I hate the water.
My wife thinks I’m crazy. She loves me, but she doesn’t understand.
I shower only in bright lights and with a translucent shower curtain. I never take a bath. Never swim.
She takes our little boy out into the rain and dances with him, his giggles bubbling up as he stomps in the shallow puddles. I huddle beneath a nearby eave, waving off her attempts to get me involved.
I watch the corners of buildings, the clusters of shadows, the shimmer of shadow cast by nothing in this realm. I cringe with every puddle he steps in.
What can I do? I can’t tell her. She’d never believe me, and then I’d never get to see my baby again. My little boy. My son.
Someday I’ll tell him. When he’s just a bit older. Old enough to understand, but not so old he doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus.
I’ll do a better job of it than my father did. I have it all planned out. One day, when my wife is out, I’ll draw a bath in the bathtub of our house and I’ll sit my son at my side and we’ll stare into the water until he sees it, too.
I won’t just tell him. I’ll show him, no matter how dangerous it might be. If I just tell him not to swim, he’ll do what I did. Maybe not right away, but someday, he’ll go to a pool party without telling me. He’ll think there’s no danger, that I’m just a crazy old bastard.
He’ll swim, and they’ll come for him.
I got away, but a couple other kids that day hadn’t been so lucky.
Sometimes I wake up in the dead of night, covered in sweat, and I’ll flick on the bedside light, ignoring my wife’s good-natured grumbles. I have to see with my own eyes. See that I’m not in the water, that there’s not really something cold and slimy wrapped around my ankle.
Even if I wanted to forget, even if I wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened, I still have the scars. perfect, round sucker-shaped divots, scooped out of the skin around my foot and calf, like someone used a melon-baller on me.
The scars still burn when I shower.
No, I’ll tell my son the truth. But for now, I’ll let him dance in the rain with his mother.
In the meantime, I watch for shadows.