The dusty day holds dandelion seeds in the air. White helicopters, I call them. Brief clouds remain stagnant as though resting before a journey and the heat makes it hard to breathe. I wish to be smaller, insect small. I'd hug the spines of those helicopters and fly away from here. Over the mountains. Away.
I pass between rows of insect bitten lettuce and the stretch of sunflowers the neighbours whisper about and say don't look right in such a horizontal garden; the flowers' faded black faces pecked at by birds. My younger sister Laura follows, hopping over lines of wilting vegetables as grasshoppers land on her skin. "They're popping like popcorn," she says. s
We scurry toward the raspberries planted against Father's workshop, carefully avoiding the perpendicular fence where pinesap has fallen like honey on the white boards. Plucking away, we examine the raspberries for white worms then squash the berries against the roofs of our mouths with our tongues, the pips getting caught in our teeth. She smiles and black dots gather at the edge of her gums. Mine too. But more collect in the gap between her two front teeth, and in the pit where her tooth has just fallen out.
At lunch, Mum, dressed in those pants I despise, the ones that just cover her knee, comes to help clean the algae and cat poop from the plastic pool. "It's too hot for you to be running around," she says. "Make sure you don't get burnt. Try and stay in the shade." But there isn't any shade. The sun doesn't make shadows at this hour.
Hours pass. Slowly the poplar trees are mirrored in black along the ground, extended and stretched. We lounge in the water. Our toes and fingers are wrinkled when Father's truck rumbles to a stop in the carport under the veranda. He goes inside, slamming the screen door. Screen doors always slam it isn't a big deal.
Laura's toes touch mine in the water and I kick her back onto her half. She knows not to cross the line. "You know," I start, "sharks can appear in pools like this. My friend, Georgy, well that's how she lost her arm. Just last summer too. A pool like this."
Laura flings her arms and leaps from the pool. "I ain't getting no limbs eaten off," she cries. Then she really cries. "Get out. Please. I'm going to tell, if you don't get out."
"I'm just joking. Don't be so stupid. Georgy lost her arm from a bear attack," I lie. Georgy really had lost her arm because of some disease that had made her fingers black real fast. Our teacher said Georgy was lucky to be alive.
Laura splashes me, but I am ten and she is six and I always seem to win; my hands are larger and cup more water.
"Caitlin, Laura, come up here and set the table," Mum calls from the balcony. The tremble in her voice isn't because of the broken refrigerator like she pretends, the one leaking onto the floor, but because of Father.
He's barbequing tonight. Blue smoke curls at the upper lip of the veranda roof and we smell the char from the steaks filtering down to the pool. Suddenly I'm starving and clustered strings of damp hair whip my back as I race Laura up the veranda stairs. My footprints sizzle on the sunned linoleum and my bathing suit is tight around the middle, slightly distorting the heart print. The scent of the hops from Father's beer is strong and I hear Mum cooking potatoes and corn in the kitchen through the screen door. Her pots are rattling on the stovetop, the water bubbling over onto the elements.
"Good girls," Mum says, when we take out the plates and cutlery. Laura tries to give herself the sharpest knife but I steal it back, and put it beside my favourite plate, the one with the etched flowers in the middle.
A hummingbird sucks red nectar from the feeder hanging from above as we wait. I remember last month when Father and his work buddies were in the kitchen before they set off into the bush to go hunting. He had taken a two-litre of fruit punch from the fridge and drank it in the kitchen, the candy red juice making waves down his throat as he gulped it straight from the jug. Mum came in just before he had finished and started to laugh. It was homemade hummingbird juice, she said: one part sugar, two parts water and a bit of red food colouring. Everyone laughed except Father. His buddies tucked their hands in their armpits, waving their elbows about and hummed. Father says we aren't going to the Christmas work party this year.
Now in the distance, the shadows on the mountains lining the subdivision slide down the pines, as though the green trees are melting them like ice cream. I notice bees busy sucking the remains pooled in the tin ledge around his beer can. My father is allergic to bees.
"Sit down and tell me if you want barbeque sauce," he slurs, waving his hand over his can before raising it to his lips. The heat effects his speech, or he started drinking at work; I can't tell which, but it doesn't matter. Soon I'll be back in the water, away from the house, away from the shadows.
All four of us sit at the picnic table he had built himself. It cost twice as much as the one in the catalogue but he always tries to prove his abilities. He built it after he had taken our black lab, Max, down to the river and shot it in the head, because it hadn't loved him. It wasn't the dog's fault. He was chained to the clothesline and had worn a dirt path into the grass where he ran back and forth, barking at invisible things. Even now from my bedroom window, a faint brown line refuses to turn green despite the chicken manure and seed my father puts on it.
My bottom pinches as it slides between the cracking paint on the wood plank seat. Wincing, I eat my meal, eager to get back to the water. I excuse myself, pick up my plate and take it to the kitchen.
"Grab me another while you're in there," he says, hacking his steak with a butter knife. Blood runs into his potatoes and stains them pink.
Reaching into the fridge, the cold clings to my skin, making it bumped and raised. Goosebumps are horrible, they remind me of the skin Mum tears off the chicken before she cooks it. I toss the beer can from one hand to the other like it's a hot potato until finally placing it on the corner of the table. He reaches out and grabs my arm. I feel an imprint forming under his grip but don't flinch.
"Where you going?"
Mum puts down her knife and fork—the premature lines around her eyes and mouth are deep. She senses the weather change. I had seen it coming. Black and blue clouds draw nearer. It has an electrifying dry charge.
"Just let her go," Mum tries.
"But I brought ice cream home for dessert tonight," he says, the corners of his lips curling in a pout, his eyes brooding, tearing my insides apart like saltwater taffy.
"I'll have some later, thanks."
The atmosphere thickens like curdled cream. The sun hides behind tall pines and the sounds of lawn mowers, of screen doors slamming, cease. He chews his mouthful, looking at me like I am a repulsive growth, locking his eyes onto mine; those familiar drugged eyes. He places his elbows on the table, his every move calculated.
"You fat pig. You just want to have all the ice cream to yourself later on, don't you? You're disgusting."
Everything becomes mute, the numbness of my movement, the noise, all the noise; except the bees, buzzing, buzzing around his can, walking into the circular opening and disappearing into the half hollow tin. His fingers grip his drink. I watch him bring it to his mouth and swallow.