I didn’t have to clean too much. The walls were all a dingy light yellow or blue. I kept the back doors padlocked with a heavy chain and lock. No one climbed the hill much to the old pool.
The hill overlooked the interstate. To the east, there was a great view of new Nashville, the riverfront, the new hotels and restaurants. To the west, there was a great view of the old Nashville where the new Country Music Hall of Fame replacing the old Country Music Hall of Fame was as well as restaurants that had been around forever, the Parthenon replica, the university. The hill had maybe one restaurant. Something ritzy. Something for the important celebrity or rich folk types. It was only open for lunch and dinner. I had never tried it.
I thought about stopping at the ritzy restaurant for take out. I was late for my appointment. My monthly check in with my producer to see if I’d gelled anything new in my head, any more million dollar paycheck earning lyrics. I was walking up hill up the hill. There were more hills in Nashville than most people might think. It was a sprawling city and not nearly as laid back as everyone seemed to think it was. It was a melting pot. Transients, wanna be singers, retired celebrities, has been celebrities, real life celebrities, county music star celebrities, students, tourists and people like me who just wanted to disappear into a city large enough to hide us but not large enough to eat us alive.
Arthur was waiting on me when I got there. He took one look and shook his head and then forced a smile that started turning real as soon as I leaned over hugging him pulling him against me like he was a long lost boyfriend. I could still work the magic. At least I thought I could.
“Helen. You’re looking well. Even with living in the ummm old place, you know. You’ve let your hair grow out. It fits you.”
I nodded, slinging my hair behind my back. It was a dirty blonde, blonded by too much sun and chlorine at one time and the gleam had never faded. “Thanks, Arthur. I think. I still work out. Even if I don’t swim. The walking helps, too.”
Arthur nodded, giving me a once over as if he was checking to see if I was really fit, if my thighs fit my jeans okay. “Let’s go in here.” He pointed to a conference room behind his office.
The conference room was small seating eight in black high back leather chairs. A pot of coffee brewed in the corner next to a gleaming pitcher of water filled with floating limes and lemons. Arthur pointed to the water. I pointed to the coffee.
Drinks adjacent we were soon seated side by side with my notebook next to his elbow.
“Got anything for me? You must’ve come up with something by now?”
By now meant five years. I knew my residuals wouldn’t last forever from my last hit song. I didn’t have to worry too much about bills. Cell phone. Power and funny enough water.
“Yeah, maybe. See what you think of this one.” I started softly singing.
I keep having elevator dreams.
And I’m scared to death of what it all means.
Over the falling wires, can you hear my screams?
As I keep falling in my elevator dreams.
Woke up this morning in a cold sweat.
These dreams of mine are causing me to fall out of bed.
They say that it will pass in time.
But while I’m waiting will I lose my mind?
“Okay, okay. It’s got a hook. But this is more of a rock song. I’ve got some connections there. I could probably do something with it. Anything else?”
How could you just leave me here?
All alone to face the world with all my fears.
Don’t you know how I needed you to care?
You said you’d always be there.
How could you just leave me here?
When you know how much I wanted you near.
You just left me for a life on your own.
But you left me here – here all alone.
How could you just leave me here?
When you said you’d love me through the years.
Don’t you know I’ll never get over you.
Now you’re gone and I don’t know what to do.
“That’s more like it, Helen. This I can take to the bank. Listen drop your CD off with the new guy up front. He’ll package it and get it ready for me to take to session.”
Arthur’s voice was deep and gravely and didn’t match his wiry frame, his short stature.
I shrugged my shoulders. “New guy? You hired a guy receptionist?”
Arthur grinned, running a hand over his shiny head, pulling on his tie and buttoning up his jacket. “Even I have to catch up with the times. He’s not bad. Nothing to look at, mind you.”
I finished my coffee, visited the ladies room, and stopped at the front desk. The new receptionist was on the phone so I watched the back of his head awhile as he muttered into his headset. His hair was brown and curly. He wore a white dress shirt, tie and sport coat much like Arthur. I thought of him as an Arthur clone in the making except with a better body and more hair.
He said goodbye on the phone, whirled the chair around muttering, “You have a CD for Arthur?” holding out his hand.
I handed him the CD. We didn’t make eye contact at first but when we did it was me that sputtered “Jacob?”
We were silent for awhile and the room grew even more silent with no calls, traffic noises, clock ticking, conversations, anything to edge us through the warm hot sudden awkwardness thrust upon us.
“You’re H. Beattie?”
I nodded, “Yeah.”
“I had no idea.”
“You’re the new receptionist?”
“I had no idea.”
Am I just chasing the wind?
Will I be lost among my sins?
Is it time for me to give in?
There should be nothing for me to defend.
All goodness comes from within.
So why am I not satisfied?
You cannot have life until you try.
Can I find meaning again?
Or will I stay lost chasing the wind?
I walked back to the pool a different way. Jacob hadn’t mentioned Lacey or tossing me in the pool or accusing me of doing something to her. I hadn’t mentioned Lacey. We both slipped back into our dumb unawareness of one another ending our brief reconnection with slick smiles meant to put the other one at ease.
L.B. Sedlacek is an award winning poet and author with poetry and fiction appearing in many different journals and zines. Her latest poetry books are The Adventures of Stick People on Cars (Alien Buddha Press), The Architect of French Fries (Presa Press) and Words and Bones (Finishing Line Press). She is a former Poetry Editor for ESC! Magazine and also co-hosted the podcast for the small press, “Coffee House to Go,” for several years. She teaches poetry at local elementary and middle schools and publishes a free resource for poets, “The Poetry Market Ezine.” In her free time, LB enjoys swimming, reading, and taking guitar lessons. She recommends the Caldwell Humane Society.