(c) 2015 Linda S. Bingham
Seth Pomeroy was an only child. His folks, Jack and Wanda Pomeroy, were reputedly the richest people in Trinity, though some claimed that title for cattleman James Long. The Pomeroy money did not derive from cattle or land, not in the usual sense anyway, but came from something under the land, a vast seam of sand and gravel that could just as easily have been discovered under their neighbor’s property, a random stroke of nature and geology. Since others were happy to mine this resource, the task fell to Jack Pomeroy to sit in a little booth at the gate and collect tolls from trucks that could not roll through fast enough to deplete the seam in his lifetime, nor in his son’s, nor the son after him, should they be so blessed to see Seth marry and produce offspring, which seemed unlikely, given Seth’s antisocial nature.
It is a difficult task under normal circumstances to inculcate ambition in a child, but especially so when that child knows full well he will never have to earn his bread. Seth Pomeroy’s reaction to fully comprehending his situation was to quit school, and his father, not being an eloquent man, could not get his tongue around the perfect phrase to convey that it takes an education to think up ways to spend money. His own way of dealing with his fortune was to let his wife spend it, and sometimes he grew a little weary of the way in which she did that.
Wanda Pomeroy also lacked an education and was shy besides. She didn’t go in for parties and such. It made her absolutely tongue-tied to talk on the telephone. Principally, she spent their money improving their home, and the house bore witness to the differing styles to which she had succumbed over the years. There was the Mediterranean room, the Tudor wing, a French Country Manor addition, and lately, the “country” look. Some of her projects took months or years to fully execute, and since she regarded them as works in progress, she did not encourage her family to use the new rooms, which was just as well, since the family seemed more comfortable in the shabby old original rooms. When Seth was small, a backyard swimming pool had been the first of Wanda’s home improvement projects. Their son was a regular little water baby back then, though these days you could hardly imagine Seth immersing his entire body in water. At least some good had come of the pool. It was now a basement apartment where their son lived.
Odd, but ever since filling in that pool, they had experienced problems with the plumbing. At this very moment Wanda Pomeroy stood crouched over the master bathroom toilet holding a flashlight for her husband, who lay coiled under the tank. He sat up suddenly.
“Hold the light still, dammit! That’s not a pipe wrench! It’s a crescent wrench. Can’t you tell the difference?” Plumbing problems put him in a temper.
“I thought it was the one with the little thumbscrew,” she said. “Jack, this is giving me such a headache. Can’t you handle this by yourself, dear, and let me go lie down for a while?”
“All you need is some exercise!” He bit his cigar so savagely that it broke in two and dropped into the commode.
It all seemed related somehow, the great seam of sand on which the house and its many additions sat, the water that kept seeping up from below and threatening to inundate them, the plumbing problems. Wanda Pomeroy had a recurring dream in which they all disappeared one night, sucked down into the quagmire along with the house and all its contents.
“Why don’t you call the plumber, Jack. You know that plumbing isn’t your forte.” His response was to yank what was left of the cigar from his mouth and glare at her. She pretended not to notice. “Have you seen Seth this morning?”
“This morning?!” he thundered. “I haven’t seen the little bastard in a month!”
“Maybe I’d better go see about him.” Wanda Pomeroy disliked going down into the basement. “I know he has girls down there,” she added.
“The first sign of hope!” declared her husband. “Gives me the creeps, tricked out in all that black.”
“It’s a fad among the young people, I believe.”
“Bunch of goddamn ghouls!”
Wanda slipped away to the blue room and took two capsules. In no time she felt the sharp edges of her anxiety blunt and dribble away, like a pat of butter in a warm skillet. The bed turned into that inflatable mattress Seth used to have, and she floated on a tranquil pool of blue. Oh, how Seth had loved that pool! But his fair skin blistered so bad she had urged Jack to put an awning over the pool.
The trouble was, Jack was always taking her ideas and expanding on them till she hardly recognized them for her own. He said he wouldn’t have some tacky canvas tent mucking up his new pool, so he hired a Florida outfit to erect an enormous I-beamed enclosure that more than doubled the size of their home. Wanda thought it would be nice to have an extra bathroom for guests to change out of their wet suits, and Jack translated that into six. It seemed incredible now they had ever gotten by with just one.
