No one could tell him what to do, not anymore, so he went to the pool. The end of the world had happened overnight, and so everyone else remained tucked in their beds. The front desk staff slumped over their computers. Colin had the run of the place.
The resort pool was small, which was disappointing. It was designed for adults to sit around, a uniform four feet deep—which he could stand in, on his tiptoes —and without the fancy accessories one might expect from a resort: no slide, no diving board, no water features or zero entry. Colin had been to a pool with all of the above once, at Disney World. His parents had been upset because he enjoyed the pool more than waiting in line for hours to ride a lazy boat past some old robots from the Pirates of the Caribbean, and with only one pirate from the movie. He would have preferred to stay in that pool forever.
This pool was a subpar substitute, but it could have been worse. The pool could have been inside, humid and without a view of the sky. There could have been no pool at all.
So he decided to be grateful and strapped his goggles to his head. They were polarized, a word he’d learned from the packaging, dark lenses that made him feel like a spy, hiding the blistering sun behind sparkling blue. Through them, the water was a lurid cerulean. He kept his rash guard on, not because his mother had told him to, which she had, but because he was fat, and even now, with no one to see, no one at all, the existence of other people a total impossibility, he worried about his tummy extending over his board shorts, which he preferred to knot securely under the protrusion of his gut.
He jumped. Colin heard the splash and knew it was a big one, but there were no onlookers to confirm that his cannonball was a 10 out of 10. When he surfaced, the sun had already begun baking away the water he’d displaced. He floated on his back.
He flipped onto his stomach. He doggy-paddled back to the wall, a true doggy-paddle, pretending he was one of the fancy yippy dogs at the resort, some still closed in rooms, barking when he walked past to go to the pool. He sank beneath the surface, braced both feet on the wall, and was disappointed to find that the momentum of a single push was enough to get him to the other side, surfacing easily just before the opposite wall.
He decided on a tea party, with the goal not of a perfect mimicked tea party, beverages poured for friends, but of the longest tea party. Tea brought to his lips, pinky raised, for the longest time anyone had ever held an underwater tea party. He breathed deeply, the way his mother told him to do when he was upset, one hand on his tummy, trying to fill every inch of his insides. When he felt full, he gulped his last bit of air, filling the space at the very top of his lungs and throat, and sunk beneath the surface.
Sitting on the floor of the pool was easy. He always sank quickly—his swim instructors at the community pool back home had said, like a stone. He sat cross-legged on the concrete, bubbles escaping his nose even as he tried to hold his air in, and counted. Seven Mississippi, eight Mississippi, nine Mississippi. He poured himself tea. He didn’t pour any for imaginary friends. He knew they were all gone. He was eight, and no longer an idiot. He didn’t wonder what would come next, what would happen to the bodies in the hotel, or after he’d eaten all the food in the room’s mini fridge. He didn’t think about how he would feel when the dog down the hall from his parents’ room grew quiet. Twenty-six Mississippi, twenty-seven Mississippi. Counting left room for nothing else.
He sipped tea. The pressure in Colin’s chest was building, and he was in pain, but the record for the world’s longest underwater tea party couldn’t be less than forty-five seconds. He himself had hosted a thirty-five seconder, before.
At forty-nine seconds, he pushed off the concrete with his hands. The second or two before he reached the surface were awful, end of the world awful. He thought he wouldn’t make it; the pressure in his head would explode and he would simply be floating boy-pulp, like when someone vomits in the pool and the lifeguard has to fish out the offensive mass with a skimmer. He would be the offensive mass. Except there would be no one to use the skimmer. He would just float on the surface, forever, his brain food for gulls, if there were still gulls.
But Colin emerged, and he inhaled. The pool deck was empty. He wanted to knock the silence out of his ears like water. In the brief rise from pool floor to surface, he had imagined that his mother might suddenly appear on a lounger, a stopwatch counting up on her phone. She would have collected all the trapped dogs, and she would congratulate him on the longest tea party held by anyone left alive. She would be clapping.
Taylor Clarke is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Brooklyn College. Her fiction has appeared in Grimoire and The Nottingham Review. She is currently at work on a story collection about the end of the world.