At the local pool waiting in line to use the diving board, a young boy named
Randell turned to me and probed his pinkie into his ear, producing a picayune ball of
wax that he claimed to be his eardrum.
“Go ahead,” he said, “scream into my ear. I can’t hear a thing.”
Years later, he shows up on my worksite rolling a mud-filled tire for the same
reasons Sisyphus toiled over his stone. That is to say, he’s damned in ways most of us can’t fathom. He recognizes me, flags me down, tells me about his son, how some clipboard wielding woman took the boy away because he had too much dirt under his fingernails. Of course, I’ve heard a different story, one where Randell got on a liquor jag and passed out with a frozen pizza in his oven. Supposedly, when the firefighters pulled the boy from the smoke-filled house, he had three day’s worth of shit in his diaper.
Randell tells the truth about his ex, though, (this being the boy’s mother). He doesn’t leave out a single detail. He tells me how he found her drowned in her own vomit one morning. There was a burn on her cheek, he said, where the acid pooled overnight. It looked like the bruise on an apple.
“Hey,” he says. “So you think you could get me a job?”
I used to spring from the board and touch the deepest part of the pool. I didn’t do any fancy tricks in the air or try to splash the bored lifeguard sucking on her whistle. It didn’t feel like my place. I dove every time, headfirst, over and over. I merely liked diving down deep and looking upwards as those diamondy bubbles rose from my mouth, how they’d disappear amid the weird light writhing electrically on the surface.
Nick Bertelson’s work has appeared in The Coe Review, Prairie Fire and The North American Review as a James Hearst Poetry Prize finalist. His chapbook Going to What Lasts was a finalist for the “Poetry of the Prairie and Plains Prize” through the NDSU Press in 2018.
Cover Photo by wantunn