Author’s Note: I first conceived of “Little Paradise” when trying to figure out why it took me so long to throw out the inflatable baby pool on my patio, which after most of a year, had really become quite disgusting. I realized I had procrastinated because the baby pool was so loaded for me, and then I began thinking about how objects tell stories, and what the baby pool symbolized for me. So this essay is about how the objects and places around us carry meaning and reflect what’s happening around them, as they did for me during this painful time in my life.
ON THE FIFTH OF JULY, the baby pool went onto the back patio, where we never go, and stayed all summer, collecting bugs and leaves. It was a plastic inflatable pool with interlocking tubs and a rainbow overhead, and I couldn’t imagine lifting it alone. On the afternoons when my daughter asked about blowing it up again, I’d say we needed to find the air pump to make it work, or else it was too dirty and we’d have to hose it off, or her little brother needed to go down for a nap, or if that all failed, I’d give her a popsicle and some for her friends and tell her we’d go swimming next summer.
In the fall, I finally tried to hose it off, but it was covered in so much dirt by then that even the hose and the scrub brush couldn’t clean it, and it was hopeless to lug inside and store for the winter. Even if I could have dragged it myself, it would’ve left dirt and debris all over the carpet. And so, I let it sit, accumulating a mottling brown compost of whatever each rain left behind.
If the neighbors saw anything through their fences, they didn’t say so. It was a planned community with wide sidewalks, tennis courts, playgrounds, a soft playroom, and space out front for the kids to play. When we first moved here, the realtor told my husband and me that people love it so much here they stay for generations, that their kids take over their houses, that it’s a little slice of paradise.
We agreed we’d finish the attic when we moved in, put flagstone on the back patio, and we did. Now, beside the pool, the grill went unused, and next to it, turquoise chairs shaped like eggs, with great scooped backs, collected more brown leaves. Glass hurricane candles turned black with dirt, and the flowerbeds dried up. A whole collection of kitchen herbs browned and froze over. Mostly, I kept the kitchen curtains closed, so we wouldn’t have to see it. And when I went out that way on occasion to take out the wine bottles and boxes for recycling, I made sure not to look around any further than I had to.
I couldn’t throw the pool out. Not just physically, I didn’t want to. I kept thinking we would use it again, but later, perhaps in some other life where rotting plastic retakes its previous form and separated couples fall in love again. Somehow, I must have thought I might still bring it back. Put my mouth up to the dirty plastic tip and breathe life into it.
All through the rainy fall, things inside kept breaking—the mug my husband and I had gotten from Montreal that said Je me souvien, the magnets we’d gotten in London for my sister’s wedding. A picture frame of my husband’s family fell from the hallway and sat propped against the wall for months until I moved it to an upstairs closet. They were accidents, all of them, but each time something broke, I thought maybe I should stop waiting for things to turn around. Maybe it was a sign, the way his wedding ring went missing in the grocery store parking lot.
By December, when the rain came down in sheets and the baby pool froze into a solid block, I finally mustered the strength to drag the whole thing out to the street corner bulk trash site, ice and all. I had grown stronger by then, because the baby was getting heavier, and my muscles were stronger from carrying him. I didn’t see it hauled away, but by the afternoon, it was gone. It would have appeared as a pile of iced-over lollipops and rainbows, with a great, sky-blue bowl, where my daughter and her friends had frolicked like birds all afternoon on the Fourth of July.
That would be all my daughter remembered from that day when everything fell apart—my son was too young to remember—hot dogs, grownups outside with their beers. A giant pool with interlocking circles, a rainbow that stretched overhead and shot water down, inflatable rainbow lollipops. An entire candy kingdom—a little paradise inside a bigger one. She didn’t notice the neighbors helped blow it up and hook up the hose, that the neighbors cleaned up the little pieces at the end of the night, tossed them in the back, and picked up the trash for me. At the end of the evening, she shook the water from her hair, wrapped a towel around her body, and declared she was a mermaid. “Where’s Daddy?” she asked around dinnertime.
By the following spring, my daughter suddenly remembered the little pool and begged for me to set it out again. I said, “Have a popsicle.” I didn’t know how much longer we’d be there. Cardboard boxes had started to line the house, and I filled them with everything I didn’t immediately need. The toys inside stacked higher and higher, and I’d forgotten what the back patio looked like under the collection of brown leaves.
The sunlight continued changing, and by June, every time we went outside, the bright sun reflected off of everything, blinding white waves of light on cars and houses beating into us. As June waned and July approached again, the dread caught in my throat and stayed there.
We started showing the home. We dated other people. The neighbors said they loved what we’d done with the attic and the flagstone out back. Some of them wanted to buy. But things had never stopped breaking all year—the dryer, the heater. The dishwasher pooled water unless you drained it every few nights. We’d meant to get to all of that. And there was a giant smudge on the gray flagstone out back—a collection of dirt and debris and bugs, pressed down like a big dirty brown stamp, the way the ground looks when you pull up a rock. Two interlocking circles that, at some point, just barely connected.
Lauren D. Woods is a Washington, DC-based writer, with fiction and creative nonfiction in The Antioch Review, The Normal School, Fiction Southeast, Hippocampus, Lit Hub, and other journals.
Delmarva Review publishes the most evocative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry selected from thousands of original submissions during the year. Designed to encourage the best new writing from authors, the literary journal is nonprofit and independent. Support comes from tax-deductible contributions and a grant from Talbot Arts with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: www.DelmarvaReview.org
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