Waiting Canals – 11

Dr. Pomme, without opening his jacket, slid his hand under it and into the inner pocket. He pulled out a hand-sized picture, unbent a corner, contemplated it for a while. For for too long, in Walters’ opinion, as if trying to spot some hidden information, elucidate some mystery in that image that he had overlooked until then. In an overly dramatic fashion, Dr. Pomme shook the picture in the air, and then he gave it to Walters.

“That’s Camila, my daughter,” Dr. Pomme said. Walters could see the blonde hair, the white dress with a tall and lacy neck, the golden necklace and the blue-cross pendant over the chest, the grey and blurred background without any discernible details, the humorless expression, no doubt a spoiled character, all full of herself. Nothing of interest to him. He could have scrunched that picture and thrown it away, and waited to receive a more interesting one. But he kept looking at it, pretending to care.

“Camila,” Walters told himself aloud. He wouldn’t remember the features or any of the details from that picture in an hour, but he might remember the name. Camila. Camila, he repeated, silently. No way, though, the name slipped out from his mind every time he tried to squeeze it in there, he would irremediably forget that name. He knew that he should be getting his notebook out and writing down the name, scribbling a couple of notes, but sometimes it was better, more liberating, to completely forget about some particular things.

“Yes, Camila,” Dr. Pomme said and he started to walk towards the canal. Jameson first, and then Walters, followed Dr. Pomme.

The courtyard ended by the canal without any barrier or interruption, the slabs paving the courtyard simply transitioned into a smooth border, one foot over the water. As he got closer to the border, Walters saw that the packed reeds covered the farther half of the canal surface. Tall, seeded and exuberant against the pink wall, decreasingly shorter and more feeble towards the center of the canal, where large masses of brown algae seemed to grow from below, as if stretching out with predatory tentacles to kill and consume the debilitated stalks, secreting slimy bubbles that surfaced and accumulated in large patches and gave the whole canal an impression of rotting from the inside out. The hectic movement of the tadpoles and similarly sized fish, if you looked at them long enough, would however make you realize that life was plethoric under the water, and that those creatures slithered through the algal habitat very willingly, feeding on the surrounding structures while procuring themselves with protection from the large fish roaming the canals, the catfish, the bass, the pike, those ones with the yellow stripes Walters couldn’t remember the name of.

“Do you see over there?” Dr. Pomme asked, pointing to the center of the canal.

“What, that piece of cloth?” Walters said. It was a bundle of white lace, most of it lying on a bed of reddish algae, one end immersed in the water. Despite being completely soaked, the fabric retained a pure and pearly white. It was easy sometimes to forget how clean the water was in some canals, when reeds, algae, the occasional piece of trash, and some amount of shade combined to create an impression of utter filth, of floating and sticky mud. Just an impression, an unfounded apprehensiveness. Mainly a preconception originated from the fear, especially from the local inhabitants, about all the unknown creatures that could loom from the bottom, with all their defecations, oozing and diseasing.

“Yes,” Dr. Pomme said, “it’s one of Camila’s shawls.”

“OK,” Walters said in a quiet voice. There must be something of relevance about that wet bundle, he thought. Something beyond a shawl that belonged to a woman depicted in a picture. He just had to wait, in a second Dr. Pomme would explain the importance of the shawl, of him being there. Maybe Dr. Pomme would even illuminate him, as if he knew Walters in all sorts of detail, being able to explain the intricate reasons why he felt displaced from a position of purpose, of security; Walters could only hope. He entertained the idea, for a moment, of being summoned across the city to jump into that canal just to retrieve that shawl. Not really against it. In fact, he wouldn’t have minded that at all, especially if paid for it, to hear the words “Just go and fetch me that shawl, will you?” He would diligently do so, handle the shawl to Dr. Pomme, be shown the door, disappear into the city with some greens in his pocket, a ghost that once again everyone would ignore. Nothing wrong with that.

