The Swimming Pool
J. E. Ogle
He stepped out of the bathroom, his razor buzzing against the grain of his beard. He had noticed earlier that the pool was about an inch low. He wore his favorite pair of faded Levi's shorts. When he slid them on he had noticed they were a little snug in the seat. He reached above the waistline, pinched an inch of softness hanging over the edge of the constricting waistband. Hopefully the denim would loosen over the course of the evening. He headed for the small garage through the laundry room, tripping over a pair of size five baseball cleats caked in dried mud.
"How many times have I told him to put those goddamn things on the shoe rack?" he muttered to himself.
He gave them a good kick against the drywall, knocking away a hardened chunk of mud with holes like Swiss cheese.
"Fuck!" he shouted.
He kicked them again for good measure and opened the irrigation system main control box. He turned the dial to pool fill, number sixteen in the sequence, program B, and set it for fifteen minutes. Then he pushed start, all the time shaving with one hand, and went back into the house. In the family room he looked through the windows to make sure the pool was filling, confirmed it by a jet of bubbles spraying from the fill port at the shallow end.
By the time he returned to the bathroom he found the door closed and locked. The splatter of water could be heard against the floor of the shower as he rapped on the door.
"Hey," he said, "what's the big idea?"
When she didn't answer he banged louder. "Let me in."
"I'm getting clean," she said.
"So what? Why'd you lock me out? I'm in the middle of shaving."
"I told you."
"Christ, Annie, I've seen you naked nearly every day for fifteen years - seventeen if you count college."
"Leave me alone."
He pounded the door once to emphasize his frustration. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Wait. Or find another sink."
He pressed his forehead to the door jam. "All my stuff's in there, my deodorant, hair gel, eyedrops, everything."
"Annie, we need to talk. This childishness has got to end."
"There's nothing to talk about."
"We can work this thing out."
"You might be able to work it out. I can't."
"If you would talk about it..."
The water shut off. He heard the patter of wet feet against tile. The door opened a crack. "Don't start up again, not now. It's going to be hard enough pretending for Wendy and Todd without this too."
"We'll be late for the concert."
She closed the door again and locked it. To continue the argument seemed pointless. He decided to check on the pool. He switched his razor off, left it on the kitchen table and went out the back door, down the flagstone path to the pool deck. Although the water level looked fine, he noticed some murkiness and a dull yellowish tint clinging to the plaster. With the pool brush he swept the sides and ran it along the bottom to be sure. When the yellow dust-like particles of algae rose, further clouding the water, he knew his pool had been infected again. He bent down, reaching into the water up to his elbow, wondering why the water was so warm. It had to be well over ninety. Then he looked over the hedgerow separating the pool from the equipment and noticed the waves of heat rising from the heater. It had been left on overnight, again. "Nice going, Annie!" he yelled. He scratched the edge of the pool with his fingers, brought his hand out and examined the algae under his fingernails to determine if he had any green or black algae along with the yellow.
Perfection was his goal: crystal clear water. The Ph and chlorine levels had to be checked, calcium added, mineral levels adjusted, prophylactic algaecide treatments given. He checked the pool daily, attended to it, cared for it like it was a living thing. In a rare case of infection it had to be tended to immediately or the entire system could be permanently damaged. His neighbor, in the constraints of bankruptcy, had once let his pool go to hell for an entire season. When the house finally turned over to new owners, they had to gut the entire pool, redo the plumbing, put in a new filter. Except for the hole they practically had to start over.
After turning off the heater, John mixed two pounds of soda ash with water and poured it into the pool, then poured an entire bottle of algaecide at strategic points around the edges, a few ounces at a time. He watched the viscous blue substance break the surface tension of the water, its murderous, curling tendrils, swirling and mixing with the infection. If it didn't clear up in twenty-four hours he would have to repeat the whole procedure.
