“Can we help you carry this to your truck?” the clerk asked Ben after he paid $19.95 for the baby pool.
“No,” Ben said. “I’m gonna carry it.”
“You alright getting it to your truck, alone?’
“I don’t have a truck. I’m just going to carry it.”
“Carry it where?”
“Home,” Ben said, as he nudged the door open with his butt while pulling the 59-inch pool behind him. Once outside, Ben looked left and right and for traffic in front of the Yard & Farm store and then hoisted the pool above his head, stretching his arms to reach across the five feet of the pool, and he started walking.
Ben checked eight different stores for a pool. He tried the usual places, the box stores and online sellers. One place told him, “Maybe in a month we’ll have one,” but at the others the only answer given was, “Sorry, we're all sold out.” It was the miserable stretch of summer, and Ben saw some pools weeks ago when it was still cooler. He kept putting off buying one, thinking the local pool would eventually open. Last summer his then two-year-old, Charlie, loved the Saturdays when Ben would take him to the local pool and splash pad. He’d run from fountain to ankle deep water, splashing and laughing. All winter Ben told Charlie that they would try the deeper water this year, that every Saturday they could go to the pool. Each Saturday Charlie asked, “Pool, Daddy?,” and Ben’s response was, “Not yet.”
The city pool stayed closed due to the coronavirus. The city planned for a July 4 weekend opening, but then Betty, the lady who ran the pool for decades, who everyone knew from her leathered skin and the cigarette she would smoke from the lifeguard chair, got the virus and died a week later. The city council thought it was best to chalk the year up as a loss and closed the pool until next year. On the first Saturday in July Charlie dressed in his swim trunks and asked his daddy to blow up his pool toy, and Ben decided he had to do something.
He called everywhere he could think of trying to find a baby pool for the backyard. He even tried grocery stores thinking they might have one in their special summer aisle. Every pool was gone. Then Ben thought, “The Yard & Farm store. The place that had peanuts at the entrance, and they don't care if you threw the shells on the floor.” Ben threw the Hail Mary and made one last call, asking if the Yard & Farm store had one. “We’ve got one more,” the clerk said. “It’s yours, Mister, if you get here soon.”
Ben didn’t have a truck. He'd resisted buying a minivan. They only had the cars his wife and he owned. They couldn’t fit the pool in either one. Ben saw, years ago, a couple people driving ten miles an hour down the road with a pool held on top of the car, the driver holding it with his left hand and the passenger holding it with her right hand. Ben saw the trees outside moving in the wind, and he knew that, despite being most likely illegal, a pool on top of a car was a ridiculous idea. He asked Sandra, his wife, “Could you drive me there, and I’ll carry it back?” Yard & Farm was only a mile and a half from their house. The pool is plastic; Ben figured he can carry it above his head. Sandra said, “It’s 94 degrees today. It’s too hot,” and Ben replied, “The pool will give me shade. I’ll carry it above me. It’ll be fine. It’s this or no pool.”
So Ben walked out of Yard & Farm with the pool. He walked across the parking lot without any problems. Ben looked like a guy headed to his car, not a guy beginning a 30-minute walk. After the parking lot he came to the big road. He waited until he saw a gap in the traffic, and then he sprinted across, the pool over his head the whole time. One car gave him a toot. He knew he looked silly. He’d given up caring if he looked silly when he became a dad. Isn’t it a dad’s job to look ridiculous out of love and care for his children?
Ben and Sandra’s house sat on the edge of town. Ben calls it the borderland because it was the place where carefully maintained lawns met farms and chicken houses. Ben could hear a rooster crowing most mornings, but he also heard lawnmowers running when this Saturday began. Ben started walking on the city streets, headed toward his house. The first ten minutes weren’t too bad. But then he had to go through Ransomtucky.
Ransom Street bordered the edge of town. Woods lined one side of it, and the houses were spread out. The street was a subculture of chicken houses and couches on front porches. A few houses flew confederate flags to complete the stereotype. Sandra always called it Ransomtucky because it reminded her of her home in rural Kentucky. Ben figured each house had a gun close to the front door. He quickened his pace, not because he was afraid of being shot, but he realized how out of place he looked on Ransom Street, a dorky dad carrying a pool down the side of the road.
Ben started out the walk with the baby pool knowing it was a risk. He knew he was carrying a sail above his head. He saw the wind blowing the flag outside Yard & Farm, and he knew he’d have to hold on tightly. He was ok until Ransom Street. He felt a tug in his hands a few times when the wind kicked up. Each time he held a little tighter, and the wind passed. On Ransom Street, though, the wind stopped being polite. Ben felt a tug, and then another one, and then another, and finally the wind gusted so strongly that Ben even wondered if the pool would lift him off the ground. Instead of lifting him, it only made it too difficult to hold on, and even with Ben’s white-knuckle grip on the pool, he couldn’t hold it. Ben thought, as he turned around to see the flight of the pool in the wind, that it resembled a whale breaking through the surface of the sea, for a moment it lifted up and flew.
Ben ran for the track team in high school. He was usually quick enough to win a few hurdle races. He still ran some, in 5K’s when the weather was nice and on a treadmill in the winter. He saw the pool fly into a Ransomtucky yard, and he ran for a few strides as he did in the conference meet as a senior in high school, the year he took first. He thought he could catch it, but then it flew behind a backyard fence. Still in full stride, Ben saw a fence gate, but he thought he could hurdle it and grab the pool before anyone knew he was there. Striding out, Ben’s body recalled the movements of clearing hurdles. He raised his right leg up, parallel to the ground, and his left foot gave the little jump for the elevation he needed. He’d done it, he told himself. He’d cleared the fence, until the toes of his left foot, the last part of him to go over, caught the fence edge. A hurdle would have rolled down and Ben would have kept running, but this was a stationary fence, and Ben’s body kept moving forward even as his left foot was held up by the fence. Ben had time enough to put his arms in front of him as he slid into the ground like a baseball player diving head-first for the base.
Lucky for Ben, it was grass he slid into. Unlucky for him, it was the grass of a crossbow range.
He saw the pool lying next to hay bales with targets and arrows stuck into them. As Ben pushed himself up, before he could check for burns on his knees or elbows, he saw the shirtless guy in camo pants. The man leaned a crossbow upon his right shoulder, and he looked at Ben like Ben was the kid who just took a dump in his yard. “Are you . . . alright?,” he drawled.
“I’m ok,” Ben said, brushing grass off his knees. “Look, I’m sorry. That’s my pool. I thought I could just grab it and get out of here.”
“You look a little big for that pool.”
“Yeah, it’s for my little boy. He wants to swim so bad, and I was carrying it home from the store, and I lost it in the wind.”
“You got much further to go?” the man asked.
“No, maybe another five minutes of walking will get me there.”
“I got a truck, if you need some help.”
“No, really, thanks,” Ben stammered. “Let me just grab the pool, and I’ll be off your property.”
“Well, the gate is right there. Maybe you could go through it rather than try to go over it this time.”
“Sure, I’m really sorry, Sir. I’ll get it and you’ll never see me again.” As Ben picked up the pool, the man pointed the crossbow down and he pulled back the string. “Sorry. I’m really sorry,” Ben said as he walked toward the gate.
“It’s ok,” the man replied as he fit a bolt into the crossbow string. “My Dad never did anything like that for me.”
Two hours later Ben sat down in the pool, the water was still cold from coming out of the hose. He sat in it after Charlie begged him to get in. Charlie giggled as he poured water on his daddy’s head. Ben looked at his son through water-sogged eyelashes and smiled. It wasn’t the city pool, but it was the most he could give his son, and he believed that had to be enough.