Decorating each bathroom to her satisfaction, Wanda discovered a talent for duplicating the pictures she found in magazines. When the project was over, she felt quite let-down until it dawned on her there was really no reason to stop with bathrooms. She could have Jack build a guest bedroom or two. What else did they do with their money? She began studying the magazines in her doctor’s office more closely.
Jack Pomeroy embraced his part of each project with vigor, tearing down exterior walls and replacing them with glass so that wherever you were in the house, you had a view of glowing aqua water. As their home changed around them, their son Seth seemed to shrink from the advancing light and retreat into the shadows.
Wanda had not particularly noticed the chlorine fumes when the pool was outdoors, but once the pool became part of the house, she had headaches all the time. The old doctor in town, Dr. Higginbotham, never quibbled about prescribing for her headaches, but this new young doctor wanted to run tests and send her off to see a psychiatrist. She had to send all the way to Houston for her medicine. Finally, Jack got fed up taking care of a pool nobody used and threatened to fill it in. He meant it as a joke at first, but eventually it seemed the only sensible thing to do. They had plenty of sand. Jack laid Astro turf over the sand and voila! They had a lawn. Wanda bought a croquet set and Jack put in miniature golf. These amusements paled within a month and the croquet balls lay abandoned on the field of plastic.
One day Wanda ran across a picture of a room just like theirs, only filled with plants, a gushing waterfall, and free-flying birds. A new project was born! Jack’s contribution was a large-screen TV to watch the Dallas Cowboys. Wanda worried about the plants called for in her “recipe.” She wasn’t much of a gardener. Even simple ivies turned yellow and withered under her anxious hand. A horticulturist declined the job when he learned they planned to air-condition the room. Plants, he pointed out, had very different requirements than human beings. Wanda didn’t want to spend her life watering plants anyway. Plastic flowers were prettier. You could even buy plastic banana trees, she found. Jack surprised her with a pair of green parrots to put the finishing touches on their little Eden. But Wanda never took to the creatures. What if they flew into her hair? And what was to keep these expensive winged creatures from escaping when they opened the door? Jack solved the problem by shackling the parrots to their roost amid the fronds of artificial banana tree. For months he tried to teach the birds to cheer when the Cowboys made a touchdown, but it was a season that offered the birds few opportunities for practice. Wanda never felt easy with their gloomy presence hovering overhead.
“Look at their nasty toes,” she said once. “See how they grip the branches? They’re waiting for us to die.”
“You’ve got them confused with buzzards!” her husband remonstrated.
One morning, Wanda went in to dust the atrium/den and noticed only one bird sitting on the perch. Following the silver chain down through the plastic spathiphyllum, she discovered a little corpse dangling there. Another time she entered the den in her bare feet and felt a soggy place in the carpet. Seth had probably spilled something in his nocturnal wanderings. She sopped up the water, but next day the same thing happened. In fact, the damp had spread. As she tramped about looking for wet places, the Astro turf seemed to shift subtly under Wanda’s feet. She rushed outside to find her husband so he could experience the shifting plastic carpet for himself.
Nothing to worry about, Jack said. Water had gotten into the substrate, that was all. There had been a heavy rainfall recently. He would have to install a sump pump to keep it dry down there. Wanda Pomeroy thrilled with the horror of seeing her nightmare, in the most literal sense, coming true. Nonsense! her husband rebutted.
But their stomping about seemed to awaken some malign presence under their feet. It seemed to Wanda that the furnishings moved slightly in the direction of the former drain. You’re dreaming, Jack said. Go cut up some magazines or something. And suddenly, without warning, the big-screen toppled into the plastic banana grove, setting off the lone parrot, who, for the only time in his life, shrieked, “GO COWBOYS!!” The Pomeroys clambered to safety up the sudden incline in their den.
Once their little Eden was dismantled and the sand removed, Jack installed a sump pump and had a solid floor laid across the abandoned pool. Eventually Wanda coveted the space underneath for a basement rumpus room. When the room was ready, she took her family on a tour of their newest addition and after a month, nobody went there again. The new billiard table was not used. Nobody went near the dartboard. The brightly painted checkers game sat untouched.
Then Seth entered his dark period and moved into the basement. He put up a sign lettered in Gothic script: Keep Out or Die.