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FREE EXCERPT: "The Pool" by Jason Sechrest

Here's an excerpt from this month's story, which you can listen to me read via streaming  audio (click the play button above!) -- or scroll down to read for yourself below.  Enjoy!

  

Amos Caine finally got what he wanted in the Summer of 2016, during one of the worst July heat waves in Florida history. It was the one thing he’d wished for every birthday from as far back as he could recall wishing. It was neither love, nor money that he had pined for. It was not the warm sentiments of friendship that once upon a time may have cured his ailing heart and mind, nor was it that ever elusive invitation to join the human race – to just be included. These were all things that Amos wanted, to be sure. But these things would come later. These things were the effect. The pool was the cause. 

The pool had been Amos’s 26th birthday gift to himself. To get it, he had scrimped and saved for five years, working odd jobs as a repairman for any company that would take him. Everything from electronics to plumbing, working long hours and weekends. He saved his money by living in a ramshackle apartment on the north side of Jacksonville. It was a decrepit building, “gone to rack and to ruin” as his mother might have said.  There were leaks in the roof, five over the ceiling in Amos’s unit alone. When it would rain, as it did like clockwork almost every day during Florida’s rainy season, Amos would hurriedly gather up the few pots and pans that he owned, placing them perfectly throughout the room just to make sure the place didn’t flood. 

In that first year, a blackness had begun to spread from each of the five leaky spots overhead. He immediately recognized this as mold, and so each day upon entering the apartment, he would don a surgical mask. This clever measure may have prevented Amos from getting sick, but it did not stop the apartment from growing damper by the year, nor from becoming infested with cockroaches. Amos spent the better parts of his evenings attempting to stomp out the little creatures, only to see them live time after time. No matter what shoe, no matter the velocity or force with which the almighty foot of Amos struck them down, the roaches would live. Always live. Even with antennae bent and guts half spilled, the bugs were alive enough to scurry still, to hide behind walls and within cabinets in what Amos came to believe was a deliberate attempt to make him look like a failure. Not one to be made a fool of, a can of Roach-B-Gone had proven a wise investment for Amos, who would laugh as he sprayed it, knowing that even if they got away, they wouldn’t last out the night.

There were times Amos considered asking his slumlord to fix the leaks, but he had seen many a tenant’s exit in the wake of such requests. Once, he’d seen a single mother and her five children move out after complaining of a rusty nail that had been sticking out of their living room carpet. The slumlord had not kicked them out, of course. He had no legal right to. But he did raise their rent as high as possible and as often as possible until the family had no choice but to leave. 

Amos could not risk the same. Although he certainly could have afforded a better apartment, his brain was wired in a way that was too logical to afford him that luxury. He needed every penny earned to be a penny saved, marked, and accounted for if he was to get what he wanted. The sooner the money was saved, the sooner that day would arrive. 

And arrive it did in that most fervid Summer of 2016 when the sun did not just beat down, but pummeled. Amos left the slums of Jacksonville that Summer on a day quite close to his 26th birthday. At 26, Amos looked nearly a decade older than he was. It had always been that way. At 6’3”, Amos had the maturity both in height and temperament to have passed for drinking age by the time he was 16, despite the fact that Amos would never drink a drop of liquor in his whole life. His hair parted naturally in the middle hanging from his head in two distinct flops. He was pale with skin that cracked too easily, ears that stuck out just a little too far, and a tire that he carried around his gut. Without his spectacles, which gave him an extra edge of geekiness, he bore a striking resemblance to the man from that popular child’s board game, Operation – a drawing made flesh. Now at 26, looking all of 36, the pool was Amos’s at last. 

It was one of the happiest days of his life, and there hadn’t been too many of those. He had worked hard for this, his big, beautiful new home in Sarasota, and he was proud. It had caught him by surprise when the realtor showed him what he couldn’t help but think of as three living rooms. She had called them: A living room, a family room, and a Florida room. Three living rooms is what it looked like to Amos. Three very unnecessary living rooms. Three very unnecessary bedrooms for that matter, as Amos was and had always been very much alone. He had no wife, no children, not much family to speak of – his parents had “crossed over” (another term his mother was fond of using) a few years before, and he had no real friends. But Amos had not purchased the big beautiful house in Sarasota for its three living rooms. He had not purchased it for the three bedrooms either, nor for the kitchen’s white marble countertop, the new walnut hardwood floors that ran throughout the hallways, or the many windows which afforded the home so much natural sunlight. None of these things interested him. It was the pool that made Amos Caine feel like he was finally home. 

Coventry Place may have boasted much grander houses, but there was none on the block with a pool so grand as his. Unlike most swimming pools that boasted only a tile trim, this pool was completely covered in it. Little squares of pristinely white tile that made the pool look so perfectly clean, and the blue so perfectly blue. Private too. Potted palms with arms outreaching wide were lined up along each side of the screened-in cage, within which the pool patiently waited, calm and peaceful without so much as a ripple. It was the kind of pool that, to come home to, made you feel perpetually on vacation, like something torn from an ad proclaiming a discount on an all-inclusive Bahamas adventure. To see it, made Amos fall in love with the house right from the start. 

He had asked before purchasing the home if he could swim in the pool, just to get a feel for it, and though they found it a queer request, the owners had been gracious enough to oblige. Amos brought over his trunks the following day and dove right into the deep end, which at 9-feet deep was so perfect for diving, he decided right then and there that the first piece of furniture he’d indulge in purchasing would be a diving board. Head-first plunging into that crystalline blue, Amos came up for air at last, with the beaming smile of a little boy. The owners also smiled on, watching him from the windows of the Florida room, unaware that several of those drops of water covering his face were in fact tears. There is, perhaps, no greater happiness to a child than that of a pool in the middle of Summer, and on this day, in this pool, Amos was a child again. Yet, the pool had been the cause of so much unhappiness for Amos. So many unhappy memories he had tried so hard to forget. 

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