BLUE DIAMOND POOL

By Kris Ashton


Until he laid eyes on the pool, Jacob had been indifferent to the property.

It was unlike any pool he had ever seen. Rather than being rectangular or kidney shaped, its sides formed an enormous diamond that stretched nearly the entire length of the yard and cowed the garage up against the neighbouring house. Ochre pavers worshipped at a handsome black fence erected around its perimeter. Inside the fence the pavers gave way to a clinically white concrete step. Lining the inner edge of this step was a row of deep blue tiles. They were laid with an almost computerised precision, diverging nonchalantly from one vertex and then converging again in perfect angular symmetry at the other.

“Wow,” said his wife Jill. She balanced their second son, Mark, on her hip. Their other son, Brock, was at a friend’s third birthday party. “It must have cost them a fortune.”

“The previous owners kept the pool in immaculate condition,” the real estate agent said.

To Jacob the man’s voice was distant, some transmission fragment picked up from a foreign country on a crackly AM radio. The pool's visual smorgasbord of crystalline blues and dazzling flecks of light deadened all his other senses. He hurried across the pavers and grasped two fence bars, transfixed. Never mind the stiff afternoon breeze, in his mind, he was already stripping off and diving beneath that cool hue; an elegant dive, though – this pool was above bombing or any such lowly, uncouth antics. The telltale slap of a filter and the long corrugated hose of a Kreepy Krawly were absent, yet not a single leaf or unfortunate bee spoiled its pristine perfection.

“Are you trying to pay top dollar?” Jill said having appeared by stealth at his elbow. "You don’t even like swimming pools. If you’re going to do this at every house, we might as well stamp sucker on our foreheads.”

Jacob had no rebuttal to this. Jill had always been the pool person in the relationship. Prior to their marriage and the necessary constraints of domestic life, she had been a competitive swimmer. Jacob’s annual aquatic activities, however, usually amounted to a couple of beach visits and a boozy fishing trip with his mates – each event turning his British-heritage skin an unpleasant shade of fuchsia.

The agent approached them in measured footsteps. “So, you like the pool, Jacob?” he asked.

Jacob felt a rash of irritation at the use of his Christian name. “It’s very nice, but I’m not even sure we want a pool.”

***


Jacob huffed and folded his arms. “I don’t understand what you have against this house.”

He and Jill sat at a table in the cramped kitchen of their inner city apartment. For what seemed like the first time in three days Mark was asleep in his cot, but Brock was in the lounge room yelling along with something on television.

“I don’t have anything against it,” Jill said, jabbing a finger at one of the two pamphlets on the table, “but I just can’t understand why you of all people want a property with a swimming pool."

“It’s not just the pool,” he said, trying to redirect. “It’s the ... it’s all the other features. Like the, uh, like the little wine cellar downstairs.”

“That’s in the house we saw at Moorebank!” Jill said. “You know, the one where you could practically hear the termites chewing on the beams?”

“Oh, whatever,” Jacob said, a week of patchy sleep finally running him down. “I just like the house with the pool the best. I don’t have to justify my opinion.”

“I like it best too,” Jill shrugged, “but this is a big decision. If we’re going to buy a house, I want to make sure it’s the right one.”

Jacob stared at her. “You mean we’ve been arguing for the past half an hour and we agree?”

“We haven’t been arguing, we’ve been discussing. And aside from the pool, I think this house is the best option. Both the kids will have a room of their own when they get older and the open plan will be a hell of a lot easier to keep clean. Plus, where else would we get a four bedroom home for this price?”

Jacob put his elbows on the table. “What don’t you like about the pool?”

Jill averted her eyes, as though being questioned about an upsetting childhood experience. “I think it’s the shape I don’t like. It’s so impractical. The pool looks big, but those pointed ends wouldn’t even give you room to kick your legs. It’s almost as though it’s not designed for swimming. And did you notice? It doesn’t have any steps, not even one of those steel ladders.”

“What? Of course it does. It must.”

“Ring up and ask the agent if you don’t believe me.”

