by ROBIN SUTHERLAND
When Dominic opens the office door, Witchy Wanda looks confused. She’s not used to seeing him in clothes, and there he is in a bright white suit, drawling “Wel-come ... to Fan-tasy Island.” ...With a dramatic sweep of his free arm, Dominic then directs the woman’s attention through the pool office to the dazzling blue outside. Witchy obediently shifts her gaze.
For the first time, Dominic sees the woman’s pitted skin and long eyelashes; from this angle, he can also see the sunlight glowing through the irises of her eyes as she stares out at the children by the pool. He suddenly feels badly, so, reverting to his professional self, can he help her with something? But Witchy Wanda shakes her head, thrusts a green garbage bag at him, and garbles one of her many cryptic communiqués: that she’s seen the sign, and that she’s taken care of them. And then the woman leaves as abruptly as she had arrived, slinging a bony leg over her bike, and pushing off to wheel around the perimeter of the park where she watches people, picks weeds, and does whatever the hell she does out there.
Dominic nearly drops the creepy clunking bag on his toes—it weighs a bloody ton— although Witchy had handled it as if it were nothing. He aims a “Well, thanks, I guess,” to the back of the woman’s head, but the phone rings, and he must coordinate the tongue twister greeting—“Good morning, Eastfield Park pool, Dominic speaking, how may I help you?—that he yammers into the phone, while heaving the ominous loot bag onto the pool office desk. “Oh, hi, Mrs. Gerson. Yes, Solomon got her previous message. No, Dominic’s not sure why he hasn’t called back. Yes, Fun-Day appears to be going well. Yes, he’ll get Solly to call home on his next break. Yes, it’s been nice talking to her again, too. Bye.”
But Dominic must hurry so that he can supervise the last rotation of his assigned Fun-Day activity. He sees what Witchy Wanda saw: that kids have arrived at his station, and are already removing their costumes, and scrabbling about for towels and goggles. Waiting expectantly for Dominic to arrive and get the “Buried Treasure” station going for them, the kids are practically vibrating—“Dominic, hurry!”—their attention torn between the tantalizing blue of the pool, and the backsides of their retreating mothers, who must relocate to the other side of the fence—“But don’t forget to watch me jump!”...All of this Dominic observes from the pool office doorway, where he peels off his hot white Mr. Roarke suit, re-adjusts his Speedo, and tightens his ponytail. He grabs the canister of pennies he needs for his game, slides on Ray Bans, scrunches his flat feet into green flip-flops, and heads over. Dominic wanders past a fragile Solomon and Hangover, both perched in the shallow end guard chair. “Your mom called—again—so quit being such a prick and call her back,” Dominic says, giving the chair a good shake, for emphasis.
“Um, Dominic, you want to get a move-on?” His supervisor, Veronica, nods at him as she checks her watch. Does he have everything? Can he be done in fifteen minutes? The pool must be clear by 11:30, so they can set up for noon swim. The kids in Dominic’s class crowd about and tug at his arms, “Puh-leeze Dom, can we go swimming now?” Oh, and does Dominic have the prizes? He’s to reward three kids and save the rest of the prizes for the next Fun-Day.
Dominic opens the canister. “Okay everyone, line up along the shallow end wall and face the office. Make sure you’ve got lots of room!” He then scatters the treasure behind his kids, throwing handfuls of pennies over their heads. As the coins plunk and swirl and promise great rewards, the kids clap and squirm and lean over to elbow their opponents in the ribs. It takes forever for all the treasure to sink to the bottom of the shallow end, an even more agonizing wait when Kyle accidentally jumps ahead of the signal and everyone must watch him climb back out to his place on the deck (between Jennie and Chad), and then readjust his goggles (the straps are twisted), and then wait for Dominic to give the signal again, which he does, but not until they have to stand there quietly for a zillion years-can-they-go-YET!?!
When Dominic finally gives the word, there’s an immediate flurry of jumping and splashing and squealing as the hunt gets underway. Dominic hops in to supervise the frenzy of discombobulated arms, legs, and feet that madly dive and search and plunder. He finds two of his favourite kids from lessons—the scrawny Cristodoulou brothers—and throws them around for a while. They like it when he tries to drown them. He then guards the penny piles collected by the giggly Taylors, a competitive crew with bright Mc-Orange moustaches from the barbecue-bake sale out in the park. Bianca Taylor belches a citric urrrp, and does Dominic know that Me-lanie— here she tugs on her older sister’s ponytail—wants to marry him after she passes her Red badge? Dominic had no idea, he’s flattered, he says, and the girls snicker and belch some more and resume their diving.