After he finished he checked back on the bathroom situation. Annie let him in while she curled her hair. She had no problem standing in front of him in her bra and panties while he got ready, he noticed. As he looked in the mirror, he noticed his eyes were bloodshot. His backyard was filled with river oaks and Chinese elms, a source of constant irritation. He put in eye drops and massaged the corners at the bridge of his nose where it itched. Then he squeezed out some hair gel, blinking his eyes, rubbed his hands together and ran his fingers through his short hair.
"Look at that, you made me wait too long. Now my hair's going to stand up all night."
"I guess that makes us about even then."
"Sarcasm doesn't suit you, Annie."
She ignored him.
"Todd and Wendy will be here soon to pick us up," he said. "I'm leaving to get Ellen."
She was plucking her eyebrows in the mirror. "Okay, but if you're going to fuck her, make it a quickie so we're not late."
"It's an honest concern. I mean, you're a known adulterer, right? Confessed and everything. You should be registered or something."
He threw her a distasteful look.
"What, you don't want to fuck Ellen?"
"What's wrong with her, isn't she pretty enough?"
"Not blonde enough? Not young enough? What?"
"Listen, let's not start tonight. The kids are upstairs and we're supposed to meet Todd and Wendy in half an hour. Let's try to behave. Besides, I thought you said you didn't want to talk about it anymore."
She took a damp washcloth and blotted her splotchy face. "You're right, I don't want to talk about it. Talking doesn't change anything."
* * *
They parked in the restaurant district about five blocks from the arena, in the parking lot of a modern glass office building. Nauseating waves of heat and the acrid smell of hot tar rose from the blacktop to greet them as they exited the white SUV.
"Where to?" said Todd.
"The first place with air conditioning," said Wendy.
Todd said, "I know a nice casual place close by."
He led them down a street lined with tents and fair booths, people milling about, getting ready for some enormous social event, to a place called Alley Gators , a bar decorated like a dilapidated Key West beach café in hurried brush strokes of tropical greens, blues and pinks. Mammoth plaster of Paris flamingoes and grinning alligators hung on the walls along with stuffed sports fish: marlins, hammerheads, swordfish. Behind a long stainless bar a row of machines hummed, churning a carnival of colored iced drinks with painfully insinuating names: Sex on the Beach, One More Time, Alley Gator Style, Chilled Ecstasy . They found a wobbly table in the back corner and sat down. Todd shoved a couple of matchbooks under the pedestal but it was still shaky. John and Todd were trying to adjust it when a waiter came by, tribal tattoos on his forearms, a soul patch like a smudge of charcoal on his chin.
"Need menus or just drinking?" he asked.
"Both," said Wendy. "We're in a little bit of a hurry."
"Downtown for the Taste of Dallas this evening?" asked the waiter.
John rubbed an itch between his knuckles. "What's that?" he asked.
"Huge celebration, lasts all weekend."
Wendy said, "We're going to the concert at American Airlines Center."
"Then you're in luck. The lead guitar player is here signing his new solo album before the show."
"Really?" said John. "Cool."
The waiter took drink orders and left menus. When the drinks came to the table, he took dinner orders and left. That's when John noticed the centerpiece on the table. It was an advertisement announcing that Byron Kinsey of the Jason Killborn Band would be at Alley Gators , signing autographs, promoting his new solo debut. He lifted it and showed the group.
"It looks like he's telling the truth."
"What does he look like?" asked Wendy.
"He's a tall, lean, black guy," said John. "On the CD covers he has this long braided hair."
They did a cursory survey of the restaurant. The only African American man in the room was seated at a table with his back to them, enjoying an intimate meal and conversation with a woman.
"That must be him," said Wendy. "We should ask him if he'll take a picture with us."
"I don't want to bother him," said Annie.
"It's not bothering him," said Todd. "He's promoting his new album. He expects people to talk to him."
"He's eating," said Annie, "and he's with someone."
"Oh, come on," said John. "I'll go up and ask if he minds taking his picture with a couple of pretty women. He'll be flattered."
