Paying the Storm
Cindy Juyoung Ok
We return after a few months away to find a pool in our garage. The edges are unfinished, but the inside of the pool, some meters in the ground, is fully tiled. We pick up a few individual loose squares, which are a deep red and look expensive, but they prove too heavy to carry.
Later we learn the pool was built by someone who lived here before us, who we refer to as the breaker because when we moved in, the recycling bin was full of glass. The city refuses glass in the recycling and fines after the first offense, so we figured the bin was never taken out, that this glass is the complete collection of the breaker’s time here.
We took the jars and glasses out individually to clean and bring to the local recycling plant, which has bins for glass, furniture, and cardboard. After three trips, we found a jar of jerk chicken sauce marketed for a white audience at the bottom of the bin. It had been full, the top still sealed with plastic, the leaked juices pooling in the bin’s indents. We picked up, too, whitened glass in the kitchen. We imagined the breaker was American: wore shoes in the house and drank milk at dinner.
The breaker has left behind the pool, which apparently had mainly been used by someone we call the dealer. The dealer deals in tiles, carries the breaker’s receipt for the pool, and wants it back. They call at odd hours to ask us if they can come, and, when we miss one call, they say we have lost our chance.
The big storm comes, and our cars are out on the street. One only gets a light branch on the windshield, but the other loses a window in the fast, long winds. With the special towels we used to clean the recycling bin, we clear the car of glass in the morning after bringing the torn branches to the curb.
Once the lights come back on but before our phones have service, we prepare for the next storm. We bring cans to the basement and scatter our candles throughout the house. Then we gather our longest cups and go to the garage to drain the drainless pool. Walking back and forth hundreds of times from the garage, we water the bush at the edge of the driveway where the deer usually eat, though it is already flooded from the storm.
We ask the dealer to come get the pool. The dealer wants more time, more time. When we do not answer the door, they hit windows with fallen branches and tear down the porch swing as they explain repeatedly that they have been uniquely affected by the storm, though they have endured no damage. We all want more time. What they really ask is for someone else to bear the cost.
The dealer first asks us to contact the breaker ourselves. We have no way of contacting the breaker, but we find a local organization that could sell the pool, including a pickup it says, from our photos, would take four or five people. We tell the dealer, offer to have it donated. The dealer refuses, because the dealer never concedes a point or acknowledges damage other than theirs. The dealer deals.
When they ask to speak to the owner of our house and stop speaking to us, we are relieved. We explain to the owner, who is upset we didn’t call sooner and wants to take the costs of moving the pool out of our deposit. The owner writes to the dealer that the pool must be removed, and cannot be left on the lawn or in the garage. The owner’s main concerns are about the liability to him: he wants no claims of damage from the breaker.
The dealer continues to make demands of us. We do not know the dealer’s name, but they send us lavish messages. They call from blocked phone numbers and tell us how disappointed we have made them. The dealer has many strategies: asking for compassion, making personal attacks, threatening our agreement with the owner. They offer to move the pool to the lawn, and the owner is further upset with us, taking notes for the deposit.
What they stipulate is an absence. They want the water (or, now, the air) in the shape of that pool. Street parking is free, but only on one side of the street during daylight, so we switch our cars nightly, and one night during our wait for the pool’s pickup, we forget. One of the cars has previous tickets on it and is sent to be locked up. When we go to pick it up, the lot is full, and the tired attendant tells us they have been bringing in hundreds of cars a night since the storm.
When the dealer comes, they come quietly and leave by dawn. They leave behind cat hair and a hole in the wall. In a wall is a crumpled note that lists their grievances. It starts with demands they made of us that were not met, missed calls and closed garage, but there are others: the smell of the drained pool, the color of the dirt underneath the pool.
At dinner that night, we are silent around the table. We have been collateral for the breaker, dealer, and owner, and this has made us new, and newly American. The relief is clear but sedated—we have slept so little since our return, and there is still much to do to fill the pool back in. We hear the dirt we need is expensive these days, and we don’t have the right tools to fashion the concrete floors. That night we clean the upstairs tub we never use, and in the bath we keep our heads under water for longer and longer, scaring each other and surprising ourselves.
CINDY JUYOUNG OK's recent work can be found in journals like Conjunctions, Electric Literature, and the Margins. She teaches creative writing and is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was awarded Capote, Rydson, and Rosenberg fellowships.
Header art: "Wild Place" by Derrick Breidenthal.