Jacob pursed his lips and shrugged his shoulders. “Well, maybe it’s not that deep. Maybe it’s meant more for bathing. You know, like the Romans used to have.”

“Maybe.”

“Anyway, who cares. Did I hear you say before that we actually agree on this?”

“We’ve seen nothing better for the price.”

Brock walked in. “I’m bored!” he announced.

“All right, I’ll call the agent tomorrow,” Jacob said. “Let’s decide what we’re going to offer and then forget about houses for a few hours.”

***


Settlement occurred at eleven o’clock on the morning on its scheduled date. By early afternoon Jacob and Jill were moving boxes into a home they had acquired for forty-thousand dollars less than they were willing to pay.

Two days later, Jacob was in the yard reassembling outdoor furniture. Four table legs were supposed be inserted into four slots and be secured with screw-bolts, but the corresponding holes on the underside of the tabletop refused to line up. Jacob’s own legs were beginning to burn with prolonged crouching, and the hot sun cooked the exposed skin on his neck.

When yet another bolt went only halfway in, Jacob threw down his spanner and savagely wiped his forehead across the shoulder of his shirt. As he stood up, his eye landed on the stunning blue oasis of the pool.

He almost expected it to vanish like a mirage, but as he took a step towards it the pool became more enticing. As he approached the pool gate he peeled off his sweaty T-shirt and let it drop to the pavers. Inside the fence he unbuttoned his shorts and let them drop too. After a moment’s hesitation, his underpants followed and he stood birth-naked, his skin embellished with swirls reflected from the pool’s surface. He stroked a bare toe across one of the tiles. It was smooth to the touch, almost as smooth as water itself.

He followed the path of the tiles along the water’s edge until he reached a point of the diamond. He stood there, one foot on either side of the blue vee, enjoying the feeling of vulnerability. Then he dropped in, barely making a splash. The water nearly matched the air temperature and felt viscous around his body, like placental fluid. He assumed a sitting position on the pool floor, tilted his head up, and opened his eyes to a water-softened skyscape. He heard no sounds, save for the pop of air bubbles escaping his nose. An unimaginable sense of peace engulfed him and he wished for gills so that he might stay down there forever.

But then a new shape intruded upon and spoiled the serene vista. The water gave Jill’s face an aspic distortion, smearing her features into a grotesque impressionist’s portrait. Jacob kicked off for the surface. He floated upwards, but although his feet no longer touched the bottom, his head remained submerged. The pool had not seemed abnormally deep when he jumped in.

His ribs were vibrating with the first tremors of panic when he bobbed above the waterline, the mundane raucousness of mowers and mynah birds offending his ears. He wiped the water out of his eyes to see his wife’s displeased glare.

“What the hell are you doing in there?”

“It’s hot,” Jacob replied automatically.

“We both have to go back to work on Monday,” Jill stormed. “There’s still so much we have to unpack. I suppose it’ll be left to me, like everything else.”

“Oh, come on,” Jacob said. “We’ve got our beds, furniture and appliances set up. The rest is just fiddly shit we can do after work. Don’t be so melodramatic.”

“Every night we spend unpacking the ‘fiddly shit’ as you call it is another night that the ironing or the washing up doesn’t get done.”

“Maybe instead of stressing you should come in for a swim with me.”

Jill rolled her eyes and walked away shaking her head.

“Yeah, go on then,” Jacob said. “God forbid you relax and have fun for five minutes.”

The back door slammed in reply. Jacob stood in the pool, his fists clenched hard enough to make his knuckles ache. She hadn’t been this way before the kids came along. Now suddenly she had become as dull as boiled potato, obsessed with domestic chores and determined to make life a litany of drudges. One thought leapt on top of another until they formed a volcanic anger. The woman he’d agreed to marry was gone, and now…

His train of thought derailed as he realised he was standing flat-footed on the bottom of the pool and the water only came up to his shoulders. He snatched a look at either end of the pool, wondering if he had somehow drifted to the shallow part without noticing – but he had not moved from the spot where he pin-dropped in.

