Watering Hole

Written by Jack Moraglia

The leaves from the bushes along the fence behind my parents’ pool are dipping into the water, now that the rain has spurted the plants’ growth, extending the twigs much further than they ought to be. Leaf-tips brush the big chlorine puddle and dip in and out at the wind’s whim. I think just this once it would make so much sense for the leaves to control water supply instead of the roots.

Let the roots be explorers. Through the depths of the crust, searching for moisture and any cranny that might better holster the plant. They’re the closest things to astronauts that plants have; they grow blindly into the ground, a nebula of uncharted earth.

My brother, Luke, is our space cadet now. He alerts the family each night that there are satellites buzzing by or if Venus will be visible as a little red speck most would think is any old star. He bought the 99-cent upgrade on his stargazing app, so now he can see comets and other space things. It’s interesting how the pandemic points us toward adjacent domains: him to space and me to nature on Earth.

Of course, the chlorine might poison the plants if they could drink from the pool, and the naïve leaves would be blamed and feel dreadful that their mid-afternoon quench delivered a plague.

Perched there at the edge, the leaves remind me of my cat Carel, now buried in our front garden where he used to butcher rat and bird carcasses, who used to dangle his white paws over the edge of the pool, and lean his fat head in, stretching his mouth away from his thick orange-spotted body, and lap up the pool water with his gnarled tongue. We figured the chlorine wasn’t too bad for Carel. His name is pronounced like “Carl.” Knowing no better about how to spell it as an eight-year-old, I committed to the spelling, “Carel.” Later, I would always claim that changing the spelling would confuse him.

One day, I was watching him through the window when he leaned too far and fell into the pool and doggy-paddled (a term which now seems overly canine-centric) over to the stairs and shuttled out of the water all drenched, and fur all clumped together, making him look like a skinnier version of Carel, but with a bigger frown. He rustled over to the backdoor, like a stop-motion figurine; the matted hair jerked awkwardly like clay, imperfectly photographed to mimic real-life movement. The bell on his collar jingled frantically the whole way, sending backyard birds flying out from hidden nooks, where they’d laughed at his folly.

I let him in the house, and he brushed past me like he planned to dodge the whole issue and act like nothing happened—like when you throw up in the bathroom at a party and walk back into the living room like you were never gone, though the stomach acid-rosé drizzled down the front of your shirt tells a different story. But I got him a towel, and he let me dry him off a little bit before running into the garage to recover from the upsetting incident. And whenever he drank from the pool past that point, the birds watched safely from the high leafy branches, a little less intimidated by their predator. And he always stayed a little further back from the edge and sort of dipped his tongue in and out like the leaves on the overgrown bushes.