I’m after Big Bob’s ring. Black. The words Forever, Peck inscribed on the inside of the band in cursive italics, dented from Big Bob punching his fridge. I’ve seen him punch three doors and two men. I have never punched a thing, except for my own face, once.
He lost it at Waves of Fun earlier today. I watched him go down the slide holding hands with the woman I love. When he came back to our spot on the lawn facing the pool, he showed me his hand. He pointed to the pale flesh where the ring had been. He told me Peck, his wife, had squeezed his hands so hard while going down the slide the ring popped right off. Which makes sense because she has large hands. I commented on their size. Big Bob said, “Her hands. Look at her boobs. Them things are huge.” He cupped his hands below his pecks. He says things like that to make me uncomfortable, like the most she’ll ever be to me is eye candy. Peck was still by the slides trying to find it. She walked in the small pool below the slides with her back hunched, scrounging for something black at the bottom. She wore her red one-piece, the gold necklace her granny got her resting in her cleavage. Big Bob sat beside me and watched women he classified as MILFs walk their kids to the pool with large, clear tubes.
If I find the ring tonight, she might just say, “Keep it.” She might just slide it on my finger, take me to the courthouse to end one marriage and start another. Or maybe she’ll kiss me again. Either case would be worth the trouble.
I walk the trail that snakes around the whole of the pool, looking all around. Overhead lights. Broken condoms. Toads. I wield my flashlight up and down to give my forearm a workout, this big black thing lying heavy and cool in my palm. A black Corolla sits next to the wave pool’s entrance, so I walk by it, eying it to make sure it’s not some wave pool cop or something. Kentucky plates. No one inside. A dream catcher hangs from the rearview mirror and a half-zipped suitcase leans sideways in the backseat. I’ve never heard of a wave pool cop. I don’t know why I thought that.
My swimming goggles keep sliding and chafing my temples, so I slide them down to my neck. I don’t imagine I look like a man’s man. Big Bob is most assuredly what you’d call a man’s man. We work together on this farm in Milton, and he’s about the closest thing I have to a best friend, even if I hate his guts. I come to his shoulders and weigh a good hundred and fifty pounds less than him. I’m not a big man, I know that, but he’s got to let me know it every single day. Calls me shrimp. I tell Peck he doesn’t treat her right. The problem is I think she knew what kind of man she was marrying a few years ago, she at the age of twenty-three, he just shy of thirty. She often talks about how mean her dad had been, the nasty things he’d say to her about her body or her future. I can’t help but wonder if she thinks love is meant to be awful.
I go up to the fence, take off my shirt, and throw it over the barbed wire. Now I ought to look like a man. Only men climb fences, them and cut, six-packed boys yelling about their laphogs. When I get to my shirt, I widen my legs and think about falling over so that my whole thigh catches on the barbed wire and tears along the way. Twenty-some stitches, crutches for a while, all that. I’d bleed, grunt, limp my way to an emergency room. The only scar I have is the one on my left eyebrow. When people ask about it, they think my father was a mean drunk. Really, when I was three, I was in a KFC, tripped, and cut it on the windowsill. Don’t even remember it—the pain, the stitches. I only know because my parents told me. Sometimes, I tell people what they want to hear if they don’t know my family, and what people want to hear is horror.
I make it on the other side. Take off my shirt to let the breeze brush my nipples. The lawn circles around the big pool, a few towels and chairs abandoned today’s half-naked crowd. To the right of the pool, the slides loop through and around each other before reaching the small pool below. I expect the swarm of shouting voices from kids with popsicle drips spotting their chests, but nothing. Then I hear a voice, low whispering pleadings. “I know what I’ve done is wrong, I know what I’ve done is vile, and I’m sorry for it, I am, and you know that, and you know how much I love you.” I slide my shirt back over my neck.
I walk the stairs to the big green slide where you can go down it with a tube, the one Peck and Big Bob rode down when he lost his ring. “Don’t say that. You know what you mean to me.” At the top of the stairs, a woman talks on the phone. Thick, black hair rests on her chest. With her back supported by the fence, she sits on the damp, molded carpet, steadying a nearly empty fifth of grape-flavored Burnett’s between her thighs.
“Sorry,” I say.
“God! What are you doing?”
“Sorry. Just trying to find something.” I walk around her with my head down as if I can do anything but look at her.
“What are you looking for?” She mutes her phone.
“My wedding ring. I don’t want my wife finding out I lost it.”
She unmutes her phone and says, “Hey. I’m gonna get off here. I’m really sorry. Okay, bye. Yes, I know. Okay, I’m going now. Bye.” She’s sweated through her orange t-shirt, half-circles beneath her breasts. Her legs are toned like a bodybuilder’s but short, almost short enough to where there’s something wrong with her. They look like they belong to one of those gymnast children.
“You shouldn’t pop your fingers like that. You’ll get arthritis or something.” She stands up, struggling to extend her knees. She’s about the size of an eleven-year-old. Her long hair looks disproportionate to the rest of her body, hanging below her butt. In the face she looks like she’s probably in her early thirties, maybe a few years older than me. “Is it gold?”
“Black. Tungsten or whatever.”
She wipes her mouth with the bottom of her shirt, a glimpse of her belly. She places her hands on her hips and looks around her feet, lifting them up then checking underneath.
“So why are you here? Was that your husband on the phone?”
“I grew up swimming in this pool every summer. They’ve totally changed it.”
We walk down the stairs to look around the small pool at the bottom. As she doubles over to pick up what I already know is just a small, dark leaf, a birthmark the shape of a spoon reveals itself just above her right hip. She flips off her Crocs like a little kid and they somehow land right on top of each other. She’s nothing like Peck. The first time I met Peck was at Big Bob’s house. He’d invited me over for steaks and whiskey. I thought his girl would be like him, gross. When I rang the doorbell, she came to it smelling like fresh sheets. I’d never seen such white teeth. She touched my arm just above the elbow.
