Prose: Bill Kirby



This is not all that bad, I tell myself, and once the surge from Lonnie Lou’s thrashing subsides, it seems almost reassuring.

“Come on, old man, move around. This is supposed to be good for ya.” Lonnie Lou’s voice, when she’s agitated, sounds deep and guttural like it was when she was a Lonnie and sporting a beard. I’m never sure which one of them is really talking to me.

“I’m good, I’m good, Lonnie Lou.” I beam back at her, trying to appease her, but she won’t be appeased, not in the least.

“Hell, old man, this is therapeutic. The AMA says water exercise builds bone density in seniors.” She blasts out an arm from underneath the waves, and before I can turn away, she’s pinned me by the neck, dragging me across the pool. I can see the frightened looks of the people passing by to their apartments. Perhaps they’ll call someone and complain.

“Henry, you’ve got to work up some steam, boy, if you plan on keeping up with your blushing bride.” Lonnie Lou grins at me, and when she does I can see the five year old Lonnie that day he succeeded in flushing his sister’s kitten down the toilet. “You can’t keep up if you don’t exercise.”

If nothing else, Lonnie Lou is persistent. She turns and begins water-jogging the length of the pool backwards, holding me in a type of swimmer’s half-nelson. I am reminded of the times my daddy scooted me back and forth in Milner’s Creek on hot summer days. On those days I could never imagine nor foresee becoming a fragile seventy-five year old man, nor see myself married to a woman half my age who had been born a man. Well, life’s full of surprises.

“Henry, if you’ll move around more, your circulation will improve.” Lonnie Lou swings me around, slips her hands down to my hips, then dips down and springs upward, shooting me up like some kind of dolphin. I instinctively duck my head into a dive, just like Daddy taught me, and enter the water like a knife. Unfortunately, the apartment pool is five feet at its deepest, and Lonnie Lou has tossed me toward the shallow end. My head caroms off the bottom, and for a moment I lose consciousness.

I come to in my wife’s arms; she’s cradling me like a baby. I look up to see her staring inquisitively down at me, and through the haze in my head I realize that Lonnie Lou has eyes just like her mother Louanne, Louanne Volger, hooded eyes that seek out all and reveal nothing. I cannot imagine what’s going on behind those eyes, but I know that deep down Lonnie Lou loves me, loves me in her own special way. Louanne herself has commented innumerable times on this very subject: “I rather not be painting an ugly picture, Henry,” she would say, splaying out a thin stream of cigarette smoke as she mulls over her son’s/daughter’s peculiarities. “But in some corner of her heart there’s a space just for you. It’s all a question of finding it.”

“Thought we’d lost you there for a minute, Captain. You okay?” Lonnie Lou’s voice is noncommittal, and I find comfort in the fact that she didn’t panic when I lost consciousness. Many women, even some men, would have panicked and made the situation seem much graver than it actually was.

“I’m okay, Lonnie Lou. Thanks for asking.” I try to stand on my own, but Lonnie Lou won’t relinquish her hold.

“Hold still, Henry. Let’s take a breather.” She thrusts us through the water to the side of the pool, where she deposits me. “Stay here for a minute. I got to get some exercise.” She pushes off from the edge sprinter-like, forging a path through the water like Moses. Lonnie Lou begins swimming laps, powerful strokes, from one end of the pool to the other, her arms slashing through the water effortlessly. She turns her head sideways to breathe every other stroke, and in doing so, she turns her body sideways in a corkscrew fashion, and I’m amazed, as always, by the curve of her breasts. When I moved in to the other half of her parents’ duplex, she was a three year old Lonnie, and breasts were no where in his future. Now, here in the pool of the Regents Apartment complex, her breasts move and sway as if Lonnie Lou were born with them. I mean, born with them in that full-bodied fashion. I guess life takes some strange turns at times, but like my grandmother used to tell me, it all works out in the end.

“Henry, time for you to swim some. It’ll do your heart some good.” Lonnie Lou has ceased her exercising and has swum to my side. She hugs me tightly to her, the grayness of her face a stark contrast to the fuchsia of her hair. I know it’s the meth, and I wish she wouldn’t use it, but the last time I mentioned it to her, she glided me across the living room like a paper airplane, so I won’t dare bring it up again, at least not while she’s in this mood.

“I’m a bit tired, Honey bun. Do you think ole Henry could just paddle around the pool for a bit?” I try to keep my voice as upbeat as possible. No need aggravating Lonnie Lou while we’re having such a good time. Like the ad says, the family that plays together stays together.

“Just a few minutes, Babe. It’ll do you good.” She grabs me by the nape of my neck, submarines me under the water, then twirls me like a matador’s cape, walking loops with me from one end of the pool to the other. I remember my father doing the same to me at Milner’s, except I was able to breathe easier back then. I wave my hands, signaling to Lonnie Lou that I’m ready to surface, but she’s misunderstood the signal, and dives me deeper under the water. When I finally think I’m going to burst, she effortlessly pops me up to the surface.

“Having fun yet?” Lonnie Lou is nothing if not funny. Her sense of humor has gotten us through some tough times, that’s for sure. Our marriage, like any other, is a give-and-take, and our two years as man and wife have been full of it. Some folks think I was foolish to accept Lonnie Lou’s proposal. Even her mother Louanne cautioned me. I remember her exact words: “Don’t do it, Henry. Hell, you’re too agreeable. If I said, ‘Henry, let’s go to Shoney’s, you’d say, ‘Well, why not? Let’s do it.’ You’re too easy, Henry. Been that way since I knowed ya. Lonnie’s about one thing— Lonnie. Or Lonnie Lou. Either way, it’s all about self.” Nobody sees the funny side of Lonnie Lou like I do.

“Let’s do that rocket thing again, Henry.” I’m catapulted into the sky again, landing awkwardly with a smack. I realize that I’m not a young man any more, and that I better start acting like it. It’s tough trying to keep up with a younger bride, but like they say, life is what you make of it. And I believe in it wholeheartedly.

“Come here, you.” Lonnie Lou has come to my rescue once again, and as she scoops me up from the bottom of the pool, I grasp for breath, then smile at her and say, “Thanks, Lonnie Lou. I love you.” She chuckles, says “Ditto,” then helicopters me some several feet into the air. I hit the water again with a resounding whap. I can’t seem to find the strength to stand, nor the coordination to paddle off the blue bottom of the pool.

Lonnie Lou once again retrieves me from my dilemma. She balls me into a fetus in her arms. She bounces me from one leg to the other, hefting me like an Olympian mulling over throwing the shot, all the time searching me with those hooded slits of hers, as if weighting something in her mind. I lay limp in her arms like an old dishrag, which I reckon, in some sense, I am, in my old age. But it’s all been good; it’s all good.

“I think you’re ready for the Space Shot, Ole Henry. Get ready for blast-off!” My wife, still harboring the arms, if not the armpits, of a man, launches me out into space, and I seem to float there for an eternity, a ball of flesh and bone and gristle, finally hitting the water like a gutted fish thrown from the pier. I float downward, a leaf, the five feet an everlasting tiering of flutterings, until I come to rest on the floor of the apartment complex pool. I am on my back, but I am not uncomfortable. Strangely, enough, I feel peaceful, as if I were born to settle along the creek beds and bottoms like some kind of catfish, contented and at one with the world. I open my eyes and I see the bright, clean light of a fine Tuesday afternoon. In a moment, Lonnie Lou steps to the edge of the pool above me. She stands there for what seems like minutes, staring intently at me. I smile up at her and wave a little wave. She pauses for a moment, then waves back. Finally, she turns on her heel and heads up to Apartment B-14. Life is good.

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