|Jul/Aug 2005 fiction|
If I didn't have this bullet in my head, I could walk around much straighter. It's this bullet making me flit. Then, jabbering my words in front of Lefty, the oxen-shouldered lifeguard. But maybe I wouldn't jabber if he wasn't constantly fingering the whistle looped around his neck.
A bullet is a good explanation. But I decide Lefty's not kind enough to hear it, which makes me just a standing, skinny thing in front of him. "Lefty," I say, "any drownings? Do you mind if I smoke?"
"Don't annoy me, Winthrop. Just go about your business, whatever that is."
"Maybe I'll go off the high dive."
His vacuum cleaner lips suck up all the air when I say that. There is no high dive, just a low dive. His chest expands with the air, and I want to tell him to save some for the rest of us. Instead, I flit away along the concrete slabs, the blue on my left. There's other things; I must find Parker to tell him of my discovery. A bullet is a bullet. But here's a nice, horizontal lady; she has heavy legs you can trust. I sit on the lounge chair next to her.
"Did you see the way I walk?"
"Pardon?" she says, looking up into the sun.
"I walk funny, I can't help it," I tell her.
She looks toward the pool, then back at me.
"Name is Winthrop," I say. "I'm a regular here. Dolan Winthrop. I have a bullet in my head. That's why I walk funny like that."
"Winthrop!" Lefty calls, coming over. "Is he bothering you, Mrs. Cooper?"
But before she can answer, I ask her, "Am I bothering you, Mrs. Cooper?"
"Where's Parker?" Lefty asks me.
"Well, just don't bother the guests," Lefty says, and goes away.
"I'm sorry you had to see that," I tell the kind lady.
She smiles at me, and suddenly I picture the three of us all living together in a big house, me, Parker, and Mrs. Cooper. With Lefty as the mean neighbor.
"I once had a bullet in my head," Mrs Cooper says. "I was eating pizza, and a man broke in and shot me and stole my pizza. I couldn't walk right for days."
"Is that really true?"
"I was much younger, I'd say about your age."
"Parker's this guy—looks after me. He came down from Pittsburgh to live here."
"Pittsburgh's a fine town," Mrs. Cooper says. "How'd you get the bullet in your head?"
I look at her and see she really wants to know. Suddenly I can't even open my mouth. I've got tears. She reaches across, caressing my shoulder. "It's all right, you cry, go ahead and cry. I'm right here for you."
"Really?" I say through the sniffles. When I stop crying, I tell her, "The bullet came right out of the TV. Got me right between the eyes."
"Maybe you shouldn't watch so much television," she says. "And don't worry about that lifeguard."
"Where are you going?"
"I must be leaving," she says, beginning to pack up her things.
"You really have to go? How will I know where to find you?"
"It's easy," she says. "Just close your eyes and say 'Mrs. Cooper.' And I'll be there."
Later in the day, about three o'clock, I try it. "Mrs. Cooper," I say. I open my eyes. There's Parker, right over me.
"What're you looking at?" he says to me. "You better be behaving yourself. Not bothering Lefty too much."
"This lady told me not to worry about Lefty."
"Mrs. Cooper," I say.
That night in bed, I'm thinking about the bullet in my head and the one in Mrs. Cooper's head, and I can't stop crying.