Unnerved, he waded kraken-like to the nearest edge and propped his hands on the blue tiles to lift himself out. Despite being in the direct sun, the tiles were cool to the touch.

Probably splashed them when I jumped in.

Only as he stood up did Jacob remember his nakedness. He hurried over to his underpants feeling exposed and foolish. Later he would apologise to his wife and help her to arrange ornaments on their very own mantelpiece. But before retiring for the night he went to the window and looked out upon the pool, admiring the dark indigo and star-flashes it stole from the night sky.

***


Jacob stretched out on the banana chair, his hands folded over his chest and the dark lenses of his sunglasses deflecting dozens of tiny glare-diamonds. A newspaper sat unread beside the chair, its cover page lifting and falling with the lethargic breeze.

Jill came out of the garage and walked up to the pool fence, resting her chin on one of the inverted-U-shaped bars. “Where’s the pool cleaning equipment?” she asked.

Jacob looked at her slowly, as if being dragged away from an important clerical task. “I don’t think there is any.”

“What are you talking about? There has to be some – it was ticked off on our contract.”

“What do you want it for, anyway? The pool’s not dirty. You and the kids haven’t even been in it yet.”

“I told you before, I don’t like it.”

“Then why are you so desperate to clean it?”

“Because someone has to. All you do is sit there and stare at it.”

Jacob cast his mind back, but all the afternoons had melted into a single gold bar of sunshine. “I ... well, we’ve had beautiful weather all week. What do you want me to do?”

“You could try making dinner for a change.”

“Don’t take it out on me just because you’ve got some stupid vendetta against the pool.”

“My God, Jacob, you’ve been impossible lately!”

“Yeah? Well you’ve been even more of a nag than usual.”

Jill walked away, muttering rejoinders and rebukes under her breath. She seemed so argumentative of late. Had he contributed to the conflict as well? Jacob started to mull over his behaviour, but the surface of the pool – apparently impervious to the shallow breath of the wind and twinkling with sunlight constellations – distracted his thoughts. He did nothing to refocus them. Apportioning of blame could only lead to a stress headache. Much better to admire the pool, accentuated as it was by the sweet honey smell of a flowering jasmine that climbed and writhed over a section of the fence.

When the sun became too much, Jacob sat on the pool's edge and dangled his feet. Enamoured by the water’s silky touch, he slipped in – sunglasses and all.

***


The streak of sun-drenched days broke on the Sunday. Jacob woke early and the grey light filtering through the blinds painted his mood. He lay there at length, seeing no cause to get up. When Jill stretched awake, he shut his eyes and invented a soft snore, keeping it up until she padded out to the kitchen.

Just before eleven o’clock Jacob’s joints began to ache, so he relented and roused himself. He fixed some toast he didn’t feel like and stood at the back window, pretending not to notice Jill’s exaggerated floor washing efforts in his vicinity. A dreary panorama filled the extremes of his vision and sapped his energy further. The pool appeared to be in hibernation, its enticing blue hues now dulled to pastels and shades of ice. Only the diamond, with its impossible geometry, hinted at the pool’s true beauty in its element.

Through Jill’s silent harping, Jacob eventually did some housework. He took a break from vacuuming to change Mark’s nappy but it proved a dubious respite. When he could no longer abide devoting his weekend to housework, Jacob dropped into the lounge and switched on the television. The numbing fingers of weekend sport groped at his brain. Depression enveloped him and subconsciously he pleaded for the sun to emerge.

Perhaps realising Jacob was a lost cause, Jill went outside with Brock in tow chattering random thoughts at her. A short time later the snip and clip of garden shears reached Jacob’s ears.

He was staring at women’s volleyball when Jill’s scream severed the air. He sprang to his feet and dashed for the back door, images of bleeding fingers wallpapering his mind. But as he crashed into the yard, he saw Jill wrestling with the pool gate. She tugged at the knob that disengaged the latch, but in her hysteria was not pulling it up far enough.

“What are you doing?” Jacob said, pacing over to her. It had begun to rain, fat blobs of water slapping dark marks onto the pavers.