“It was there this morning. There was also a little of blood right there,” Dr. Pomme said, indicating with his hand the area on the canal border closest to the shawl. The blood was already gone. “How much was ‘a little,’ anyway?” Walters thought. Blood. Blood. He repeated the word several times in his mind and it sounded like cotton. Blood. Funny how lately he kept envisioning this image in which blood flowed generously, as if reaching out to complete a frame and transmute the background into velvety red. It was inside a cabin but he somehow knew that, outside, immersed in a weakening storm, the hull, which had recently been painted with a dull black, advanced slowly fighting with the sea, and that in the bridge, behind the wheel, the four golden ducados nailed into the wood shined like tropical butterflies. In the cabin. His own blood on his hands, trickling down his wrists, blood that emanated from an arm or his torso, flowing like mountain brooks running into each other. He would place his hands over his forehead again and he felt the warmth, the pounding. He tried not to look at the body on the floor. There was nothing to do, he just had to wait until the waters would settle down again, if ever. He could go upstairs and jump over the gunwale and let the ocean clean him, cure him, allow him to forget. But he accepted that he deserved the blow, and the last thing he could offer to his assailant right then was to bleed, sit down in the cabin and suffer the certainty that most things would never be the same again.

“I would want you to look into the canal,” Dr. Pomme said, immediately frowning. Even Walters could see that Dr. Pomme was harshly disappointed with the delivery of that request. He must have rehearsed that line several times in his head before summoning it, but regardless of whether he had worded it as intended or he had improvised on the last second, he was clearly unpleased with the result. He had intended to say and express something else altogether. His words lacked any sense of urgency, there wasn’t any spark of love in his voice, and he must have felt that the moral distance that separated him from this idiot in ridiculous clothes had shrunk very unpleasantly.

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Waiting Canals – 10

The sun was still high in the sky, unbothered by any clouds, heating up the air, every second, every breath that Walters took. The three men were now in the center of the courtyard, where Walters felt that the sun was the most intense. Running his hand through his hair didn’t wipe away the accumulated heat on his scalp. At least, they were standing on an area of the courtyard that had been watered recently. A cool embrace climbed from the ground and licked his hands any time he was able to leave his arms at ease. No, it hadn’t rained. Someone seemed to have dumped buckets of water here and there.

In a depression in the center of the slab of paving stone next to his right foot, a puddle remained. There were bubbles of soap. Someone had cleaned the courtyard, then. Walters put his sole over the bubbles, held his foot in that position for a while, and then pressed down slowly, the soapy water extending beyond the depression, rewetting dry sections of the slab.

“What is it that we’re doing here, again?” Walters asked.

The old servant seemed surprised by the voice of the stranger, and clearly annoyed by the question, but Jameson replied in an accommodating, almost friendly intonation: “Dr. Pomme will be here shortly.”

Walters dropped his equipment bag between two small puddles. The old servant threw another disgusted look at Walters, who this time was too busy looking around to notice. After counting the number of small windows on the pink wall, there was the counting of the number of bricks between the bottom of a window and the tallest of the reeds. There was also a large puddle at the end of the courtyard by the canal and several sparrows were taking baths, shaking their bodies, flying away. Seven, possibly eight.

The sound of a door opening behind Walters. Jameson and the old servant turned immediately to face the stairs. Walters turned his torso but not his legs, and then his neck even further, and saw the voluminous Dr. Pomme in a white suit, dealing with the stairs one step at a time, with his body slightly sideways, his right hip leading his way. After conquering his descent, Dr. Pomme stopped to pull down his jacket and to arrange his tie. He looked at the group of three in the middle of the courtyard. He tried to portray a smile but gave up almost right away.

As Dr. Pomme approached them, Walters noticed the ripples in the white fabric, and how the oversized upper body was encased just barely in the resplendent summer suit. Walters could imagine Dr. Pomme eating popcorn shrimp from a bucket with both hands. He wouldn’t mind sharing the bucket, dipping the shrimp in the hot sauce, consuming the gentle flesh, and then a gulp of cold beer.

