The dead boy does not scare us. All he does is make faces at Ben every now and then. Ben believes that as long as he keeps making nasty faces back at him, he’ll leave us alone and let us swim, since, like a dog or a girl kicking your shins, he’s probably just out for attention. But sometimes I think about what I would do if the boy tried pulling Ben into the water with him, into the world spread out across the surface of the creek. There’s no way I could get him back. Truth is, as many times as I’ve seen the dead boy streak by, I still haven’t figured out how he ever got there, to that world that exists somewhere between underwater and the world that holds the air we breathe. My only guess is that he wound up drowning in the creek and while his dead body was sinking to the bottom his soul escaped through his pouty purple lips and only made it up as far as the water’s surface. Maybe it didn’t see any point in going any further or maybe it thought it had gone far enough up already.
IF IT WEREN’T for the dead boy, the year would be ruined. I thought it had already been ruined a good two weeks before we spotted him, to be honest, when Mom left Dad. Pieces of Mom haunted our house for a while. Scraps of paper she’d doodled on rested next to the phone; she drew bubbly flowers and cartoony men, three-dimensional boxes with dolls inside them. Every time I opened the bathroom drawer where Mom kept her perfume, her scent would come swimming out. There was a stain on the carpet next to the couch where she spit out wine laughing at Dad trying to mime like the guy they saw in the park on their second honeymoon. When Dad cleaned, he never vacuumed near the stain. He never even looked at it.
Mom left Dad because she fell in love with another man. When I met him, he shook my hand. His hands are bigger than Dad’s. He shook my hand like I was a man, wrapping his hand all the way around mine and squeezing tight. "Hi, my name’s Ron," he said. At dinner, Mom and Ron sat on the same side of the table, across from me and Ben. Ron kept asking me questions about baseball and school, but I didn’t answer. I just swirled some ketchup around in my mashed potatoes with my fork and didn’t look up. I didn’t look up the whole time we ate. When I finished eating, I leaned back in my chair and saw underneath the table. I saw Mom’s hand on Ron’s thigh; I saw her bare feet on his bare feet. My stomach sank and I felt the mashed potatoes rise up in my throat. I covered my mouth with my hand, the same hand Ron shook, and wanted to cry.
Truth is, as many times as I’ve seen the dead boy streak by, I still haven’t figures out how he ever got there.
After that dinner, I couldn’t sleep, and I made Ben sneak out with me to the hill behind the community center, which slopes down to the highway. A couple years ago we found a bench seat from an old Cadillac down at the hill’s base, buried partially underground and covered with leaves. We set it up at the top of the hill so that you can sit and watch the cars pass over the wavy valley at night. The hill is covered with enough trees so that when you sit there, you can see the cars but the cars can’t see you. Sometimes the older kids leave a beer behind or forget a pack of cigarettes, and we get a taste of what it’s like to be their age.
That night we found three beers, a new record. They were warm but the cans were clean. We drank the first two then shared the third. We talked about how the seat got to be there in the first place.
"Probably left over from a car wreck," I said. "I’m sure the car rusted and rotted away, leaving nothing but this seat behind."
Ben shook his head as he took a drink. His Adam’s apple leapt with his swallow.
"What do you think then?"
"Well," Ben said, handing me the beer, his hand a little shaky now, "I think it’s from the Indians. Everything they made came from the ground. They had different ways of doing things."
I took a drink, flicked the tab on the can and handed it back to Ben. "You think the Indians grew cars or something?"
"I think they tried, and they sure came close. They grew a seat, just took them a while. Who knows what could’ve happened if they would’ve been here longer." He took the last swig, flicked the tab and it went flying off into the leaves at our feet.
"What makes you say that?"
"Nothing," he said, swallowing. "Probably just the beers talking."
The leaves, yellow and speckled brown, fell from the trees and drifted down the hill. The wind carried them to the highway, where some got plastered onto windshields and got caught underneath wipers, got sent across the state until they disappeared.
Ben and I each took separate ends of the bench and curled up, letting the hum of passing cars lull us to sleep. At home, Dad would always sing to us at night about swinging on stars and bringing moonbeams home in a jar. No matter what, he always sounded happy, even the first night we slept in the house without Mom there. I remember later that night I got up to go to the bathroom and walked by his bedroom. His door was wide open. My parents’ door is never open. I poked my head inside and saw him sleeping alone in that giant bed. I’d never seen him asleep in bed before, only on the couch. There was so much empty space there. His left arm was underneath his pillow and dangled off the side, and his legs were scissored open, spread out but only far enough to take up exactly half the bed. The other side was perfectly made, left untouched. The red light from the alarm clock shone on his face and bounced off his drool.