The women followed John hesitantly through the crowd as he neared the musician's table. As he approached, John realized the awkwardness of encountering a famous person but felt the pressure of his promise.
"Excuse me," he said. He had spoken too softly. He cleared his throat. "Excuse me, would you mind taking a picture with the ladies?"
A curtain of dread locks hung in the man's face. He brushed them back, looking up with a shy smile. "You got the wrong brother," he said in a British accent.
"This is the third time, Roger," said the woman to the man. Her lips were tensed, her eyebrows drawn together.
"Third time what?" said John, looking back and forth between them.
"I'm not him," said Roger.
"I'm not the musician."
He laughed. "No, man."
John felt the blood rush to his face. He rubbed an itch behind his ear where he noticed his skin felt chafed. "Sorry, the waiter said he was here signing autographs. My mistake, I guess."
The man bit a French fry. "No sweat, man."
He heard the couple laughing as he walked away. A commotion at the front door caught his attention. A tall African American man wearing dark glasses, a knit cap pulled down low over his forehead, walked into the bar. One of the waiters climbed up on a chair with a microphone and announced that Byron Kinsey had arrived and would be signing copies of his new studio album. Annie and Wendy said they would wait in line but they didn't have any money for a CD. John pulled out two twenties and handed them to Annie, then went back to the table to sit with Todd.
By the time the girls came back the food had arrived. They each had an autographed copy of Byron Kinsey's new CD. They were giddy, like kids on a sugar high.
"He's so tall," said Wendy.
"And such a nice guy."
"Did you see his arms?" said Wendy.
"Forget his arms," said Annie, "did you see the size of his hands? You know what they say about men with large hands, don't you?"
John rolled his eyes. "What are you two, in high school?"
"I tried to have his bodyguard take a picture but the flash didn't go off," said Annie, checking the screen of her digital camera.
"Did you get it?" asked Wendy.
"No, darn it."
The two couples talked, anticipating the concert while eating their burgers and fries. They ordered another round of drinks. Then the waiter who had announced Byron Kinsey's entrance stepped back up on a wobbly chair with a microphone.
"Okay, Byron's got to go folks, but let's all join in thanking him for stopping by."
Byron stood at the front door with a big smile, waving at the crowd of people applauding him.
"Now we're gonna draw the names for the backstage passes. If I call your name, raise your hand and Marty will come to your table with instructions."
The third name drawn was Annie's. Wendy and Annie screamed and hugged each other. Annie raised her hand and a man in long brown hair and a goatee came over to the table. "Congratulations," he said. He handed Annie four green square stickers. "These are your backstage passes. Whatever you do, don't lose them."
* * *
After the concert they waited as instructed, in a room underneath the auditorium with about twenty-five other people. The concert had been incredible, although their seats had been in the corner behind the stage and they'd had a hard time seeing anything except the backs of the musicians. As the group of winners washed down catered mini sandwiches and chips with chilled imported beers, conversation focused on the possibility that the entire band might make a surprise appearance. No one seemed to be in charge and everyone waited in a thick, humid air of expectation.
When John's phone rang he looked at the number and put it away.
"Who was it?" asked Annie.
"Home," said John.
"Why didn't you answer?"
"It's probably Ellen wanting to know if the kids can camp out together. Either that or something broke. You know how they get with her. She'll figure it out."
"What if it's an emergency?"
"Everything is fine."
"You can't assume that."
"Okay, okay, I'll call back as soon as I find somewhere quiet."
"Okay, lighten up."
He began to walk away from the group, motioning to Todd. "Hey, grab a couple of beers, will you?"
He went to the corner of the room and sat on a plastic chair, phone to his ear. Todd handed him a beer, sat down in the next chair and listened to the one-sided conversation.
"You know I'm at the concert," he said. "I couldn't get out of it....No I can't. I have to lay low for a while....No, of course not....I told you, when the kids are older...Yes, of course I love you." He looked at Todd, making a farcical grimace. "Listen, I've got to go...Yes, I'll call you tomorrow...Love you too."
