Pool Party at Captain Jack's
by Chuck Augello
And then it was swimsuit time, bodies bared and visible, fabric designed to hide one’s imperfections reluctantly shed for the look-at-me lure of a one-piece or the black bikini once inviting, the Speedo better left in the suitcase after last winter’s trip to Greece. But a summer gathering at Captain Jack’s meant a dip in his Olympic-sized pool, and with ample Sangria to lubricate one’s modesty, we abandoned our myriad disguises.
I lowered my jeans and tightened the drawstring of my trunks.
Mrs. Lopez leaned in. “Did he serve the shrimp cocktail yet?”
Captain Jack was revered for the quality of his shrimp.
Over the years we’d become melanoma-phobic, and so the ritualized application of sunscreen began. Mrs. Postal, reigning master of the fourth-grade Moms at Shearson Elementary, poked me with a tube of boutique lotion and offered the unreachable quadrant of her slender back.
A genetic defect had gifted me oversized fingertips. “Lower, please,” she purred. I worked the sunscreen as if frosting a cake, drawing my initials in the cream. To our right, the Baskins and the Smiths argued over Truth. Within seconds they were spitting epithets and speaking in tongues.
“So typical. Rage is all we have left,” Mrs. Postal said. “The CDC just declared 100.6 ° the new normal. My yoga teacher is offering classes on how to spontaneously combust.”
Mrs. Lopez leaned in. “Don’t worry, sweetie. We still have our phones and algorithms to guide us.”
She swiped twice and showed us her cat. Everyone loves cats.
“It’s good to see you smile again,” she said.
Since the accident, people assumed my face held perpetual grief. Slick with remnants of coconut lotion, my fingers found the unprotected orbs of Mrs. Postal’s heels.
“Under present conditions, ‘have a nice day’ feels like a threat,” she said. “A denial of our moral compass.”
Inside the house my wife was screwing Vice-Principal Dolan in the guest bedroom. I dabbed a final dollop of lotion on Mrs. Postal’s big toe.
“Try to find the divine in the everyday,” I suggested.
Mrs. Lopez leaned in. “Did I miss the shrimp cocktail?”
We all watched as Captain Jack climbed onto the diving board, nude except for his captain’s hat and the whistle around his neck. He was our lodestar, our philosopher-king. We flocked to him like lemmings eager for a map.
“Fellow friends, let us honor this respite from our scheduled despair.”
He blew the whistle and didn’t stop until we’d paired off on both sides of the pool.
“In isolation we carry our disappointment and disillusion, our loneliness like an itch. Our sadness manifests in new and peculiar ways.”
He blew the whistle and a giant eye appeared over the pool like a beach ball, the sclera tinted pink, the blue iris glimmering. A tear fell from the eye and dropped into the pool, and then another, concentric circles forming with each splash. One never knew what to expect at Captain Jack’s.
He raised his wine glass. “But we’re not here to wallow in pathos. Tonight I offer you a song.”
The eye disappeared, replaced by a dolphin in the center of the pool. Piano music played over the outdoor speakers, Schubert perhaps, and the dolphin breached the water and began singing, its voice nothing like the whale songs I’d heard at the Aquarium.
“Let me hold you in my arms like no one else can,” the dolphin sang, soft and smokey, a 1940’s crooner with a black fedora tilted over one eye.
In the upstairs window my wife’s back appeared against the thumb-stained glass, Vice-Principal Dolan behind her, pumping away. The hummingbird tattoo on her left shoulder was gone. I scanned the bird feeders, hoping to spot it with the other birds.
Captain Jack blew the whistle. “Allemande left.”
And so we did, waltzing around the pool with our partner to the right, my hand on Mrs. Postal’s hip, our toes touching, her breath a whisper in my ear, “Let me be your sunshine lover,” the dolphin sang, and we knew what came next.
Captain Jack blew the whistle and ordered us into the pool. “Gathered friends, it’s time to float,” he said, float his codeword for screwing, Captain Jack’s backyard orgies a social media hit, the unleashed sexual energy surging through the solar panels on his roof and illuminating the streetlights. Pairings were haphazard and transitory; inclinations and taboos be damned. Everyone stripped off their swimsuits and leaped into the water, except me. I couldn’t swim.
“I’m waiting,” Mrs. Postal said, her long legs kicking, blonde hair fanned over the water. In the window I saw my wife on her knees, strange hands atop her head. To celebrate the bacchanal, the servers arrived in black tux and tie, carrying silver trays of shrimp cocktail, and everyone cheered. Captain Jack blew the whistle and the waitstaff tossed the shrimp into the pool, but as soon as they hit the water each shrimp turned into a piranha, rows of pin-sharp teeth bared and hungry.
“I will not work under these conditions,” the dolphin said, ceasing its beautiful song.
On the diving board Captain Jack danced a jig and recorded it all on his phone. By the end of the night he’d have three million likes, six figure offers for product placement at his next soiree.
“Help me,” Mrs. Postal cried, reaching out as the piranhas snapped at her toes, and though I couldn’t swim, I dove into the water and embraced her, remembered that she, not the woman in the window, was my wife of fourteen years, the hummingbird tattoo back where it belonged, and we floated and shared stories about everything we’d loved and lost as the piranhas attacked, the translucent pool water tinted black from traces of our blood.
If not for the dolphin we all might have died, the dolphin chasing the piranhas from the pool as Mrs. Postal and I turned our bodies into rafts.
That night we watched it all in reverse on YouTube. The piranhas became shrimp again, the dolphin’s soothing song played in a backwards loop, and Mrs. Postal and I danced beside the water as the sun reclaimed the sky, the divine in the everyday.
Chuck Augello is the author of The Revolving Heart, a Best Books of 2020 selection by Kirkus Reviews. His work has appeared in One Story, Juked, Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Hub, and other fine journals. His novel A Better Heart was praised by PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk as "lively, engrossing, fast paced, and spot on when it comes to nailing what's wrong with animal abuse but in a realistic, not preachy way. A great read, a great beach novel." Talking Vonnegut, Centennial Interviews and Essays will be published by McFarland in 2023. Visit him at www.cdawriting.com.