Iwas watching my son bare his teeth at the television, tapping each tooth with his index finger, when we heard it: our neighbor's garage door. My son, mouth slightly agape, looked up and then across the room to the wall where the sound came. I laid my morning paper on the table and did the same. We followed the noise across the wall, listening to the car rumble out of the driveway and speed away down the street.
We looked at each other.
"Bathing suits," we said together.
A few minutes later we slipped over to our neighbor's property to jump off his dock and swim in the sound. It was a beautiful day for a swim. The sun hung on a flowing blue body, a faint sea breeze caressed our hair, and the tide was low so we could smell the marshland, and how the air swelled like a noisome creature wriggling out of some muddled song.
I kneeled on the dock, enjoying all these sensory pleasures, especially that horrible smell that I learned to love over the years, and began to buckle my son's life jacket. On the third buckle, I said, "You know, you're old enough now to be doing this yourself," and, after no response, I glanced up. He was gawking, head tilted, at my mouth.
"Dad," he asked, "when did you get your third set of teeth?"
"You know," he said, "they grow from your gums," and he pinched his lip and lifted. "The dentist came to school last week and told us that when we're really grown up, we get a third set. She taught us how to brush them and everything."
We talked about it, and he got all upset because I told him that no one gets a third set, only a second. He kept swearing that he was telling the truth and listing out all these details. I said, "I know you're telling the truth, son, but you were dreaming. It wasn't real," and he kept going on and on about how real it was.
He didn't swim. Just sat there on the steps, thinking. I tried reasoning with him, enticing him by doing cannonballs, backstroking and telling him how much fun I was having. I splashed the dock and made porpoise sounds to try to get his attention, but when nothing worked I resorted to "Help! I'm drowning!" and went under and waited. When I came up, he was standing on the edge of the dock, wide-eyed and shaking in his life jacket.
"I'm okay," I said, "I'm here," and waded toward him.
For the last few months I had started telling him these stories about my travels and adventures across the world. I told him that I was chased through exotic landscapes, like the Himalayas or the Amazon, by some sort of King Kong character, and, at the end, King Kong always bit me on the fanny. He seemed to enjoy it. He would look up at me, wide-eyed and with his mouth hanging open, and then he would giggle at the fanny part. He would say, "that story wasn't real," and want to see the scars. I would grab my fanny as if it were giving me a great deal of pain like I was performing Jekyll and Hyde. "Anderson, I think I might be . . . turning into . . . King Kong . . . Save yourself." And he would run out of the room laughing.
Later that day, I found Anderson leaning on the doorframe and studying me carefully. I hadn't seen him since we walked back to the house in silence.
"It's either food you want, or a story."
"Story," he said, looking down at a spot in the floor, and then we gazed at it together, as if it might move.
I told a story about the Alligator Bogey Man chasing me around Stonehenge. But Anderson didn't seem all that into it. He didn't have the wide eyes or the open mouth that he usually did. He didn't cringe in giggling suspense when the Alligator Bogey Man pressed the sacrificial knife into my ribs, and I buried my knuckles into his. He just whimpered a bit and shrugged me off, examining me from a distance like he had done in the doorway. So, right when the Alligator Bogey Man raised the knife, high, right up beside the moon, he reared back as if he were about to scream. I asked if he was alright, and dad-gummit if that child didn't turn wild. He lunged at me, grabbed hold the back of my swim trunks, and wouldn't let go. I said, "What! What in the world? Stop it, Anderson! Let go. Let go, I said!" He wouldn't let go. "I said let, let . . . let," and pushed him onto the bed. He stood up on it, tall as I was, and pointed at my swim trunks.
"You were never bit on the fanny!" He bellowed like a wild man, and sprung away and into the hall. A door slammed. And, as I fixed my swim trunks, I heard water rushing through the house.
"Anderson, come out of there, please." The door wouldn't budge.
The shower was running.
"No, it's not. My dad was bit on the fanny. You're a . . . you're a dentist."
"That was a dream. This is real, Anderson."
"It's not real."
A bunch of drawers were sliding open and crashing shut. I put my ear to the door. "What are you doing in there?"
"I'm making a goddamn story."
"What did you say? Who taught you that language? Open this door."
I shook the doorknob. On my hands and knees I could see through the crack. "Can you talk to me, please?" He bent down so that the side of his face peeked. He looked me straight in the eye - like I've told him to look at strangers - squinted, got up, and walked away.
"I want my dad."
I sighed. "Please come back."
The shower was still running.
His feet shuffled back, and I clambered up the door. The knob jiggled. My hand dove for it and shook it furiously. "Anderson," I said, "I will kick down this door if I have to."
"You won't." Somewhere in there, something went CLOP.
"Open this door, Anderson. I'm going to kick this door down if you don't open it this minute." The water kept rushing, slapping against the tub, and I took a couple steps back to kicking distance. I've never kicked anything down in my life. "Alright then. Stand back. I'm going to kick the door down." There was no way I was going to kick that door down. "Are you ready? It's coming down." I practice-kicked the air. "Anderson, I-"
"Kick it down."
"What do you think your Mom's going to say when she finds out that I had to kick the door down because her son's [CLOP] gone crazy and locked himself in the bathroom?"
"She's gonna pop you like a balloon 'cause you're a filament of my imagination."
"Anderson, I swear," shaking the lock, "I am a real [CLOP] person. What are you talking about? What is that noise?"
"What is what noise?"
"The noise that was just there."
Something started squeaking and the shower hushed into dripping.
"That noise?" he said.
"No, the other one."
"What'd it sound like?"
I took a long, deep breath. "Don't hurt anything in there, please." And water charged into the room again. "Listen now, it was all in fun. I didn't mean anything by it. It was just [CLOP] a story. THAT noise. What was THAT noise?"
CLOP CLOP CLOP CLOP CLOP. "It's the toilet seat."
"ANDERSON, OPEN THIS DOOR."
"I'm going to count to ten, and if this door isn't open by ten, I'm going to call the Alligator Bogey Man and you're going to be in a whole world of trouble."
"Cahoots." he said. There was some scuffling inside. "You and the Alligator and the Dentist . . . Cahoots!"
Water was beginning to soak through the carpet and I listened for movement. Besides the running shower, there wasn't any, and I entertained the thought that maybe I was a character in some little kid's dream.
There was muffled shout from far away, far from the running shower, or the bathroom. It came from outside, a girls' scream, one with pitch. I pressed, and the door gave, and there, from my hands and knees, I saw the sink and the bathtub overflowing and steaming up the room like a sauna. The chair jutted out from under the window curtains, and then a boy was screaming. From the window I could see him running naked across the lawn and down to the neighbor's dock, where our neighbor and his family were gathered and grilling hot dogs.
"It's not real! None of it is real!" he yelled and headed for the sound.
Anderson Holderness is a fourth year English student currently enrolled at The University of Georgia. He is originally from Greensboro, North Carolina, where the street system often confuses and frustrates out-of-town folk. He enjoys violent video games, slinkies, and, every now and then, juxtaposition.