There is a wall that separates us, Michael and I.
It all started at the party. The community gathered at the pool, acting neighborly. Kids slapped the concrete with their wet feet, leaving behind dark footprints disappearing under the hot sun. No barbecue. A stack of pizza boxes from Costco littered table tops next to bottles of Cola. Women perched on the edges of lounge chairs chatting to each other, their swimsuits in various stages of revelation under summer dresses or skimpy cover-ups.
Michael was sitting by the Jacuzzi, his hair wet, feet dangling in the swirling water. I wheeled up to him and opened my mouth to say hi, except a woman had appeared out of nowhere and wrapped her arms around his neck.
She was young, firm and spotless. Dark hair in perfect streams of curls, breasts squeezed into two perfect half dooms by the spandex of her suit, eyes sparkling blue. Somehow all the splashing from the pool, pizza grease and flowing soda cups never touched her or nary left a mark on her. She pouted before she spoke. "Honey, how long are we going to stay here? The sun is giving me a headache. Let's go get some ice cream at that new store in the plaza..."
She swung her arms so Michael swung with her, the two of them in a sort of dizzying dance. My stomach squeezed itself hard, and I wheeled my chair around.
"Charlotte!" Michael called from behind me. I looked over my shoulders, the woman pressed a palm against the far side of his face--the side leaning towards in his call--and pulled it toward her. She leaned forward so the top of her high breasts came dangerously close to Michael's down turned chin.
I wheeled away.
The sun bore down at me, noisy in its brightness. It always reminded me of the cicadas from when I was little, and how my brother Tom and his buddy Luke used to chase it away with long bamboo sticks. That was summer for me. Bright light, dark shiny leaves sleeked in oil from various insects. Boys running around in ill-fitting shorts. Me looking up and leaning back until the top of my head touched my back. Our arms and legs were always so spindly they didn't look strong enough to carry our bodies until we jumped into the pool--a community mud pond--and swam like our lives depended on it, splashing to cool the burn from running bare feet, 100-meter-dash-style from the changing room to the water's edge. I never felt like I could run then, my legs threatened to buckle with each step I took, yet I always made it, unaware of the bliss that I carried in them.
Michael's steps didn't follow and I was relieved. We are all better off this way. I have a nice bottle waiting under the bed for me. Behind solid white walls. At home.