It is clear that I am subterfuge. Another debris in the lake they all swim in. He holds my hand while we fall asleep. He asks me to put my hand over his heart.
His mom’s voice comes through the closed door, echoing, and he slowly gets up. I can’t remember if this is before or after we hear his sister sobbing in the next room. He comes back in with a water glass. On the train, before I have met them, he tells me he’s said I’m his girlfriend and I think that this is funny but later I realize it’s actually sad. Not because I do really want to be his girlfriend and am not, but because it becomes clear to me he told them something false in order to make them understand him.
I heard they call it cheating if you take things from your real life and put them into your fiction novel, even if ninety percent of the rest of it is made up. I heard someone got an award once, but they took it away when they realized she’d included real things too.
His mom cuts Buurebrot bread in the kitchen and I can see her through the doorway, her hair up and her dad dead eight months before. There was golden evening light in the bedroom and of course it made everything seem more romantic than it was, but lying in bed at midnight while his sister cried – probably about it being their last visit to their grandfather’s home and all – he whispered that his mom has never, ever comforted him like that. I felt then that I understood alcoholism, love and motherhood and learning to swim and all the things people say when they’re drunk or it’s dark and they’re in a foreign country. I felt just like that golden light on the bedroom curtains. Like I could burn something down just as soon as warm it up.
At the Schwimmbad, I don’t feel exactly like an inconvenience, but more like I’m a disconcerting piece of evidence. It bothers me how things change when you rearrange them, how sometimes they still fit together no matter when they come up in space and time, and even become more profound when they’re told slightly out of order. It occurs to me that the true dishonesty isn’t calling your real life fiction, but the power an author has to cut and paste.
I wonder now what it would be like if I’d seen the backyard with the grass cut, or knew what they talked about when they were seven. His sister holds two pairs of Celine sunglasses and asks what he and I even talk about. I can’t imagine either of them as children. I feel fraudulent, like maybe we really don’t talk about anything. Maybe he does owe them an explanation for how real and significant I am, and maybe it’s his sister who is the main character here.
I can picture it now: the counterfeit insights, the quart sized bag of prosciutto and his mom upset about water glasses on the antiques. No one loses their wallet this time, but he and I do still kiss on the sidewalk. Eventually, I am twenty-six at the Schwimmbad. I tell his sister we talk about her. About how much we have in common, what with all the siblings and sobbing.
Katherine Kesey is a visual artist and writer in LA. Her writing can be found in Bristol Noir and The Terrible Orange Review, and her poetry zine “August Birthday” is available on Amazon.