“Dr. Pomme, this is Mr. Walters,” Jameson said, and Walters shook the extended hand of Dr. Pomme, spotty and significantly larger than his.

Dr. Pomme nodded. “I’m glad you were able to come in such a short notice,” he said, still out of breath.

“You’re welcome,” Walters said. Probably the wrong thing to say, he thought.

“I really appreciate you coming here,” Dr. Pomme insisted. This time Walters simply smiled, and glanced at Jameson, whose face was expressionless, distant.

Dr. Pomme looked at Walters without saying anything for a while. Walters tapped his back pocket. He felt the notebook. If he were alone, he would pull the notebook out and reread the last written pages. But if he were alone, and safe, he would be sitting in his balcony, the glass of bourbon on the arm of the chair, nobody around, at most just voices of people in the distance, impossible to understand their meanings, just sounds, speckles in the fabric of the city.

“Could you please make sure that everything is sorted out for this evening?” Dr. Pomme asked  to the old servant, who nodded and departed towards the building, not at all insulted by the obvious dismissal. Relieved. Ready to attend to more important tasks.

“Should I go too? Maybe you want to speak to Mr. Walters in private?” Jameson asked.

Dr. Pomme shook his head, said ‘no’ a few times while affectionately tapping Jameson’s shoulder.

Waiting Canals – 9

From the basement level, a labyrinth that contained the kitchen and the other service rooms, a flight of stairs ascended directly to a columned lobby. Only a few worn steps separated the plain and bare walls, and the cheap, functional furniture of downstairs, from the extravagance and elegant details of that lobby. Walters first noticed the surrounding, suffocating light entering from the large expansions of glass on both the ceiling and the four walls, then the touches of green throughout, and the sparkles from the polished silver, finally once again that feeling of uneasiness creeping up his back, his neck, and then exploding in his head, that uneasiness that kept coming and leaving through him, only a few seconds at a time, a scurrying creature entering him, heating him, but then sliding away.

The old servant and Jameson, shoulder to shoulder, crossed the lobby without titillation, almost speeding up their pace, their hard soles hitting the marbled floor with a martial rhythm. Walters was impressed by those large panelled windows inviting the sun without restrain, shining on the oriental vases around the walls, the metallic fixtures, and a trophy cabinet filled with silver and gold. At one extreme of the lobby an elongated tapestry hung from the wall, and Walters had only three seconds to inspect it before he followed the two men into a corridor. There were birds flying around a naked woman, a cross formed by roses, and a blue eye on the top, all of it in darken, fading colors. ‘Why an eye?’ Walters wondered, the lobby already behind him, now following Jameson and the old servant along the corridor, where a long succession of portraits were meticulously aligned on one wall, all of those white men in dark clothes, over dark backgrounds, looking through the oversized windows on the other side of the corridor, sheets of glass from floor to ceiling, only partly covered by thick, red-satin curtains. That uneasiness again, but soon gone when Walters remembered ‘Why an eye?’ He was convinced he used to know, the answer was somewhere at the front of his mind, he could almost reach it and comprehend it, but it remained blurred and hidden behind a screen.

“He will meet us in the courtyard in a few minutes,” the old servant said to Jameson as they kept walking. The movement of the old servant, with his head protruding strangely forward and his body swinging sideways around his waist, reminded Walters of a pelican. A pelican somewhere on a beach. Wobbly most of the time, magnificent when standing on one of the poles in the deck over the beach, looking at the horizon, its feet large and elastic. The traces of bourbon on the sides of his tongue. Long feathers sticking out from the neck of the pelican. A thunderous sky, but beautiful clouds. Her hair escaping from under and over the pineapple bandana. The pelican, maybe its name was Roundy, on the center of the deck among all of them sitting on folding chairs and holding full glasses of bourbon, its eyes prospecting its audience, and that woman threw a piece of raw fish into the air and before the piece started its descent it disappeared and the pelican shook its head and danced on the spot, glancing at those humans, their hands, which one of them would contain the next morsel, usually the woman.