“He’s in the pool!” Jill shrieked.

“What?” Jacob's insides began to squirm.

“He’s in the fucking pool! Help me!”

Only then did Jacob look toward the centre of the pool and see what appeared to be a small bundle of floating clothes. For a short second the unravelling horror set his feet in concrete, but then he bounded forward in great unthinking steps, vaulted the fence and dived in. As he lurched to the edge of the pool with his child cradled in his arms, he stared at Jill’s face and wondered which water drops were rain and which were tears.

***


“The gate was closed.”

Their friends, relatives and the minister had filed away, leaving only Jacob and Jill on the temporary bench at Brock’s gravesite. The clouds that had dulled the sky since Sunday morning were finally breaking up, affording everything an unseasonable autumnal glow.

“It can’t have been,” Jacob said. He felt like he was pumping at a car’s brakes even though he knew they were cut. “There’s no way he could have climbed over or through.”

“I’m not suggesting he did.”

“Then what are you suggesting?”

“You know what I’m suggesting,” Jill said, her voice suddenly electrified. “The minute you had him out of the water that latch popped open.”

“It was just a coincidence. You were in a panic and you weren’t lifting it properly.”

“That is not what happened.”

“It’s an inanimate object. Get hold of yourself, Jill."

***


“Do you want me to make you something?” Jacob asked.

Jill shook her head. She was sprawled on the lounge, holding a sleeping Mark to her breast. It was her final day of bereavement leave and she had spent nearly all the others in a similar position, her face slack, her eyes glazed.

Jacob carefully prepared a ham and tomato sandwich, cutting it into four small triangles. He considered sitting beside his wife to eat his lunch, but instead took his plate out to the front porch and sat on the bench.

***


Throughout the week Jacob braced himself for his wife’s inevitable plea go on the run from the fresh, hurtful memories, but it turned out to be quite evitable after all. She simply threw herself into work the way a suicide might throw herself off a cliff, setting her alarm for six in the morning and not arriving home until dark, leaving Jacob to pick up Mark from the crèche each evening. He worried over the charcoal patches spreading out beneath her eyes, but they were better than the dead stare she had worn in the days following Brock’s passing.

Jacob woke early on Saturday morning, and clad in a pair of shorts, sat on the poolside deckchair, admiring the water’s flat tranquility. Could the final embers of Brock’s life have really been snuffed out in this idyllic setting? Life was not prejudiced in that way, he supposed. Lethal jellyfish floated invisibly in crystal tropical waters and deadly spiders crawled camouflaged around the lushest of South American rainforests. Death and beauty were not just acquaintances; they often walked hand in hand.

Jill emerged sometime later with Mark in her arms. She looked healthier than she had in weeks and for some reason this set off faint alarm bells in Jacob’s brain. “Mum’s offered to take Mark off our hands for a few hours,” she said. “I’m going to drop him off and then go shopping. You don’t want to come, do you?”

Jacob shook his head, then returned his gaze to the show of brilliant fireflies dancing around on the blue diamond screen before him. He expected some sort of reproach, but apparently Jill’s sudden attack of high spirits had offset her usual consternation at his behaviour. She walked back inside like a passive doe disappearing into forest shadows.

By midday Jacob’s unprotected skin was burnt a light shade of crimson and his unfed belly had begun to growl its displeasure. Stroking around in the pool would alleviate the first problem but not the second, so with reluctance he got up and walked inside, removing his sunglasses and wiping sweat from his eyes. Once in the kitchen he couldn’t decide whether he wanted breakfast or lunch, oscillating back and forth several times before landing on lunch. He threw together a sandwich and sat on the lounge to eat, staring at the television but not really watching it. Not long after he had finished his meal, the comfortable coolness of the house and his stress burden caught up with him. He fell asleep with his plate in his lap.

***


Jacob heard the splash through a black blanket of sleep and drifted upwards into wakefulness. He sat up with a jerk that hurt his spine and cried out “Mark!”

