A Pool in February
“From this angle it appears absolutely dead,” said Levon. He was looking at the legs, the cow stiff in the pool as if it were doing the dead man’s float. He walked around the body slowly. Steam still rose from it. It hadn’t been dead long.
“I thought you were putting the fence back up,” I said. Water from the spa cascaded down into the pool. The water was cold, the heater not yet activated.
“Today, I was going to do it today.” He put his hands in his pockets and shrugged the way he often did. This project had gone on too long. No swimming pool in November. No pool in December. No pool in January and then, finally a hole and a few weeks later a pool. It was three quarters full. It had been filling all night. This morning he was supposed to give me the demonstration: how to work the remote, to calculate the pH levels, to rub the concrete down with a hard brush so the bottom and sides of the pool would feel smooth.
“You’re sure it’s dead?” I asked. For once he was silent, his mouth a straight line. I walked over to the spigot and gave a hard turn. It broke off in my hand.
“Shit.” I tried to put the pieces back together. Levon walked over, took my hand gently and then slipped the piece away.
“Now what?” I asked. “Has this ever happened before?”
Every time he came to the house he had stories, stories to fill the time in which the yard sat empty of pool.
“No, I can honestly say it has not.” He took the skimmer I had bought the night before and headed back toward the cow. What is it that makes a man want to poke what’s dead?
“Don’t,” I said, walking around to the head. A square yellow tag, plastic, marked it as number twenty-six. I looked at it closely. I liked to watch the cows through the knotholes in the fencing. Had I seen this one before? Had I heard number twenty-six lowing just out of sight? Had the dogs barked at it in the darkness when the fence was still whole?
“Hon,” he said, and that felt serious. Usually he called me “girl.” Usually, we flirted; we joked; we exchanged crazy-mother stories.
I had a weird feeling in my chest, a tingling sensation in my shoulders. I felt like I was made of rain. Ray had told me that the cows on the ranch were cattle, but this one, singular, floating bloated before me was a cow.
“I’ll take care of it,” Levon said. “I’ll bring that backhoe back out.”
I pictured the stiff black body in the yaw of the machinery. The image conjured thoughts of mass graves, genocide, but there was no other way, no way to remove it intact.
“Now,” I said.
“Now,” he answered, reaching up to turn on the headset to his phone, moving toward me to put his other arm around my shoulder.
I moved away and he turned into his call, making arrangements. I pulled the hose from the pool and dropped it on the ground. The water muddied the yard, filled the grooves the machinery had made, flowedtoward the gap in the fence where three or four more cows had gathered, their heads filling the crooked space, looking right at us until they lowered their heads to drink.
TIFF HOLLAND’s poetry and fiction have appeared in dozens of literary magazines, ezines and anthologies. Her work has received three Pushcart Prize nominations. Her chapbook “Bone In a Tin Funnel” is available from Pudding House. Her Rose Metal Prize winning chapbook “Betty Superman” will be released in July.