At the end of the corridor there were four pairs of French doors, flowers and leafy motifs carved on the glass panels. The old servant opened one of the doors and waited until Jameson and Walters went through it.

Outdoors again, a few stoned stairs led to a ridiculously monumental, square courtyard, the centerpiece for social events. Two sides of the courtyard were walled by the two wings of the main building. A third side was lined with arches overlaid with ivy beyond which there was a geometrical garden. The fourth side, opposite to the stairs that the three men were now descending, was delimited in all its length by a canal. Another mansion, built with pink stone, stood at the other side of that canal. Several generations of reeds had populated the far side of the canal and covered the first two meters of the pink wall, as if the canal were trying to escape its confinement and climb to the top of the building and over the city.

Waiting Canals – 8

The only maid working in the kitchen at that time had stopped slicing potatoes to stuff some pulled pork and some shreds of cabbage between two pieces of hardened bread, and placed the improvised food in front of Walters, without a plate, directly on the table still wet with the sticky juice of recently sliced potatoes. Crumbs scattered around him every time that Walters managed to put his mouth around the brick of bread and take a bite. Large bites filling up his mouth. The maid came back with a glass of milk, which he also consumed as if devouring was the only line of action, nothing in the immediate future beyond that. After swallowing his last mouthful, he let out a pleasant sigh, all of a sudden he experienced a very positive feeling of hope. This feeling dissipated soon, but gradually, without him noticing.

“Have you seen any blue boxes?” he asked, turning on his chair and facing the maid, who was standing at the back of the kitchen, pretending to dry a porcelain jar with her apron, looking at him with the intensity born from fear.

“No,” she said. “What are they?” She added, glancing at the door that Jameson had closed on his way out some minutes ago.

“Well, you know, blue foxes,” Walters said. “They run around town, and they disappear, like dreams  after you wake up, I guess, and they have blue eyes for the most part, you see.”

She shook her head and, in a habitual but thoughtless motion, found her pendant with her fingers, the blue cross of the methodists, and caressed the borders, her thumb rubbing in circular motions the pentagonal relief in the center of the cross. She knew somehow that this strange man was not a methodist. He didn’t even look like a baptist, this man, and that was weird to her, it was even worse than being in the presence of a baptist. A Southerner, but not from here, not from Memphis, an outsider, he couldn’t possibly understand the tension in Memphis, the fear of some, although her priest kept saying that these were the days that would be remembered, the days in which a purer Memphis would raise from the filth of yore, from the lies of our enemies; finally, because our own shadows had been wrapped over our shoulders for too long. She liked the sound of “would raise,” like birds hiding in the reeds suddenly exploding and flying into the air. Raising. Raising, raising.

“Can I have some more milk, please?” Walters asked, holding up his empty glass.

While she was pouring the milk, Walters noticed that the maid was looking at his neck. It itched, his neck, but he was not going to scratch it again, at some point he had to stop, relax, have a deep breath and just focus on the surroundings, on the drops of milk on the sides of the glass, the color of her eyes, brown, the garlic braid hanging from a hook, only seven bulbs left… Three, four, five, six, seven, the regular pattern of the bricks, and the window over the sink, overlooking a small yard, if the window were smaller and round it would be like a porthole, with tiny fish swimming on the other side, silvery, vivacious, he trapped under the rubble, his right leg possibly smashed, the motion of his arms limited to his hands and wrists, his face right in front of the porthole, almost forced to look at those silvery fish, waiting for some other creature to sail by behind that round piece of glass, waiting until his air would run out and he would die, but then such creature appeared, first a cloud coming out from the darkness, wavering, then the two masses of hair stepping forward, framing a disgusted face, the eyes behind the diving mask full of resolution.

“You ain’t from Memphis, right?” the maid asked.

He was going to answer that no, not really, not yet in any case, but the door was opened with a sonorous snap and Jameson came into the kitchen followed by an old servant in an impeccable suit.