Dominic wades around the periphery of the treasure hunt for several minutes. Halfway in air, and halfway in water, he can barely discern the difference between a soft breeze across his tanned shoulders, and an underwater current against his legs. Dominic leans against the side of the pool, and surveys the activity out in the park: a game of pin-the-snout on Mr. Snuffaluffagus, a waterballoon toss, and Witchy Wanda, who’s sitting on a blanket facing the pool. Dominic looks at the dark lenses of her sunglasses, and wonders what she sees from out there. Such a strange woman. Always alone, but always there.
Feeling a pat on his arm, Dominic looks down to see Jennie Peabody who asks him if he will fix her goggles. Please. She insists he tighten them until she’s practically cross-eyed, and then dunks her head underwater to test them, resurfacing to blink through lenses half-filled with water— “Ohhh, yeah, okay, this is good”—she says, and plops her head back under, churning the water with her frail arms and splashy kicks, her skinny little bum sticking high out of the pool.
Dominic then contemplates Solomon’s inert body in the guard chair. Just because, Dominic brings his whistle to his lips, sucks in a humungous breath, and blows an unnecessarily loud blast that crumples his friend further down in the chair. He looks back out at Witchy, but the woman is now lying flat on her back, apparently undisturbed by the sound. Startled, the kids look at Dominic, and then at each other—“Who’s in trouble?”—they didn’t do nothing-Angelo-did-it.
Okay, Dominic says, let’s see who’s got what: he slaps the wet concrete with a hand and instructs the kids to put their money piles out on the deck. He sees Jennie, shivering behind him, so he lifts her out of the water and she hurries to get her towel, but only after he promises to guard the f-f-f-our pennies she g-g-g-ot. Dominic does a couple of slow bicep push-ups as he lifts himself out of the water. The mothers will be watching; they apparently like it when he does this particular manoeuvre, or so Michael Cristodoulou says, but Michael’s in the market for a new dad.
Dominic wraps a towel around his waist, and then helps Jennie with hers, while the other kids busily start counting aloud: “One, two, (snuffle) three ... shut-up, Jimmy! How am I s‘appose ta count with you talking? ... nine, ten, eleventeen ...” There’s some pushing and some shoving, some arguments, and a lot of commentary: Marva owes Luciano three cents because she borrowed his goggles. Chad says his mom works at a bank and brings home a million pennies every day, if he could run home and get his piggy-bank, he’d win for sure! And Nicole wants to know if American pennies count, she’s got one, so does it count even though they live in Canada? She knows where America is, because her Aunt Peggy lives in Florida, does Dominic know where Florida is? That’s where orange juice comes from.
Dominic prepares to conduct an awards ceremony for the three kids who found the most buried treasure. He hauls out the bag of prizes that Veronica bought at the Dollar Daze: fish- shaped water pistols, Pink Panther PEZ dispensers, and some cheap goggles. A six-pack of funky sunglasses. He really likes these, so he rips open the package and wedges his adult forehead into an orange-framed pair with blue plastic flowers. The kids shriek and shove and, “Hey Dom, I want some, hey, do we get to have some, hey Dom, look how much I got, so can I have some glasses like you?!?”
It’s too hard, trying to judge all the piles of treasure now lined up along the pool deck. Dominic must be serious because all the little faces watching him are so serious, these little people with blue fingernails and red eyes safeguarding their hard-won treasure from the bottom of the pool, all so damned serious. Shivering and hopeful, they alternate their glances between the glorious penny stacks in front of them, and the gaudy flowers around Dominic’s eyes. Surely he will give them a prize!
“Okay, well wait a minute, let’s just see what we’ve got here,” Dominic says, quickly counting the number of kids in front of him—nine—and assessing the number of prizes: three, four . . . maybe ten . . . okay good, he can reward everyone. “Aaaaarggghhh, you’re a great bunch of pirates, mateys, and everyone wins!” he bellows, and when the children start shrieking, he tells them it’s time to divvy up the loot, so to shut-up and get in line. This gets their attention, although Jennie importantly patters out of line, because her mom says shut-up is a bad word, she tells Dominic. He only shrugs and gives a “Hardy-har, matey, we pirates are a bad bunch and say bad things sometimes!” and Jennie giggles and scampers back to her place.