But then conscious thought took over and reminded him his youngest son (his only son) was safe and sound at his mother-in-law’s place. That left two possibilities: a complete stranger had decided to beat the heat without permission, or Jill had actually deigned to test the pool’s waters.

Smiling, he got up and walked outside, having already dismissed the first hypothesis as nonsense. If Jill had got in the pool, maybe she had pulled out of her mourning spiral. A quick dip together – perhaps the touch of bare skin on skin – would do them both wonders. He could show her she had no reason to detest the pool and even educate her to its beauty.

As he approached the pool, however, he took a hit of déjà vu. Opening the pool gate, he saw his wife floating face-down in the water, with a small pink flourish like food dye tinting the area around her head. Next to her, as if swimming in synch, was a pool net that had presumably been in her hands moments earlier. Collecting in a green scum at the pool’s edge were some ragged blades of grass apparently ripped from a patch of overgrown lawn near the back fence.

Jacob walked to the edge of the pool but did not jump in, knowing through some instinct that his wife was already dead. He looked down and saw a small red smear where the tiles met the lighter blue of fibreglass. Diagonally back from this, a small wet mark darkened the pavers. It evaporated before Jacob could get a proper look at it. Just some backsplash, maybe, but as Jacob viewed the patchy render captured in his mind, he thought perhaps it had been a toddler's footprint, vanishing toe to heel.

Jacob shook his head and looked down at his wife’s floating body. The pink tinge around her head was gone, burned out by reflected sunstars that seemed to wink at him, invite him in. But he had to pick up Mark from his grandmother’s house. She would start to worry and then she might ring up or even call around to investigate. The last thing he needed was his mother-in-law meddling in his affairs. She would never understand.

Jacob drew his eyes out of the pool and opened the pool gate. As it swung shut behind him, he thought he heard a giggling child … but explained it away as squeaky hinges.

***


Jill’s mother answered the door with a face made careworn by the supervision of a child who had just discovered the joys of walking. She looked at Jacob through the screen door as though he were a biting insect trying to gain access. “Where’s Jill?” she said.

“Daddy!” Mark cried, stepping clumsily down the hallway.

“She wasn’t feeling well.”

Jill’s mother opened the door and Jacob scooped up his son.

“I’m worried about her,” Jill’s mother said. “She looked like a corpse when she came around here this morning.”

Jacob blinked a couple of times and then smiled. “Don’t worry, Heather. Mark and I will look after her. Won’t we Mark?”

Mark nodded vigorously, full of self-importance.

“I’ve been doing some reading. If she starts sleeping all the time and doesn’t want to do the things she usually does, it could be a sign of depression.”

“She’s just grieving, Heather.” Jacob’s sunny face became overcast. “We all are. The last thing we need is for you to start making a layman’s diagnosis of mental illness.”

“Jill is my daughter and I have a right to worry about her!”

Jacob’s features relaxed into a smile again. “Of course you do. Don’t worry. If she starts showing signs of depression I’ll be all over it. I promise.”

Jacob switched Mark to his other arm. “Well, thanks for looking after this little monster.”

Heather managed a smile. “Take good care of him. He’s the only grandchild I have left.”

“Bye, Heather.”

The afternoon sun blazed through the car’s windscreen with such ferocity that Jacob had to flip down the visor in addition to his sunglasses. Mark was strapped in the baby seat, babbling happily in his personal dialect of English and baby talk. He was a good kid, Jacob mused. Independent, sometimes a handful, but a delight nonetheless. He would do his father proud.

They pulled up in the drive and Jacob freed Mark from the child restraints. He locked the car and carried his baby up the side passage into the backyard. He went to the pool fence and looked in. The grass clippings, the pool scoop and his wife’s body were nowhere to be seen. Jacob tried to be startled but broke out in a wide grin instead.

“Pool’s got a hell of a filter,” he said.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kris Ashton is a Sydney-based author and film journalist. His stories have appeared in Scifantastic, Hell's Hangmen: Horror in the Old West, and Back Roads. When he's not writing you might find him in the gym or crashed out in front of the cricket.

Visit him online at www.freewebs.com/krisashton.


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