“Dr. Pomme is waiting, are you ready?” Jameson asked.

Walters nodded and stood up. He was still very unsure about why he was there, but he followed Jameson and the old servant, grabbing an apple from a basket by the door in his way out, leaving the kitchen and entering into the entrails of a blue fox, he thought.

Waiting Canals – 7

When they reached the waterfront Jameson turned to the right and headed towards the best-looking boat along the dock, a four-seat runabout, coated with a resplendent, dark mahogany, with three lines of darker wood veneered on the top half. Not even a scratch, and recently polished, named “The Savior.”

Walters had lingered behind, still at the verge of the park, at first contemplating one of the benches, then the undulating water in the center of the Cross Pool. Only two small boats were traversing the Pool now, one behind the other, marching slowly in their way towards downtown, possibly to the river.

Jameson turned his head and saw Walters standing by a bench, looking at the distance. Instead of yelling at him, this time he waited by the runabout for a minute. He also looked towards the area that Walters was fixated upon. There was nothing of interest there that he could identify, but he enjoyed the shining surface, he thought how nice it could be not worrying about the enemies he didn’t know in the city these days, all the random disappearances people kept talking about.

When Walters snapped out of his trance and started to walk towards him, Jameson untied one of the two ropes securing the runabout to the dock and threw the bundled mass of rope inside the boat. He was going to deal with the second rope, but Walters, in a swift and effortless move, untied the rope and, as he stepped in the runabout, rolled the rope and secured it neatly into what Jameson thought that could be the appropriate spot. Jameson almost felt inclined to compliment him, but he just jumped in and turned the engine on. Seeing that Walters was already seated next to him, waiting, Jameson engaged the forward gears, pushed the throttles only a few inches and, without having to turn the wheel too much, slowly directed the boat in a semicircle towards the center of the Pool and then accelerated into the main canal that run towards the East, away from the Mississippi, in direction to the university district, an area in which impoverished, middle-class and affluent blocks were all mixed together in a chaotic and constantly surprising mosaic. Even further to the East, the last tendrils of the canal system reached to their ends and Memphis proper transitioned into soulless house developments separated by marshy fields where only alien brambles seemed able to grow.

“Would you mind if I ask you what’s your religious inclination?” Jameson asked after a few minutes of silence between them.

“What?”

“Your religious inclination, your faction?”

Walters shook his head with an unclear motion, then pulled out his notebook and placed it on his thigh.

“Not a religious man?” Jameson insisted.

“Not really,” Walters answered.

“That’s an interesting strategy, isn’t it?” Jameson said. “That way you are not a direct enemy of the other faction.”

“I guess,” Walters said.

“Although both factions can see you as the enemy,” Jameson continued.

“I don’t have enemies. I think,” Walters said.

“I am not sure that’s something you can decide.”

“What do you mean?” Walters added without any interest, already looking at the water, deriving into an state of absent-mindedness, of waiting.

“Well, it’s your enemies that decide that for you, right?”

Walters didn’t reply. He looked at a seagull standing on the first step out of the water of a bricked flight of stairs that went into the canal, and a few seconds later they passed by a man in a rickety boat, bucketing water from inside the boat back into the canal.

Not having a clear idea of where they were by now, Walters had the impulse to ask Jameson about their location. He decided to wait, at some point he should see some canalsign, hanging from a chain stretched between buildings or bolted on a canal wall at an intersection, maybe with a canal name he would recognize. In the meantime, he opened his notebook and reread the last pages.

“What’s the name of your employer again?” he asked.

“Doctor Harry Pomme,” Jameson replied. “That’s P-O-M-M-E,” he added when he saw that Walters was writing in his notebook.

“I’m very suspicious about this job,” Walters said after putting his notebook away.

