It was the middle of the day and the sun was bearing down as if God had turned up the spotlight to get a better look at me, one of his lesser works, sorting through a pile of garbage in my yard. The grass, long dead, was straw-colored. It crunched as I walked back and forth separating the plastic clamps and slats from pieces of steel frame. Each time I tossed a bolt or a pole into its appropriate pile it kicked up a cloud of dust that hung stubbornly just above the ground.

I’d spent the morning scrolling through Craigslist, looking for a trampoline. The last time I had the kids they told Becky we’d just sat around and watched movies, which was true. They said my house smelled bad, which was also true. I needed something enticing this time, something to make them run out of the car and into my arms instead of sitting in the driveway for a half hour while Becky convinced them to stop crying and promised that she’d be back the next day. And who could blame them?

The ad for the pool was simple. No pictures, just an offer: Above ground pool. Free to anyone willing to disassemble and remove.

It was perfect, more than perfect, a miracle. I texted Becky on my way to pick it up. Got a pool 😉 Make sure to pack their swimsuits. She responded with a thumbs-up.

I pulled into a long circle driveway at the address listed in the ad. The house went on and on, all brick and ornament. The lawn was soft and green, cut in a crosshatched pattern like the outfield of a ballpark. A man answered the door in cargo shorts and a red golf polo and told me the pool was out back. I tried to follow him as he turned back into his house, but he shut the door without another word. I walked around the outside of the house and dragged the pieces back to my truck while he stood in his kitchen with a beer and watched.

When I got back to my place, I unloaded everything into a heap and went inside to cool down. I should, I thought, clean up before the kids got there. I gathered some bottles and takeout containers into a plastic bag and tossed it under the porch. But when I saw the blue vinyl lining sitting in the yard, folded in on itself like a carcass waiting to be brought back to life, I decided the pool should come first.

After an hour, I sorted the pieces out into something that resembled the footprint of a pool and began fastening them back together. But each time I tried to raise part of the wall, something was off. Nothing quite lined up. I scrolled through YouTube videos of pool installations—dozens of men carefully plotting and building little oases in Phoenix and Gainesville and Waukesha—looking for guidance. But none looked like mine.

Was this custom-made? Did that jerk in the polo toss out a couple of parts as a joke? Or was I missing something obvious? I kept circling the pieces, moving them around and trying different combinations. Each lap kicked up more dust.

I imagined the kids in the back of Becky’s car. They’re excited this time because she told them to grab their swimsuits and goggles. Maybe she told them she’d stay long enough to watch them do a cannonball or touch the bottom. Maybe she told them she was going to dip her toes in too.

The heat made me dizzy. I sat on the ground and imagined plunging my head under the cool water. Everything muted. Soft voices cooing happily above the surface. All the pieces fit together.

Photo by Taylor and Kevin. 

Marc Allen

Marc Allen grew up in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and the University of Michigan Law School. He now lives in Washington, D.C. This is his second publication. His first story appeared in Midwestern Gothic.

His twitter handle is @marcalle.