The pool filter hummed miraculously. It was Maret’s idea—obviously, since Barb couldn’t swim—to dig the big red hole into their backyard, then fill it with concrete and fresh water. He had seen a commercial on TV featuring a man long dead with a long face and lean features, who said to him, We came from the water. We ought to stay acquainted with it. Maret took this to mean he ought to build their neighborhood’s first pool. Barb was concerned it would be too much trouble, too much upkeep for just the two of them, but he ignored her as usual.
Maret fell in love with his pool. Took care of it like it was his own flesh-and-blood. Once a week, Maret checked the pH of the water and the free chlorine levels for optimal filtration. He developed a warm relationship with the local pool maintenance man, a Cambodian named Jerome. Jerome provided Maret with stabilizers and test strips and replacement filter after replacement filter after replacement filter. Barb watched Maret from their bedroom window. When the weather forecast called for the slightest chance of rain, she saw him stretch out a clean, black tarp. When the grass began to frost, she saw him have Jerome install an expensive electric heating pump. When a group of dogs got loose from the local animal shelter, she saw him putting a black electric fence around the pool’s perimeter. Maret couldn’t have mangy mutts splashing and lapping in his baby. They’d shed off pounds of fleas, and ticks and matted hair. He explained to Barb. They’d clog the filter and spread lyme disease in the crystalline water, turning it murky and London smog grey. She watched Maret shudder at just the thought of it.
Then, one night, he came home to Barb showing him frogs in the filters, frogs on the diving board, frogs in the water, along the border, under the fence, all making throaty frog noises. Maret did not know where they came from. There were no local ponds or slow moving streams for them to breed in. How did they end up here, in Maret’s sweet pool, their dimpled skin ruining its purity? Moreover, how would he get rid of them? Jerome brought over five boxes of Morton rock salt. He spread two around the edge of the pool and three into the water. Wait a few days and that will dry them out, he said. He handed Maret a tube of Orajel, too. If you catch one, put a dab of this on its skull. It’ll numb its brain right out. Maret nodded and followed orders.
For three days, he stood by the poolside waiting for the frogs to hop close enough for him to bop them on the head while Barb still watched him from the window. Slowly but surely, the frogs died out. They either shriveled into dehydrated lumps from the salt or simply stopped moving with their brains burned out. Maret collected the dead bodies into a forty-gallon bag and set them by the curb for the garbage man to pick up Friday morning. All the while, Barb croaked, this is terrible. This is terrible, her nose scrunched in like a pug’s.
Next came the geese. Barb called him at work about it. They flew over the fence in one tight V and nested beside the diving board and between the rungs of the ladder. Maret tossed their sticks from the pool grounds into the yard, but the geese insisted on nesting next to the water. One day when Maret tried to remove a nest, a mother goose raised her wings and ran after him. Maret barely made it out alive. Jerome brought over a shotgun and plucked the geese, mamas, daddies, and babies, one by one. He took care of the heavy bodies for Maret and fished feathers and lost teeth out of the pool with a net. Barb watched Maret count him out a heavy tip.
Finally, the dogs dug their way under the fence. Maret could never be sure how they scraped past the concrete. They drank the pool water down six inches. Barb shook and shook when Jerome showed up. You can’t kill them, she said. You can’t kill them. Jerome handed Maret the number for the dog catcher. Barb couldn’t watch as they showed up with catchpoles and noosed the dogs’ necks, dragging their tender paws across the concrete until it was speckled with rich red blood. Even though they drove off that afternoon, Barb could hear their whines and howls well into the night.
As more creatures came, possums and fruit bats and polar bears, in hoards, Barb wondered what attracted them to the pool in the first place. What did they see in that water that was worth the abuse? It wasn’t the fineness. It wasn’t the mere necessity of hydration. Barb dropped her hand into the water for the first time since Maret installed the pool. It was unusually thick and warm. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine her fingers lagging through her mother’s plum pudding. Even if she was alone, cut off from other people entirely, there was a comfort to it. Some sort of false connection in the squishy luxury of the pool. She imagined herself living like the animals, floating on the pool's surface day after day, and the sun stretched across the sky before her. Her ears would fill with the thick water and her skin would become the prunes of the pudding. She would never feel lonely again.
HEATHER FINNEGAN is a senior creative writer at the South Carolina Governor's School for Art and Humanities. She is a YoungArts Finalist for Non-fiction, winner of the Malone University creative writing competition for Non-fiction, runner-up for Nancy Thorpe, and has been recognized regionally in the Scholastic Art & Writing competition. She likes corn tortillas, Russian history, and feels a suffocating need to save the planet, but not in a conceited way.
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