“I cannot say I blame you,” Jameson said, looking ahead at a series of stopped boats blocking the way further ahead. He couldn’t determine the reason of the blockade. Some of the smallest boats were trying to squeeze between the larger boats, an impatience that possibly meant they had been waiting for a long time. Jameson turned his head to see what the situation was behind them, and not seeing any boats approaching, decelerated while turning the wheel to the left, entering into a smaller side canal. Some blocks later, Jameson turned to the right, proceeding slowly along a narrow canal that seemed to run parallel to the main canal that had been blocked by the traffic jam. After two more turns, they were back into a main canal. They progressed at the slow speed mandated by oversized signs hanging over the canal from ropes stretched between buildings. Walters pulled his notebook out again and wrote “Willow Canal. Intersection with Bonfire Way. Some old mansions. Occupied but some low levels seem flooded. Rotten boards covering some canal entrances, shouldn’t reach bottom.”

Walters had never been in this section of the city, although he had some idea about where to start looking in a map. As they advanced, the number of mansions and other buildings with more than two stories increased. Most of the side canals were now private, some blocked by wooden doors, others with signs hanging from a chain stating the names of the properties at the end of those service canals. Walters paid more attention to the few public side canals that interconnected the main canals or ended in now neglected parking lots at the fringes of the city. He told himself again that he had never been here before. He wanted to come back, explore with time. There were many possibilities, forgotten secrets covered under meters of water and undisturbed silt, there should be flooded rooms to be prospected; melting drawers to be opened; plates, lacquered boxes, glass tables, and knick knacks layered by the sediment, a light brush with the fingertips and the intense whiteness of the torch rescuing them back to human eyes before the muck and darkness muttered them again. Walters saw the stopping signs for several lines of water buses, so this could easily become his new working area. As lately, the docks had turned out to be disappointing as far as net profit, although he still enjoyed his challenging times negotiating with the steamboats, the motorboats and the unpredictable currents of the Mississippi.

Seeing the blue sign of a chop-suey restaurant, Walters remembered a recent glimpse of a blue fox in some alleyway downtown, a skinny fox suddenly disappearing as if flying into the darkening sky. Did that happen recently? Did it even happen? Perhaps something he imagined, that evening. He seemed to be imagining more things these days. Like swimming into a cabin in a submerged shipwreck, fifty meters under water, no bodies, a cloud of minuscule fish and plankton throbbing between him and the bunk beds, a chest in a corner. Again and again, there, looking at that chest, until he found himself crossing the curtain of plankton, the hand trying to reach the chest, a desire to turn around and swim as fast as possible out of the ship before it keeled over, but the hand had to open the chest.

Walters blotted his forehead with a hand that he then dried on his T-shirt. They were approaching now a gothic, weed-covered church, the past grandeur of most windows dulled with wood planks nailed from the inside to cover the broken pieces of glass. There were two side canals running along both sides of the church. As with most churches in Memphis, these two side canals were likely to meet at the back of the building, the church standing in its own island, more often than not an islet of a ridiculously small size. The front door, black and white but otherwise unassuming, was closed and chains hang across it. The seven steps that led from the frothy waters of the canal to the closed door, built with long blocks of granite, were carpeted by a variety of mosses and short flowering plants. Several buttresses emerged from the front walls and plunged directly into the canal. Between two of these buttresses, a pallet with the logo of the Down Brewery woodburned into the sides had been lodged for days, creating a platform over the water, with pieces of trash and plant material accumulating between the pallet and the church wall. There were three dogfrogs over the pallet. Walters had seen the dogfrogs at some distance as they approached the church. He found them as fascinating as the blue foxes. The sun was hitting a section of the pallet and the three dogfrogs were huddling together, basking, immobile but with their eyes wide open. This was the first time that Walters had seen any of them out of the water. He could only remember, although vividly, two other instances in which he had seen these creatures, so typically Memphian, even if rare, only found in Memphis and in the surrounding swamps. In those two occasions Walters had thought how inadequate their local name was, no resemblance whatsoever with a dog; or a frog, for that matter. Maybe they barked or run like dogs when out of the water. The first time, soon after arriving to Memphis, a dogfrog, under a docked boat, had its head buried in the mud, shaking its body as if trying to dislodge a gigantic bone (like a dog, actually, he thought), pieces of algae and a succession of clouds of silt blowing up around the agitated body. Months later, he was having a breather under a fishing dock, sitting on a mass of decaying reeds, and he saw two of them floating on the surface in the center of the canal, only the top of their heads with their bulgy eyes and part of their backs out of the water, being dragged by the low current, their large eyes seeming to follow the movements of passersby walking along the narrow canalsides. Walters sunk underwater again, stretched his body and dived towards the center of the canal, turning his face up to observe the creatures, now at the reach of his fingers. The underbodies of the two dogfrogs were grayish with blue spots lined by black circles. Their duck-like legs were tucked under skin folds, their flat and short tails constantly vibrating. From underneath one could appreciate the massive proportion of their heads, almost the same size as their bodies, the two parts connected by a thick and stubby neck. The lower jaw was shorter than the top one, so Walters could see their ample grimaces, from one side of the neck to the other, circling the outline of the head, sharp teeth sticking out in all directions.

