James Bates – Fiction


My counselor Joycelyn says I need to work on my communication skills, so I’ll be upfront right off the bat. My name is Paul and I was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. How’s that?

            I’m twenty-four years old and live in a group home in Redrock, Arizona, a big city on the Colorado River. I’ve got a GED certificate from Redrock high school, and I have a job and that’s what I want to tell you about.

            Mr. Ramirez runs Ramirez and Sons Pool Cleaning. He’s been in business for seventeen years, and he hired me six months ago. It was the first job I ever had an interview for. Boy, I’ll tell you, I was nervous. I was sweating so bad you’d have thought I’d just stepped out of one of those pools I was hoping to be hired to clean. Ha ha.

Anyway, Mr. Ramirez liked me and hired me right away. “We’ll get you helping the crew,” he said, “and take it from there.” I was so excited I thought about mentioning my sweaty pool joke but decided against it which was probably a good thing.

I took ‘We’ll take it from there’ to mean it was what they call a trial period which was fine with me. I started the next day.

I liked the work. Me and the crew got along great. There was Johnny, who was Mr. Ramirez’s son. There was Nicko, a black kid who had a great sense of humor. There was Jody, a native American from the Kootenai tribe up in Montana, and Newt, a white guy like me who was the oldest on the crew, maybe sixty or so. Even older that Mr. Ramirez. Anyway, we all got along great. They called me Pauli. I like it.

            The best news, though, was what happened last month. It was mid-July and the day was like most days, sunny and hot and not a cloud in the sky. The temperature around one-hundred and fifteen degrees so we took a lot of breaks and sat in the shade. We drank a lot of water, too, but Mr. Ramierz wouldn’t let us swim in the pools we were cleaning.

“I catch any of you in the water, you’re done for,” he’d tell us every morning and morning break and noon and noon break. I got the message. So did the rest of the crew.

Anyway, on the day I wanted to tell you about, after work Mr. Ramierz was driving me back to the group home. I forgot to mention that he always picked me up and dropped me off because I don’t drive due my mental problems.

We parked in front of the home and he asked, “Paul, let me ask you a question. Do you like cleaning pools?”

One of my life lessons I learned at counseling was to always tell the truth so I said, “Yes, sir. I love it.”

            He smiled. “Well, I love having you work for me Paul.” He doesn’t call me Pauli like the guys on the crew do. Which I like because he’s my boss. It makes me feel important.

            I didn’t know what to say so I was just quiet and started whistling, She’ll be coming around the mountain, a favorite song of mine.

            “So, Paul, I have a question for you.” I stopped whistling and turned my full attention to him.

            “What? Did I do something wrong?”

            He smiled. “No. You’re a good worker and that’s why I want to do something special for you. I want to promote you.”

            I’d heard of that before. It was a good thing. “Like to do what?”

            “We’re getting so much work I don’t have time to do the water testing anymore. I need someone to take over my job and learn how to do it. How’d you like that?”

            “Learn how test for chlorine?” I knew chlorine was important because it kept the water clean of harmful things. It was a lot of responsibility. “Learn it like in going to school?”

            “Yes. They have a class on swimming Pool Maintenance coming up at the junior college in town. They’ll teach you everything there is to know.”

            I thought about it. I knew from growing up that I was not the brightest bulb in the pack. “Will it be hard?” I asked.

            Mr. Ramirez grinned and said, “You’ll do just fine.”

            If he believed in me, that was good enough. “Okay,” I smiled. “I’ll do it.”

            “Great,” Mr. Ramirez grinned. Then he shook my hand.

            I took the class. It was for one hour a week in the evening after work for three weeks. Mr. Ramirez drove me and picked me up. After the last class I ran out to his truck.

            “Look at this.”

            “What do you have there, Paul?”

            I showed him a piece of paper. “It’s a certificate,” I told him and pointed. “Look, it says I passed the class and I’m a Certified Pool Maintenance Technician.” I grinned, “How about that?”
            Mr. Ramirez smiled and shook my hand like before, “Congratulations.”

            We both looked at my certificate for a minute and then he said, “You know what? This needs a frame.”

            “Yeah, really.”

            So, we went to the store, got a frame and when we got back to the group home I went inside and put it on the wall in my bedroom. It looked really good.

            The next day Mr. Ramirez told the crew about my certificate. They all congratulated me. Then Mr. Ramirez said to the crew, “You know what this means?”

            “They answered together, “A new family member!”

            And that’s how I became part of the Ramirez and Sons family.

            I’ve never been happier. I have a family at home where I live and sleep, and my family with the crew where I work. Not many people can say that. And I’ll tell you one more thing, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in over two-hundred online and print publications. His short story “Aliens” has been nominated by The Zodiac Press for the 2021 Pushcart Prize. His collection of short stories Resilience is scheduled to be published in early 2021 by Bridge House Publishing and Short Stuff a collection of his flash fiction and drabbles will be published by Chapeltown books in 2021. In addition, Something Better, a dystopian adventure, will be published by Paper Djinn Press in early 2021. All of his stories can be found on his blog:

By Heavenly Flower Publishing

Bindweed Magazine publishes two anthologies each year: Midsummer Madness and Winter Wonderland. Bindweed is run as a not for profit, labour of love endeavour by an author/poet couple: Leilanie Stewart and Joseph Robert. Bindweed can be found at

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