After she takes her last drink of Burnett’s, she throws the bottle into the pool and watches it float just below the slide. Tears roll down her cheeks.
Big Bob would probably make fun of her. He even teases Peck about her weight, even though she isn’t a pound heavier than she needs to be. Peck is actually in great shape, Big Bob just doesn’t appreciate her. She’s got thick legs, sure, but they’re pure muscle.
“Well, I’m Myrtle. Like the beach,” she says.
I shake her little hand and grab, squeeze. I want to show her how strong I am, like that’ll show her something. “Dan,” I say.
That’s when Myrtle starts telling me her life story. She tells me all about how she moved to Kentucky soon as she turned eighteen, how that old joke about West Virginians not getting very far away from the state because they don’t have enough gas money rings true. Married at twenty. Three miscarriages. Seven years at Amazon as a customer service associate. She says she’s never been given a real chance at life because of her height.
After searching the crevices in the concrete and giving her all my sympathies, I tell her to close her eyes. I strip myself down to my underwear and throw my clothes near her Crocs.
“You’re a briefs man,” she says.
I think of completely stripping down, showing off my buns and biscuits, but that would be too much. I’d scare her off.
The water’s still warm from the July sun. Once fully in, I strap the goggles back over my eyes and go under. When I come up, she says, “You’re not gonna find it. That thing’s long gone” and trips over her Crocs. I’m not sure how much was in that Burnett’s bottle, but I imagine only a few drinks would do her in. I know only a few would put me to sleep. I’ve seen Big Bob go through an entire liter of whiskey, though he ended up puking it all up the next day, so I really don’t know how much he could handle. More than me, I know that. Peck hardly drinks, but when she does, she gets flirty. The first time Big Bob got blackout drunk while I was at their house, Peck and I made out in front of the fridge, her hands holding tight to my pockets. Big Bob sat upright in his loveseat, shirtless and bald, eyelids closed. Me and Peck have never talked about it. I’m afraid it’ll break some sort of spell.
“I’ll find it. I have to.”
“A man of faith who wears briefs.”
I go under again, making my way toward each corner, trying to circle into the middle—I’ve got a system, see—and when I come up, she’s in her bra and underwear, galloping down each step. Once on the last stair she dives and swims toward me in a butterfly stroke. With her coming up out of the water, bra and long hair clinging tight, she looks even smaller, and I wonder about us, what could happen.
“I have a secret,” she says. She puts her hand in front of her mouth like you do when you’re telling a secret and I bend over so she can say something directly in my right ear. “I’m an unfaithful woman. I cheated. I’m a cheater. Chee-ter.” Her breath smells like vomit and grapes.
“We all do bad things. I’ve done some really bad things.”
“You don’t look like you’d know a bad thing.”
“I know bad things. I’ve done lots of them.”
“Well, it’s hard to do on the spot. Let’s just say, I’ve done bad things and leave it at that.” Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing, except for the time when I told my friend his mom was old.
She spreads out her arms and falls back into the water, but her legs won’t rise to the surface. “A bad, bad man.”
I follow suit, and my legs don’t rise either.
“What other bad things have you done?”
I look over and her whole head is underwater. When she comes up for air, she coughs like she let water get in her nose.
We buoy in the pool like this for a while not saying a word. Weightless, flimsy, shrunken. I let the water take me wherever it wants. The surface wrinkles around my arms. Myrtle’s floated all the way to the bottom of the slides, the Burnett’s bottle between her feet. Every once in a while she asks if I’ve found the ring yet. Sometimes she points at one of the clusters of stars and asks if that’s the little dipper, which I wouldn’t know, so I tell her I’m not sure where she’s pointing.
I take in a big breath and exhale every last bit of air left in me, dipping below the surface. With my goggles on, I can clearly see Myrtle’s backside. But not enough. I go up to take in some air and then go back under to swim near the still, floating body. She bobs a little up and down, looking like a large action figure. A couple zits glisten in the creases of her cheeks.
I come up from the water to find her staring right at me.
“No, but your phone’s been buzzing like crazy over there. You might want to check it.”
“Yeah,” she says and wades through the water. Now she’s really drunk. She looks like she might’ve fallen asleep and drowned had I not been here.
“Hey,” she says. “Hey. What’s this?”
“I feel something beneath my toes.” She brings her foot up to her hand, toes clenched, then brings metal to her face. “’Forever, Peck.’ That you? It’s dented and everything.”
I walk over to her and look at it. She’s got a nice grip on it. I let her examine it. “Thank you,” I say.
“Here.” She grabs my hand, and I extend my fingers. When she puts the ring over the tip, it slides down with ease, all the way to the edge of the knuckle. “Is it the right size?” she asks. The way she’s talking and looking at me, she won’t remember any of this tomorrow. I’ll just be some weird dream to her and she’ll go on with her life, back to Kentucky to whoever was on the phone, and my life will go back to exactly the way it was. Peck won’t leave Big Bob even if she catches him cheating with her own mother.
“Let me see that,” I say. I bring it close to my eyes, do a whole lot of squinting and examining. “No way.”
“This isn’t it.”
“What do you mean? How many other rings could be here?” She looks around, and I like the way she stands next to me.
I take the ring off and throw it as far as I can into the parking lot. “There’s got to be more.” I place her hand in mine, which is the opposite of Peck’s. Small. Pruned from water.
Her phone keeps buzzing against the concrete. She opens her mouth like she’s going to say something, like she’s remembered what led her here.
Then we go under.