“I was baptized in that church,” Jameson said. Walters moved his attention from the dogfrogs to the chained door of the church that was already behind them, then faced Jameson. “I’m hungry,” he said.

Waiting Canals – 6

The park was a long succession of unattended squares of land packed with oak, beech and walnut trees, with narrow and shady paths that connected the street on one side and a docking area on the other side. Walters used to cross the park and sit down on one of the wooden benches at the waterfront, right under the trees, ignoring the passersby along the quay and the boats tied to the dock. He would look at the water, at the ripples endlessly disarranging the surface, the reflection of the sun creating dancing sparkles. He liked the fact that four canals met at this point, at the Cross Pool, creating one of the largest bodies of water in this section of Memphis. One of those four canals was the one that flowed under his balcony, the one that he saw every morning while sipping his coffee. When he didn’t feel like going to other sections of the city, but he still had the urge to dive, he would slip from his balcony into the water and dive to the Cross Pool, where he would wander very close to the bottom, leisurely, with no goal or destination, parting the overgrown algae here and there hoping to discover something memorable that would have been waiting for him.

But there were also those days in which diving wasn’t going to be the answer, the remedy, and he would leave the house and roam in any direction, normally ending up on one of those benches overlooking the Cross Pool. From any of the benches he couldn’t see beyond the opaque surface, one had to stand directly over the water to even see anything within the top three feet.

From the bench, he would survey the water for a while, like a gull flying in circles searching for a fish close to the surface. Eventually, he would concentrate his gaze on a particular spot. It could be where a buoy or a plastic bottle was bobbing in place on the surface, or where a gull had finally descended and poked the water, or where the visible end of a fishing line thrown from the other side of the Cross Pool was silently waiting. Then Walters would close his eyes and dive from that same spot on the surface to the bottom. Only then, when he was under water, was he able to remember with total clarity the last time that he had been down there, he saw again the beer bottle lying on a bed of brown algae, and a school of tiny fish scurrying away, then returning and passing through him. He would move five feet in the direction of the feeble current, and there was the decaying plank of wood. He had carefully turned the plank over and seen a layer of pink eggs attached to the underside. After slowly replacing the plank to the same position in which it had been before, he proceeded towards the closest wall. He knew where it was, even if he couldn’t see it yet. The most interesting findings were always along the walls. His light started to flicker, but with a couple of energetic shakes the flickering stopped. Most waterways were murky, loaded with sediments and even during sunny days he needed to use a light. There were some shallow canals in the touristic sections of the city that were relatively clean and you could effortlessly see the shining green of the wavery algae blanketing the bottom and you could even tell apart the dimes and pennies from the foreign coins. Walters avoided those canals, although in a few occasions, after midnight and with a muffled light, he had, coin after coin, collected a tiny treasure, more emotional than financial: every coin that he placed in his pouch triggered an electric déjà vu that he couldn’t decipher. Later, in one of those occasions, he wrote in his notebook “I cannot remember what it was, although I’m sure that this has happened before [check previous notebooks]. Picking each coin was a fleeting rattling of a door that remained closed but that during that instant could have slammed open.” His entries tended to be succinct and dry, but at that time he felt that the importance of that slippery remembrance required a door as a metaphor, something physical he could obsessed about from then on.