"I'm getting to old for this," he said, folding the phone.
"Dump her," said Todd.
"Are you kidding me? She's fucking sweet."
"You're not worried about Annie?"
"Women believe what they want to believe."
"So, all's good?"
"One day at a time, my man."
"Amen to that."
They clinked beer bottles.
"Hey, what's up with your eyes?" said Todd.
"They're all yellow looking. How much have you had to drink?"
"It's my damn allergies."
"Yeah, my throat's raw, eyes and ears itch - happens every goddamn spring."
"Not a nature lover, are you?"
"You don't need to tell me."
While they were talking, Marty, the man from Alley Gators, appeared seemingly out of nowhere to make an announcement. "Okay, gang, it's going to happen now. Everyone with a green Byron patch form a line and follow me."
There were twelve of them in all, each one wearing a square mint green patch on their chest. They followed Marty down a humid cement corridor threaded with PVC pipes and silver duct work, through a heavy fire door, down two flights of steps and into an underground parking garage filled with the smell of exhaust fumes, the echoing rumble of diesel engines.
"Where's he taking us?" said Wendy.
Annie primped her hair. "Who cares? It's an adventure."
John tried unsuccessfully to take Annie by the hand. He said, "You're having fun then?"
When she didn't respond, he kept quiet. It had been an incredible evening so far. Better not to push. The group of twelve was lead to a shiny black unmarked tour bus. After the door opened, they stepped inside to a dimly lit interior. Byron stood at the top of the steps, wearing dark sunglasses, greeting his guests.
"Hey, it's the ladies from Alley Gators ," he said, showing perfect white teeth when Annie and Wendy stepped inside.
"Yeah, I remembered."
"What a great show," said Annie.
"Thank you," he said, bending down to receive a hug. "Come on in everyone. There's room way in the back. Have a seat and grab a beer if you want one."
Following Annie, John noticed Byron allowed his long fingers to linger a second too long on the edge of his wife's hip while hugging her. He felt a wave of heat pass through his body.
The inside of the tour bus was appointed in soft black leather seats and mahogany cabinets. Byron posed for pictures and signed autographs. Annie wanted to speak to him but couldn't get close.
"Come on," said John, overcoming his newfound aversion for the musician. He pulled Annie her by the hand through the crowd.
"Byron," said John, interrupting an ongoing conversation. Can we get a picture with you?"
"Wendy, make sure the flash goes off," said John, handing her the camera.
The camera flashed on an image of the famous musician standing between John and Annie with his arms around them like old friends. Annie was smiling straight ahead, while John's eyes were on Annie.
"Well, it's been nice meeting you two," said Byron. "I've got to take some more pictures and make sure I say hello to everyone or my record company gets on my case."
"It was nice meeting you, Byron," said Annie, holding his hand. She quickly lifted up on her toes and planted a kiss on his cheek.
John yanked her away by the elbow. "Yeah, thanks for the picture," he said.
* * *
They were on their way down the corridor. Annie was smiling when she stopped and said, "Hey, where's my purse?"
"Yeah, I had it on the tour bus."
"Are you sure?" said John.
"I'm positive. I remember putting my camera back in it and then I must have set it down. I was so excited about the picture that I must have left it."
"We better get it," said John.
When the four stepped out of line a security guard asked them to keep moving.
"My wife left her purse on Byron's tour bus," John said.
"Okay, the two of you can go back, but the rest, keep moving."
"It's okay," said John to Todd and Wendy. "You go ahead and we'll catch up in the parking lot.
John and Annie went back down the stairs and into the parking garage.
"Which bus is it?" asked Annie.
"I don't know. They all look alike."
"It's that one," said Annie. "I remember it was the second one in."
They approached the closed door and began knocking when another security guard stopped them.
"Hey, you can't do that," she said.
"I left my purse on the bus," said Annie.
"What's going on?" said a second guard.
