, September 2020

The pool had been closed for the party. Mr. and Mrs. Barker were old and there would be too many small children running around. Surrounding the pool was a fence with spiked iron bars and a lock on the gate, and, just beyond it, several large oak trees providing shade on one side of the deck. It was in a quiet corner of the property and none of the other guests were around, making it the perfect spot for Angus’s mother to park his baby sister’s buggy stroller for her afternoon nap and keep an eye on it from the patio, where the adults were gathered.

The other children were down the hill on the big lawn playing freeze tag. Angus was behind one of the oaks and could see his parents talking and laughing. The stroller was the old-fashioned kind with the big bicycle wheels and the small brake lever on the rear axle. He picked up a long stick and maneuvered it through the bars to the lever, fiddling with it until the brake released. It rolled a few inches towards the deep end of the pool, then stopped. He pushed it a little further with the stick, until it was out of reach.

Just inside the fence there was a skimmer with a long pole. Arms reaching through the bars, he picked it up and maneuvered the skimmer end against the stroller’s rear carriage wall and gave it a shove. With just enough momentum, the stroller rolled into the pool, making a gentle splash that no one but he could hear over the cocktail band, and floated towards the middle, the carriage taking on water. He watched for a moment, then positioned the skimmer exactly as it had been and tossed the stick back under the tree.

He went down the hill and joined the game of freeze tag. He’d been playing about ten minutes when one of the adults up on the patio started yelling something about the pool. The game stopped and the kids looked up there, but the hill was too steep to see anything. Angus heard his mother scream, “Noooooo!” A few minutes later there was a siren, then everything got quiet, until the band started playing again and the game resumed.

The party was over at dusk. One-by-one the freeze tag kids were retrieved by their parents, until Angus was the only one left.

Mrs. Barker was on the patio directing the help with the cleanup when she was startled by the boy standing there.

“Do I know you, young man?” she asked.

“No,” Angus answered.

Mr. Barker joined her.

“Eunice, who the hell is this kid?”

“What is your name, little boy?” Mrs. Barker asked.

“Angus. And I’m not a little boy.”

“Angus, who do you belong to?”


They tried to get him to tell them who his parents were, but he refused to say another word.

“I’ll start calling the guest list,” Mrs. Barker said.

“I’m going down to the bar,” Mr. Barker said.

“Bertrand, take the child with you.”

The bar was in the basement and looked like a smaller, cleaner version of where his father spent weekends. Mr. Barker told him to sit on one of the leather-backed stools, then went behind the bar and poured him a glass of ginger ale from the soda gun and dropped in a maraschino cherry. Angus ignored it, staring at the Budweiser display in front of him on the bar, a clear acrylic case with a team of plastic Clydesdale horses pulling a wagon full of Budweiser cases and two uniformed Anheuser Busch men seated at the reigns.

“Hey, kid, watch this,” Mr. Barker said, then switched on the display. The case lit up and the horses’ legs started walking in place while the Anheuser Busch men lifted and lowered the reigns. The thing was clunky and made an annoying sound like his windup car at home, but he liked the way it glowed on the dim bar, and how it was its own, enclosed world.

He drank the ginger ale and watched the Clydesdales walk in place. Mr. Barker made his own drink and left him alone, except when he needed a refill and a fresh cherry, the stems accumulating on the napkin next to his glass.

An hour had gone by when Mr. Barker said, “Hey, champ, looks like your pop is here.”

Angus looked over his shoulder and saw his father approaching, then turned back to the Clydesdales. ▪