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August 19, 2023


Sutton Strother

Mr. Jarvis snarls over his fence at Grace’s daughter Tilly, naked in her inflatable swimming pool.

“Ain’t right, a little girl learnin’ to show it all off like that.”

Tilly doesn’t register his words or even his presence, just splashes clumsy fistfuls of water at Ursula, their ancient cocker spaniel.  

Grace white-knuckles the handle of her coffee mug. She imagines climbing out of her lawn chair and wonders where she’d go: across the lawn to scoop up Tilly and rush her inside, out of sight; to the edge of the yard to flick Mr. Jarvis right between his squinted eyes; to her knees, maybe, because Tilly pissed through her last clean pair of big-girl panties, and they’ll be out of the dryer in a half-hour, and it’s already ninety degrees on this cloudless July morning, and couldn’t he – couldn’t somebody, please – give her a fucking break?

Instead, she works open the top button of her sundress. The next. Another. One more, until her breasts fall free into wet-flannel air and blistering sunlight.

“You cut that out,” Mr. Jarvis barks, froth dappling the corners of his frown.

Another button, and another, and a final flick of the wrist splits the whole dress open.

Mr. Jarvis slaps a hand to his head like there’s a hole in it her wickedness might slither through. “Oughta call CPS, a mother actin’ such a way. Oughta call the cops!”

Grace plants one foot on either side of the chair and spreads her knees, daring the old man to look at what’s between them. Maybe he does, but it’s too bright out to track his gaze. She doesn’t miss the spittle, though. It leaves his mouth in a thin spray she knows is meant for her; it dissipates before it even hits the fence.

Her laughter startles both of them. Even Ursula yips, but her yips sound like more laughter, so Grace’s laugh deepens, roots her to her chair even as it shakes her. Her breasts wobble with the force of it. She thinks about the oscillating sprinklers her dad used on the front lawn when she was little, imagines water spurting from her nipples in every direction and can’t help laughing harder still.

Mr. Jarvis doesn’t even storm off, he practically tiptoes, his already-stooped shoulders slumping further the moment he turns his back on her. Grace hasn’t stopped laughing by the time his back door slides shut. She almost feels a little sorry.

“Why funny, Mommy?” Tilly calls from the pool, but before Grace can collect herself and answer, her daughter’s attention is on the dog again. Tilly fills a pink plastic bucket with water and dumps it over Ursula’s head, shrieking her delight even as she banana-peels and lands hard on her butt. Ursula shakes away the excess water then clambers over Tilly’s naked limbs to lick her thanks across the little girl’s cheek.