by Molly Benson
April 2009

I’m floating on my stomach on the well-loved raft, letting the lazy current, like an experienced ocean whirlpool that can no longer be bothered, carry me around.  My chin rests on the pillow, creating a bigger dip than it would warrant on an eager, new raft.  The cut-diamond water reflects the quintessential sunset; it is that unfortunately rare temperature where you can’t tell if your feet are above or below unless you cheat by looking.  The whirring of the filter and the insects entertain my ears, our nightly orchestra warming up.  My arms make a warm and lazy water-angel as the familiar sting of chlorine works up my nose and into my mouth.  Despite the chlorine’s refusal to be ignored, with time it becomes commonplace–one of those things you only notice when it’s gone, like the hum of electricity or cheap gas.  I inhale deeply and let the scent burn down my throat, catching hints of cut grass and distant grilling.

I muster up some energy and pull my hands through the soft water, gliding towards the edge of the pool.  I run my fingers along the smooth wall, slippery and rubbery like a pair of rain boots just back from the puddle. The lining is an unsuccessful attempt at naturalism.  Washed-out blue pebble shapes are scattered across a vibrant blue background forming an underwater cobblestone road.  There is a threatening road sign-yellow sticker, showcasing a rather violent illustration of the fate of those who dive into the shallow end, plastered against the blue­—a jarring contrast to the world on the other side of the wall.

I gather some strength and pull myself up on the edge, so that from the outside  I must look like a drenched Kilroy–just fingers and half a face.  Directly below me is a jigsaw of color.  A group of butterflies flit from blossom to blossom, a hungry family that can’t decide on a restaurant.  Flowering butterfly bushes that were painstakingly planted one broiling Maryland afternoon line the side of the mulched ring that circles the pool, getting bigger and more uncontrollable every year.  A few rogue pieces of mulch break from their designated area and venture out into the summer grass.  Maryland summer grass is timeless—always the same straw, feeling like pinpricks beneath my bare feet.  Regardless of the year, the summers that live in my memory are always carpeted in the same crunchy brown.  The same grass that tickled my feet while I swung on my swing set and played in my sandbox now teases them when I help with yard work or walk to the mailbox.

My eyes glide down the hills that my sled had so many winters before.  They follow the regimented lines created by one of the countless afternoons my dad spent on his John Deere.  They bounce like a pinball between the pine trees that used to seem so imposing but now begin to shrink in the evening light.  At the bottom of the hill, they land on the protective trees that make a tight border around the yard.  On close inspection, the trees don’t look like they belong in my small town.  They look wild, tangling together, reaching towards the tie-dyed sky.  One would expect to hear the call of monkeys and rustling underbrush.  However, all I hear is the familiar croaking of the peepers, singing out like the most confident tone-deaf prima donna.  Instead of seeing lions stalking their prey, there is only a skittish family of deer shyly sneaking between the trees.  The early risers of the lightning bugs sparkle on the edge of the forest – twinkle lights on an out-of-season Christmas tree.  Their light is mirrored in the first stars that begin to emerge from their veil.

The sky is a painter’s test page, an art student’s experiment.  Dreamsicle orange blends into hushed purple with strikes of newborn pink washed through. T he blue of a lazy afternoon clings to the horizon, while the bottomless navy of a summer night threatens to bleed down into the masterpiece.  Glitter is sprinkled across top, making the approaching darkness sparkle.  As I watch the ever-changing exhibit, the chill from the side of the pool starts to creep up my arms, leaving goose bumps in its wake.  I let myself sink back into the darkening water and put my arms as far under as I can, reaching for every ounce of warmth.  As I look up from my watery hammock, I see the last of the watercolor sunset sinking beneath my jungle.

As the darkness takes its rightful place in the night sky, I find myself thinking that the sunset is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  The colors and shadows and sparkles combined to form the perfect combination.  Then, all of a sudden, it hits me –I’ve seen that exact same thing a million times before. I used to gaze at it through my window back when my bedtime beat sundown, back when I thought only about what kind of fun I would have tomorrow.  I would see it fly by as I looked out the window of my friend’s car as we searched for some excitement.  It was the finale of childhood days and the kick-off of teenage nights.  I could measure my life so far in dry grass and sunsets.  Eventually, I will leave this pool and this house and this town for good.  Maybe I’ll end up somewhere that doesn’t smell like chlorine or doesn’t have a lawn to mow.  One thing is certain–when I am looking out my window, or thinking about the next day, or going out in search of an adventure, I will be seeing a very different sunset.  Just then, right when I think things couldn’t be any more different, I’ll notice the particular shade of orange.  Then, I’ll realize how the sky almost looks like watercolor and how the stars seem to peek out from behind.  I’ll think about how wild those trees over there look and how that butterfly can’t seem to pick a bush, and I’ll be home.

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