The most exciting thing to happen, really, on a pool job so far has been finding a drowned llama in the Purcell's one morning. I had to knock on the screen-door and say "Pool man" while Mrs. Purcell was fixing frozen waffles for her children. She came out with a very "what-is-it-now? what-do-you-want?" attitude even though this is a small town and I've known her since she went to high school with my oldest sister, Lorraine, and there's really only one supermarket in town so we do see each other from time to time anyway outside business.
"Could I talk to you outside for a second, Christy?" I asked her.
She just stood there at the screen door and had to do one of those wiping-her-hand-on-her-apron gestures but in like a real exasperated kind of way, like dragging her away from the toaster and her kids banging their sippy cups on the Formica was a total pain in the ass for her and I was a pointless jerk for doing it. She opened the screen door and stuck her head out the littlest little bit.
"What is it?" She sounded peeved. That is the perfect word for the way she sounded--peeved.
"Umm...that llama ya'll keep in the pen to the barn?" I started out asking her.
"Yes?" It was like she was deliberately trying to act like some teacher in grade school, the way she said "yes" and her voice rising up at the end.
"Well, he must of gotten loose last night or something," I told her.
She looked back over her shoulder for a second back into the kitchen like she had to keep an eye on those Eggo Brand toaster-waffles or something. You could tell that one of those kids was going to probably start crying pretty soon; you could hear it in all of their already-bored-in-the-morning voices all whining and irritated. And of course, the little color TV on the counter was also on about full blast with cartoon xylophone music and explosions.
Christi squinted down at me from the step-up when she turned around.
"Okay...?" She had an edge of the same whine as her kids building in her voice and she was waiting for me to fill in the blank, getting ready to say something like, “That’s not fair” or “Why do I have to do everything?”
"Well," I wanted to wait for just a few more seconds. "Well. I don't know how to say this...but...."
I could see her getting frustrated and she twisted around to look back at the toaster, two of the kids that were on the verge of a slap-fight, and quick back to me standing there already stinking of chlorine and hydrochloric acid with my ratty PE shorts over my bathing suit and my Chuck Taylors gray and falling to pieces from wading around in toxic chemicals with twelve feet of aluminum tubing and a leaf scooper in my hands.
I heard the toaster pop, that metallic springy noise they make, and I heard a kid sort of shriek and I heard a glass get knocked over.
"That llama's all drowned in the pool now," I told her and stepped back into the yard.
"What?" she said, her arm raised in mid-smack, one of her daughters frozen into a protective ball beneath her frozen hand. "What did you say? Hey, you...what? Get back here!"
But, I had already spun around and started walking back to my truck and dragging and banging my pole through the gravel on the ground behind me. I could hear at least two, maybe more, of those kids starting to cry back in there.
A llama may not look like all that much alive, kind of small and skinny, but they soak up pretty good and Starbright, as I learned that particular llama had been named, must have come in at six or seven hundred pounds of wet wool and bloated creature.
Cindy called Animal Control and that one-legged guy came out with his truck full of cats. First he snaked a loop around Starbright's hindquarters and we winched her out of the shallow end onto one of those blue plastic tarps we’d spread out on the lawn. Then the Animal Control guy turned his truck around and we winched old Starbright right up onto that little metal shelf on the back end of his city/county pick-up. All those cats made a hell of noise, too, their yowling kind of harmonizing with the whining grind of the winch. Then he drove her away and I dumped about forty pounds of chlorine into the water. You couldn't even see the bottom at the three-foot end, that's how much chlorine I dumped in.