There Once was a Girl who Took a Fairy Tale Writing Class

The Neighbors

In a neighborhood across the valley, there was once an old widower and his young daughter. At night, when she had finished washing dishes and put away her schoolbooks and he had finished his nightcap and cigarette, she knelt on the floor and rubbed his feet. He fell asleep in his recliner this way every night.

He had been a widower for five years when the new neighbors moved into the house with the pool. The kitchen window and his bedroom window overlooked the empty pool and house. From these windows, he watched three young women with long, unkempt hair unload furniture and unpack boxes. They filled the pool so that it was restored to its cerulean stillness once more.

He observed from his kitchen window the odd hours they kept and the men who entered and left the house long after the time that was practical for gentleman callers to stay. They must have been actresses. He observed from his bedroom window the women wandering through their home in their bras and panties and sometimes nothing at all. They must have been harlots, or beatniks.

“Never even closing their curtains,” he muttered to himself one night as he zipped his pants back up and walked to the kitchen to see what was for dinner.

One August night, the daughter hovered over the oven and sweated into the meatloaf. She looked out the window and saw the three women—the blonde, the brunette, and the redhead—remove their clothing and slip silently into the pool. As she watched them, she longed to feel the cool water against her skin. Even if it were just a drop, she knew it would refresh her.

From inside his bedroom, the father too watched the naked women as they splashed and dived and laughed like heathens. The pool was shaded by a tall fence and overgrown trees, but the moon provided enough light for him to make out the forms of their bodies. He could see the wet hair clinging to their shoulders and their nipples puckering as if for a kiss. Then he noticed that below their tanned stomachs, they no longer had the long legs he had seen them shaving on their bathroom sink, but something darker, something rough, like a fin.

He was startled by his discovery, but more so by the discovery that his daughter had crossed the back lawn and climbed over the fence into the neighbors’ yard.

She had just pulled the meatloaf out of the oven when she heard them calling to her. She untied her apron and opened the window, but only a crack.

“Come and join us,” the brunette called from the edge of the pool. “The water feels great.”

She had barely dipped her feet in when her father–who had stormed out of his bedroom, broken the serving platter, and spilled the entire meatloaf on the ground–opened the back door and yelled for her return.

He stood over her as she scrubbed the kitchen floor, and when she had finished, he removed his brown leather belt and lashed her back until it turned purple. In the privacy of her bedroom she cried over her wounds and picked at the moss like green that had covered her feet.

From then on, at night when her father slept, she slipped into the backyard and spoke to the neighbors through the fence. She crouched beside a rhododendron bush so as the hide herself from the moon’s luminescence and her father’s midnight watch.

“Summer’s almost over. You mustn’t miss another swim,” the redhead warned.

“What can I do? Father won’t let me leave the yard. If he wakes and finds me in the pool, he’ll have my life.”

“We’ll have to kill him,” the redhead suggested.

“How would you do that?” The daughter asked.

“We could poison him,” said the brunette.

The blonde smiled. “Yes, we’ll invite him here tomorrow evening and we’ll poison him.”

The daughter ran home to bed, the weight of the secret like a stone in her stomach.

The following evening she roasted a chicken and smiled throughout the whole meal. She said she felt tired and went to bed early. From her bedroom window, she could hear the neighbors calling to her father.

“Come join us for a drink,” they cooed.

He put on his best shirt and tie and met them in the backyard. They spun Sinatra on the record player and danced lazily across the yard. The father stared at their nakedness but said nothing.

“Have another martini, won’t you?” The blonde thrust it towards him.

He drank it in a gulp and walked towards the three, standing in a row on the edge of the pool. He reached his arms out for them and stumbled forward. They moved out of the way in time to miss getting knocked into the water. He fell face first into the pool. They laughed and jumped in.

The daughter waited at the edge of her yard. She saw her father facedown in the water and the women swimming circles around him.

They beckoned her. “Come join us in the pool.”

She entered the yard slowly, took off her dress and folded it neatly on the ground. She slipped into the pool, one leg and then the next. As her skin submerged under the water, blue and green scales prickled across her legs like goosebumps. She dipped her head underwater and discovered she no longer needed to come up to the surface to breathe. The other three joined her in the deep end. They swam all night, careful to avoid the father’s body floating in the shallow end. His body bloated, like a dead fish.

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