Mom and Dad believe in big. God, family, houses. In that order. In big conversations Mom has with God. By morning God takes his leave. Before He does He leaves lists. Chores, tests. Lists God tucks into our house’s eaves, garage, shed, basement, backyard. Crypt places where we prove our potential for heaven. The reason we’re on God’s planet, not born in Africa, not Biafra babies, not yet called ‘Home.’
“Work separates the wheat from the chafe,” Mom tells us.
I wonder if the others in our house will be sorry come Judgment Day. I, for one, am taking no chances. I am determined to be 100% wheat.
All I know by thirteen is not to utter two unholy words.“I’m bored.” Words of the fallen. Those, God has extra business with. He will keep them busy for years and God and Mom will talk some more.
“Not in my backyard,” Mom says hearing the phrase. Mom doesn’t care who said it. She says, “May 1st, go get your brothers. Go and clean the pool.”
“Not the pool,” I groan.
My brothers Pat, 16 and Andrew 12, myself, 13, the stricken elect, suffer most because we are slow, easy to catch.
“Anything but the pool,” we beg.
Mom weighs the now against the later, flicks no-see-ums in the air. Then she points, we scatter. Mom heads upstairs with her New American Bible. The good book with hip slant between denim covers. An un unchartered republic we know as Mom, like the one God opens on Sundays on my lap. Always a page to turn, re-psalm, for our one true Boss, Him.
Outside, we sigh at the winter wreck that is our pool. The up close smell of baked twigs, leaves, sludge and sediment warming under death glow blueness, the tarp. Pat lips the hose, a siphon starts. He flings the hose over the fence, drags it down the drive as far as it will go. Past three hundred years of European copper beech, over our yellow rutted lawn to where our brother Matthew, 8 drops pebbles into the gutter for a dam.
“Forget this mess,” someone on the deck yells, “Let’s come back tomorrow.”
Always a better day to begin a project.
Next day, Saturday, it is chilly and overcast. Someone drops the ladder over the side. Pat orders us to get in. Ten minutes in, the job ahead is too much miracle. Around white pole legs, Comet tides surge mosquito larvae. Pat pulls the ladder away.
“Make it like new swabbies,” he sneers through clenched teeth.
We call for Mom to come but our pitch must not be emergency enough.
“Wait until we get out of here. You are going to die.” we call to him fumbling to climb over the pool walls.
We do not know yet we have seen into the future. Put a curse on our brother. That an irrevocable horror waits. For twenty-one summers we treat him like one of us, an ignorant comrade, a fool kid, then Pat goes out like a light. Another slime strikes him dead. AIDS. One, bleach cannot reach. Through tears we console each other he was a good worker. He’s the right hand man. Not today. Today is not that day.
To stay with the pool job, Andrew and I walk around the oval, Pat jumps in, we speed to a chop chase, and a whirlpool begins. We spin, slide, and throw foulness at each other. First water. Then words. Forever curses of winter puke lay on our skin.
“Heads up,” Andrew calls. He hurls a bucket of slime. Pat ducks. Drenched I am pulled into the abyss. All I can think of are the ads from the back of Marvel Comic Books. Books in the attic under the boys’ beds. Ads for ‘Live Sea Monsters’ and my body swimming in a feces petri. All I want to do is die.
“Get him not me,” I scream.
Pail by pail, we empty the bilge, until we get to the bottom. There, we scoop with our bare hands.
Mom out, we go inside for long breaks, get lunches we cannot bring to school. Lunches that smell bad look like bruised skin, lunches we love. Liverwurst on rye, cream cheese, jelly on white. The one good tomato we eat.
Andrew knows something Pat and I do not. In life you must choose. You cannot have it both ways, pick mustard or mayo. Fire or water. Andrew is a mayonnaise man.
Not me. Not Pat. We’ll never learn, we like fire and oil in our taste. We pick the mustard mix it with mayo.
We then go back to hell.