The Pool

The MacEvoys had the pool dug out of their backyard in April of 1983. For three straight Saturdays in March, Bob Cobb and Dan Gray and Lee MacEvoy, in dungarees and sweatshirts, put their backs into saws and shovels and wheelbarrows. They dug up the lilac bushes along the north side of the property. That was where the backhoes and dump trucks were getting through. A scrim of snow still covered the ground, and the men scraped it clear with their shovels and the sides of their boots. They broke the hard soil, digging generous holes to protect the roots. Evelyn MacEvoy watched through the dining room window, biting the side of her thumb.

In the small copse of trees behind the house, Lee MacEvoy climbed up to his daughter’s treehouse and disassembled it piece by piece with the claw of a hammer. He threw the boards down to Bob and Dan, who loaded them into the wheelbarrow and made a stack beside the house. They were going to put it back together someday, in some other, better tree. Christina MacEvoy had made her father promise. Then the men brought down the trees, taking turns with Bob’s chainsaw. It was mostly scrub pine, a few birch, young maple.

At the end of March the MacEvoys’ backyard was an open field of stumps. The grass was brown and torn up from the three men’s boots. Then the yellow machines came in and ripped it up further. Lee and Bob and Dan stood to the side drinking cans of beer, smoking cigarettes. The smell of spring was in the air but it was still cold, and they wore jackets. The backhoe operator looked down at them through sunglasses and saluted. The men raised their beers. The claw tore up the earth.

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Then the pool was there. It was hard to believe that there had been that field of mud, the mountains of exhumed dirt, the clamor of machinery—and now there was this: a white concrete deck as smooth as sand, a dark, blue-tiled oasis set within it and reflecting a million points of sun, and the grass around it already beginning to grow back.

It was hot that Saturday in June when the MacEvoys held the inaugural pool party. Lee had told everyone noon, but by eleven the families were all out in their yards. There hadn’t been anything quite like this before. At half-past they were in the middle of the road, milling about, talking, opening early Saturday beers. Someone said, Oh, close enough, and then they were all moving together. Their towels were hung around their necks, their shorts showing how white their legs still were. They brought coolers full of beer and soda, trays and bowls of food. They had packs over their shoulders. It was like they were going somewhere long distant. Swim goggles, sunscreen, diapers, cigarettes, paperbacks, a sack of pepperoni from the deli at Pat’s, a loaf of Wonder Bread, a bottle of Four Roses.

The MacEvoys were ready. In the thin grass beyond the pool Lee already had the grill going, the smoke rising from it in a blue column. The boombox in the little shed that hid the pump was tuned to the rock station out of Boston, “Musta Got Lost” playing tinny and loud and lovely as the neighbors rounded the house where the lilacs had been. Evelyn was spraying the tall curved slide with the garden hose. Christina sat on the pool’s steps in her mother’s sunglasses, a bubble of hard white foam belted to her back. The arrival of the neighbors set everything into motion. Evelyn laid down the hose and lifted her arms, waving. Lee strode across the concrete, took a handle of a cooler, and led his neighbors to the shade of the house. Christina kicked her legs to splash, then stood and ran a lap around the pool, holding the dark glasses to her face. Her parents were occupied, her friends were there.

Evelyn stepped into the dim cool of the shed and turned the music up. It was a moment. There was no before or after. The day promised to linger like that.

All day Lee manned the grill. There were burgers and dogs, chicken breasts that Bob Cobb had marinated in a special family sauce for three days. On two card tables that Lee and the men sometimes used for poker, the neighbors had set out bottles of pink wine, bowls of potato and pasta salad, bags of chips, Carol Brewster’s homemade salsa, Laurie Graham’s clam dip, a pitcher of sangria flush with fruit that no one dared touch. There were three plates of deviled eggs going soft in the heat, a dish of asparagus, a pan of lukewarm ribs, two bowls of coleslaw. Beneath the tables, lying in a puddle of water, a sleeve of saltines turning to pulp.

But the pool was the reason they were there, and almost everybody was in it. The water teemed with bodies. Gene Brewster screamed Geronimo from the springboard, hugging his knees, sending a wave of water onto the concrete. The kids bobbed to the surface like buoys, their laughter a series of screams. Evelyn and the other mothers—Claire Gray, Carol Brewster, Mindy Cassini, Diana Kramer—sat on the steps smoking, their black sunglasses reflecting the sun. The women seemed impossibly calm, almost sleeping. Christina paddled the shallow end near their feet.

Lee hadn’t set foot in the water. He was grinning by the side of the grill. He could not stop grinning. The whole neighborhood was there in his backyard. Even Jack Bryce dropped in for a beer and a compliment on the tile. The sun hung in the sky, unmoving.

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Everything changed later, of course. There was the time Whitney Kramer fell into the deep end and nearly drowned, the chain-link fence that went up. And the fistfight between Jerry Cavanaugh and the man from two streets over whose name nobody could remember. There was Mindy Cassini dropping a glass pitcher onto the concrete and little Sharon Brewster cutting her foot, her screams echoing in all their minds for years. And who could forget Dan Gray, drunk, falling from the top of the slide and dislocating his shoulder on the pool’s edge.

Eventually, perhaps inevitably, the MacEvoys no longer wanted to host those parties. They were tired. Who could blame them? But of course it rubbed some people the wrong way. And finally by 1993 the pool had been abandoned. It sat empty in the yard, a padlock sealing the gate. The house was empty too, unsold after Lee and Evelyn’s split that spring. 

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But there is still this night, June of 1983, the first of the MacEvoys’ pool parties lingering late into the dark hours. A faint smear of pink hangs in the west over the power plant. The pool waves gently in the underwater lights. The windows of the house cast patches of gold onto the new lawn. The radio, long since turned low, plays a few measures of Springsteen and then static that coughs in and out. Two women lie in lawn chairs under blankets. One of them laughs, chokes it back. She sets her glass on the ground beside her and covers her mouth with her hand, her shoulders shaking. A cloud of marijuana smoke wafts across the surface of the pool from the men standing in the tall slide’s shadow. They pass the joint, muffle their coughs. The smoke hangs illuminated over the water.

Inside, in the living room, the television volume is down but the picture remains, strobing over the children asleep on the carpet. Tonight this is everyone’s house. When they are ready they will gather the kids and go, without goodbyes. 

 

Kyle C. Mellen’s honors include the Alaska Literary Award (2015) and the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award (2012). Originally from Massachusetts, he lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.