The Hole in His Heart

Dwight D. Jenkinst

“Oh my God, don’t you get hot in those? It’s like a 190 degrees! Why don’t you wear shorts?”

He stopped digging for a moment, wiping his forehead with the back of a leather-gloved hand and laughed, looking deep into the earth, far off to a distant but happy childhood.

“That’s what people used to ask my father all the time. He would just say that he didn’t like shorts. End of story. Next topic. My mother is the one who told us the truth: he felt like his legs were too skinny. They were shiny white and thin, compared to the rest of him. He was a tough guy.”

“What did he do?”

“About his legs?”

“Nooo! For a living! What was his job, silly?” She said it in such a way that he wanted to answer, and answer, and keep answering. He loved when she asked him questions like that, unorthodox or impertinent questions that saw past his own chiseled, brown exterior and lingering scowls. Anyone else might have felt his father’s hard look, the one that ended conversations.

“He was a construction worker. They don’t wear shorts.”

“I bet they did on weekends.”

She was probably right. Again, all he could do was grin and lean into his shovel. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Maybe I’m more like him than I realize.”

“My mother was an alcoholic, a very functional one. You’d never know.”

He screwed his face up at the comparison and looked over at her, sunbathing on the pool deck in nothing but a thong bottom and tiny pink triangle top. He couldn’t see her eyes behind her sunglasses, but that was essentially true for every day that he’d ever known her, which was about three weeks. She swam and sunned while he worked on the fence. They’d met at a friend’s solstice party, when it was dark enough that her eyes remained hopeful glimmers of light. He didn’t even know what color they were.

The conversation that led them to this poolside was lengthy, vast, intensely innocent and staggeringly deep in places, but without pretense. She was, perhaps, the most ‘real’ girl he had ever met, completely incapable of artifice and completely at ease with the eight-year difference in their ages. She was also exquisitely beautiful and perfectly comfortable wearing next to nothing while he labored just feet away under an old cowboy hat, limp filthy painter’s pants, and dusty boots. His face was pock-marked in places but neatly covered by a grizzled beard, and his body was taut, even while relaxing. It did exactly what he wanted it to do.

“And how does your mother’s alcoholism relate to my father’s skinny legs?”

“I don’t drink. You don’t have to wear long pants when it’s hot.”

She arched her neck back to look at him while she said this and smiled when she saw him nod his head in acknowledgment. She faced back toward the distant mountains. “We can be whoever we want to be.”

She heard the clank of his shovel again, and over it the playful response: “Well, I guess I just want to be that guy who wears pants in the hot sun.” He didn’t hear her laugh or see her shake her blonde waves. But he knew she did.

Silent minutes piled up like dirt as he dug out a large outcropping of shale about two feet down in his latest hole. She could hear the grunting of his efforts. “Do you think you’ll be done by the time I start work?”

He was breathing heavily: “And when is that?”

“They go back right after Labor Day. I think you knowwww thaaaat…”

Now he was working the long, heavy, rusted wrecking bar, pounding it into the crumbling rock inside his hole. “Sorry…it’s…been…a long…time…ugh….since…come on, come onnn… since I was in… that’s it, come onnnn…uhhhhhh, yeah, there we go…school. Good lord…”

She arched back to see him again. “Were they all that hard?”

He laughed again as he took off his hat to wipe his brow, moving down the line to a shaded part of the fence in front of her. His pulsing forearms hung over the top rail, streams of muddy sweat working their way down the veins to his knuckles before falling to earth. “Depends on what you mean by ‘hard,’ but yes. Only five more to go though and we’ll be done.”

“Did you just say we?”

Now he pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head: “I’ll be done. Me.”

She lifted her sunglasses and smiled as if to bait him: “You had me worried for just a minute.” Beads of crystal clear perspiration were forming on her forehead and running down the sides of her cheeks and neck. “Do you like this one?”