He reached one of the walls at the Cross Pool, mussels and red algae clinging to the bricks and to the thick rope dangling from the nearby boat. Clasping the rope with both hands, he propeled himself to the surface. Walters opened his eyes and saw that the spot where he would have broken the surface was now occupied by a small sail boat with the sail awfully rolled and tied to the mast. Very close to this boat and to the left there was a blue gondola with deep scratches on the sides. Walters closed his eyes again and, from where the gondola bow was, he went directly to the bottom. It was two feet away from the wall and there was a  bike tire, with all the spokes already colonized. Even farther from the wall, a catfish was reposing half buried below algae. Walters got closer to pet it but the catfish waggled sideways, trying to dig itself under the sediment, so he desisted and swam backwards a little. He stayed there, floating in place, studying the catfish stillness, until he noticed a motorboat coming his way. Instead of dropping to the bottom and possibly scaring the catfish he shifted several feet to the left and then descended, swimming for a while without disturbing the sediment but caressing the algae.

He would stop then, and just to evaluate his memory he would go up and emerge while opening his eyes, still on the bench, and yes, he was proudly sure about where that emerging point would have been in the Cross Pool. At some distance, four ducks had landed on the water. Walters would choose one of them and from there plunge to the bottom and indulge once again in the memory of the most irrelevant details.

Waiting Canals – 5

The two men had started walking shoulder by shoulder along the center of the cobbled street. After a few yards, Walters slowed his pace but Jameson didn’t. Having Walters walking behind him didn’t seem to bother Jameson. Walters, however, felt much more at ease following Jameson, counting his steps.

From the street one couldn’t see the canals that run on the other side of the two lines of houses, even if you tried to do so by looking through the open windows and all the way throughout the inside of the houses. No one else was in sight along the street, as usual. There were several cheap cars parked on the curbs. They belonged to the people living in the adjacent houses, since only residents ever made it to this street. One of those cars had been set on fire months ago. Its burnout skeleton was likely to remain on the same spot for many more months to come. Anytime Walters walked by this burned car he would run his finger against one of the deformed doors and then rub the ash on the palm of his other hand, drawing a circle.

Walters was surprised when Jameson didn’t seem to notice the burned vehicle as he passed by it. He started to move closer to the car with the intention of collecting some soot on his finger, but he stopped three feet away from his target. A blue fox with black eyes was sitting on the remains of the back seat, looking straight at him. Several patches of its back and sides were blackened and grimy, but the intense sky-blue fur shined in many spots. Its black eyes kept holding Walters gaze in a tranquil stare. Walters wasn’t sure, but he thought that he had seen that same fox in several places across town. Maybe the fox recognized him? He couldn’t remember if all foxes were so blue. What would happen if he tried to pet the fox on his head, right behind his ears? Her ears, perhaps? Yes, Walters though, she looked like a mother. He thought about getting closer and having a better look inside the car and maybe spot a cub, but the mother was unlikely to like that.

“What are you doing?” Jameson yelled down the street.

Walters didn’t reply but got in his way again. He repeated “blue fox” in his mind several times, but his attention soon faded and forgot all about it. He liked the intense green of the grass growing between the cobblestones, the sad red of the building bricks, the dangling pennants left from a forgotten party and discolored by many suns, the smooth surface of the cobblestones. He liked to whistle no particular song. He looked up and saw no seagulls. He didn’t think about it, but he loved the shrilling shrieks of seagulls fighting for a piece of fish. And so many cobblestones when one thought about it!

“Are you ok?” Jameson asked when Walters got to him.

Walters looked up, recognized Jameson and nodded. They kept walking, side by side for a while. After turning to the right, they stepped onto the sidewalk, which soon led to a large park.