Dominic instructs his kids to plunge their arms into the bag and pull out a prize, which they do with their eyes squeezed shut and a lot of fumbling about—“Oh, I think . . . umm . . . I think I feel . . . umm . . .”—their gleeful shouts attracting the approval of the maternal lawn chair collective. Witchy has also moved closer to watch the awards ceremony. Leaning into the fence, she fits her smile into one of the diamond-shaped holes in the steel mesh, her lips moving in a silent “O”.
As the kids dash off to their towels and moms, and then to the barbecue-bake sale for lunch, Dominic scoops the pennies back into the canister. He helps Solomon set up for the noon- time swim, even though Solomon calls him a first-class asshole and says he’s a dead man. Shit, and now he has to deal with his mom, he wheezes, she’s probably going to ride his ass for coming home so late last night. Dominic’s one lucky bastard that he’s only got his old man to deal with, Solomon says, as he totters to the office. “Sure,” Dominic says. He fastens his towel to the fence to dry, folds his white suit and places it in his knapsack, and pulls on a dry t-shirt and shorts before joining the others out in the park, where buzzing flies and hornets circle the chaos of chicken wieners, McDonald’s orange syrup water, and the mustard-ketchup-relish table that some kid apparently mistook for a finger-painting station.
Dominic wanders over to say hello to Mrs. Peabody; yeah, well he’s glad Jennie had a good time today, she’s a great little pirate! Dominic winks at a ketchup-covered Jennie who beams at him from behind yellow frames and purple stars. While Dominic exchanges further pleasantries with Marjorie Peabody, he catches sight of Witchy Wanda, who is pulling her purse out of her bicycle basket. Marjorie follows his gaze. She pauses. Poor Mrs. Kastner, she’s never been the same since . . . the accident . . . Marjorie trails off dramatically, and shivers when she anticipates what she must communicate to this much-younger, firmly-constructed man with the gentle hands and long dark eyelashes that any woman would die for. In a harsh whisper, she leans toward him. Does Dominic know? About . . . the accident?
Dominic does not.
A relieved Marjorie Peabody savours the private, juicy pain that she will now share. Ah . . . well, Aurelie Kastner lost both her husband and her son in a boating accident four years ago. Marjorie’s voice now catches genuinely in her throat. How she loved . . . him.
He hadn’t the foggiest, Dominic says smoothly, while his thoughts snag on the hazy horrible recall of another time, another accident, and another family. The phone call that changed everything—“Yes, you can talk to my daddy. He’s right here.” The sound of loss as it entered his family’s home: the slow-motion whoosh of his father sliding down the wall; the agony of an open mouth that made no sound; the loud clunk of the receiver as it hit the wall. And later, the background murmurs that Dominic heard as he stared at the Donald Duck nightlight in his bedroom until his Aunt Judith finally came for him. Such emptiness. Dominic wonders what grief sounded like in Aurelie Kastner’s home.
Marjorie nods. Together, they watch Aurelie-Witchy order something chocolately from the cookie display, and then sit next to Bianca Taylor on a park bench where the young girl involves the woman in a chatty demonstration of how her Blue Aardvark PEZ works.
But adults are already congregating for noon swim, signalling an end to Fun-Day. The pool staff has only a few moments to themselves after they shut down the barbecue, toss everything in the office, and sort out lunch hours, knapsacks, and uniforms. Dominic grabs his knapsack and joins the others leaving for the rest of the day, but an untied shoelace catches in the closing door, and he stoops to disentangle it. Kneeling next to a poster that has peeled off the wall, Dominic reads its faded message:
When: July 16th, 1989
Where: Eastfield Park Pool
Who: All neighbourhood children invited!
* Games! * Magical Fun! * Barbecue and bake sale! *
Prizes for everyone!!!
It is there, between the fading glee of home-bound kids, the shuffling sounds of office clean-up, and the haunted presence of Witchy Wanda, that Dominic hears Veronica’s voice, confused and terrible, asking aloud to no one in particular: “Who’s Stephen Kastner, and why do we have his hockey trophies?”
About the Author
Robin Sutherland is currently studying feature writing at the Toronto Film School.
“Buried Treasure” is one of several stories based on her lifeguarding experiences in the Toronto suburbs during the 1980s. Robin writes fiction and memoir, and has previously published in Room of One’s Own, lichen, and Zygote.
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