It was a little game she played with him ever since she started visiting. Hearing about his pool that night at the party, she half-jokingly invited herself over as a “consultant” while he worked on his fence. “Sure,” he told her, nodding his head, “Yeah, of course. I’m out there every day. Just come by whenever you’d like, not a problem…” He honestly didn’t think she would, and he wasn’t sure if he should be terrified, depressed or exultant at the prospects. But there she was, two days later, in a bright red one-piece. Settling into a deck chair, she lifted her sunglasses, smiled, and asked if he liked it. His answer was always the same: a clipped laugh, a nod of the head and, “Yes, it’s very nice.” She never wore the same suit twice, and each time she came the suit got smaller and smaller, revealing more and more. “Do you like it?”

“Yes, it’s very nice…”

“Do you think he’s gay?”

“Nooo, I don’t think he’s gay!”

“So he’s straight but just not into you?”

“God, that’s depressing. I don’t know. I mean, we talk about…everything!”

“Well clearly not EVERYTHING. You said he’s a loner?”

“Kind of, but I did meet him at a party, so he can’t be, like, completely anti-social.”

“Maybe he’s going to kill you and stuff you into one of those holes. Ever think of that?”

Yes, I did, but only the first day. Spend five minutes with the guy and you’ll see what I mean.”

“Nah, I’m good. Had my share of weirdos and creeps, thank you. What are you wearing when you go over? Hate to say it like this, but are you giving him enough to work with?”

“YES, THAT’S THE THING! Every time I go the suits get smaller! Any further and I’ll be naked!”


“What I wore today could have gotten me arrested. Maybe I should just… kiss him?”

“Ehhh, I think maybe not. You said you met him at a party. Your friends or his?”

“Mostly his, I guess, but it’s someone we both know.”

“Ok, so maybe ask around a little bit before you go sticking your tongue in his mouth.”

“Ewww, don’t be gross.”

“You’re the one who said it. You want me to stop by and feel him up? I mean, out?”

“I’m hanging up. You’re disgusting.”

“Fine. Be careful though, and ask around. Love you.”

“Love you too mom…”


A waxing moon low in the sky faintly lit the pool. The fence was done, and he was the tired new owner of a suburban oasis in the green desert of upstate New York. Now what? It had been several days since he’d seen her. Maybe she was out of town. Maybe she had a boyfriend. Maybe she had said everything she wanted to say. Fine. But not good. How long had it been since he’d had those kinds of conversations? He missed them. Maybe he’d never even go in the pool. Maybe he’d sell the house.

Such were his thoughts when the gate opened and she walked in, wearing a breezy teal cover. She slipped out of her sandals without saying a word and went to the steps, dropping the cover. There was nothing under it. She entered the water and disappeared. A shimmering image of her glided below him, leaving only a small trail of bubbles that rose to the surface and popped. He sat transfixed as she surfaced at the far end and ascended, water washing over her body. He wished the sun were out. He thought he heard rotor blades spinning. And then she was standing before him, shivering and human. Her eyes were blue.

“Towel?” was all he could say. She put the towel down and stood on it, close enough now to see the scarred-over hole in his chest, just above the heart. She held out a hand: “Swim with me.”

“Summer, I…”

“Please,” she cut him off, “swim with me. I know all about it. It’s ok. I can never be her. I can only offer you me, little Summer Baily, never-been-anywhere, never-done- anything Summer Baily.” She began to weep. “Look at me! This is me! All of me! There’s nothing else! I know that I could never replace her, or fill that hole where the…”

“Shrapnel,” he offered.

“…where it went into your heart and killed you both. I am truly sorry. If I had known, I never would have bothered you. I just thought you were…” She couldn’t finish.

“Older? Wiser? Troubled? Widowed? Resurrected on the same helicopter that carried her back to Kabul, part of the dashing husband-wife war correspondent team from WCLA …”

He grew silent, watching the way the dead white cloth of the towel embraced the living pink skin of her toes. “What if I told you I feel exactly the same way about you except with the constant condemnation of knowing I don’t deserve anyone like her ever again, or anyone like you, or anyone at all… This was her dream, this pool. We saved up through Baghdad, Basra, Fallujah, Ramadi. By Marjah we had enough. And now this is me. All of me. There’s nothing else…”

The night grew still, like the otherworldly period of time immediately after an IED cooks off, when life and death are identical. She nodded, holding back tears, and extended her hand again. This time he took it, gently, so gently, and rose to his metal feet.