"The woman says she left her purse on the bus," said the first.
"No one's allowed on the buses," said the second.
"We have backstage passes," said John. It was part of a promotion. We were on the bus five minutes ago. I'm sure we can get my wife's purse without any trouble.
"You both can't go on the bus," said the first security guard. "Just the lady. You're going to have to go back where you came from."
"She's my wife," said John. "She'll only be a minute."
"Are you looking for trouble?"
"What trouble?" said John. "What's the big deal?"
"If she wants the purse, you're going to have to leave, sir." She said sir like a synonym for asshole.
"It's okay, John," said Annie. "I'll get my purse and meet you upstairs by the front entrance."
* * *
He waited at the entrance for fifteen minutes, during which he began to itch from head to toe. He'd forgotten to bring his antihistamine tablets with him or he would have taken one. He began looking down the long hall lined with closed refreshment stands with their metal grates pulled down and locked tight. When he had gone all the way around the oval corridor of the stadium, he decided to look inside. In the stadium, stagehands worked on a pair of speaker clusters that looked like giant pine cones, lowering them to the ground and dismantling them. Rows of cables, mountains of stacked amplifiers, tubular rigging and stage sections lay about like pieces of an elaborate erector set.
A man in a red tee shirt called out, "Hey you, what do you think you're doing?"
"I'm looking for my wife. She's lost."
"She's not in here. You gotta get out. I can't do my job with people walking around. It's too dangerous."
"I have to find her," John said.
"What's with the itching? You an addict or something?"
"It's allergies. How do I get to the buses?"
"No one's allowed near the buses."
He explained about the backstage passes, the meeting with Byron, the lost purse.
"I don't know nothing about it, Buddy. All I know is, you gotta leave. You already wasted too much of my time. I gotta get all this equipment loaded and to Houston by morning." Before he turned to leave he said, "You ought to get that checked out."
It was useless. He went back to the exterior corridor and found an unlocked door marked Authorized Personnel Only . He followed a stairwell down two flights and found another corridor lined with doors. It looked endless, like something out of one of his nightmares. After trying six locked doors he came to one with a glass window about twelve by twelve inches, divided like a checkerboard by filaments of reinforcement wire. Through the glass he could see the busses in the garage. Men in red tee shirts wheeled equipment on hand trucks out to the semi trailers. He tried the door but like the others it too was locked. He knocked, hoping someone would hear him. He pounded the steel door with his fists until it hurt. As he kicked at it with his feet his phone began to ring. A feeling of apprehension overcame him. He broke out in a cold sweat. He placed his right hand against the window, fingers splayed, then he noticed. A pail yellow substance caked the underside of his fingernails and bordered his cuticles. A fuzzy greenish patina covered the thin web-like skin between his fingers. He tried running his fingernails across his incisors, but the substance wouldn't come off. His phone rang again. Before looking at the number he picked up.
"It's me," she said.
"Where are you?"
"Outside, waiting for you. What's taking so long?"
"I can't find Annie. Is Todd with you?"
"No, he went back to look for you."
"Wendy, something's happening."
"I'll say there is. You told me it was over between you and that secretary whore of yours. Now I'm going to have to go and get myself checked out."
"Not that. Something's the matter with me. I can't get it off."
"What are you talking about, can't get what off?"
"The yellow and the green. It won't..."
His phone went dead.
He scraped at the green on the back of his hands with his fingernails until it began to bleed. He itched all over - eyes, ears, hands, feet, armpits, even his crotch was on fire. His joints ached and his head felt heavy and hollow at the same time, like just before the flu takes hold for real. He began to hyperventilate. A strange and urgent thought came to him. He needed to get home. He needed the swimming pool. He would submerge himself in the warmth of the water, emptying his lungs of air and sink to just above the bottom, deep enough so that he couldn't touch, arms and legs spread-eagle like a sky diver, the pressure building against his ear drums and in his sinuses. And he would hang there, floating in the chemically treated water for as long as it would take.
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