I came first in a flash fiction round with this, so thought it was worth popping up.
The swimming pool was one of those organic, natural ones; straight weeds and flat lily pads lined the shallow sides acting as a natural filter for any human made grime. Her uncle must have forgotten to install something that kept the water circulating though; a green bedsheet of pond scum had spread across the surface. Sarah stood at the edge, hip deep in grassy weeds, and looked out at the sickly scum that floated on top of the stagnant water. With no thought, she took off her shoes and stepped out of her white cotton skirt.
Lowering herself in, she felt the green slime cling to her pale arms and legs. She floated on her back for a moment, enjoying the sensation of cool water on her hot skin before diving underneath. She opened her eyes to try and take in the dark of the watery below. How deep was the pool? She couldn’t see through the water and weeds all the way to the unseen bottom. All she could see were mysterious plants swaying in the liquid hues of grey to inky-black. Weeds reached up from unknown depths and stroked her limbs with their silky tendrils as she swam on. She was a strong swimmer, the best in her class at school, but her lungs soon felt as though they were going to burst. Kicking hard, she pushed herself up through the jelly of the floating scum, to find her mother stood barefoot at the edge with crossed arms and irritated hairs floating in her face.
“You look like a savage.”
Sarah leaned against the side, looked up at her mother and shrugged, saying nothing. She could feel her red tee-shirt and pale pink knickers sticking to her gooseflesh skin.
“Get out of there, Sarah. Dinner is almost ready. Your uncle has cooked us pasta.”
“I didn’t think he’d mind,” she said, heaving herself out and into the weeds, shivering like a blancmange under the French summer sky.
“He probably does mind since it’s clearly not clean and hasn’t been used for a while. And even if he had said that you could, that wouldn’t mean that you should. Look at the state of it, it’s disgusting. You could get a rash from swimming in there.”
“It’s just algae and plants, nothing bad,” she argued, scratching at her wet scalp.
Dinner was served with a little thud on the soft wooden table. A white ceramic plate filled with a tiny hill of pale and wobbling, over-cooked pasta was handed to her. It looked wet and slimy to Sarah, and the sharp green pesto that was drizzled over the top of it all made her feel queasy; it reminded her of snot.
Her uncles new wife sat across from her, smiling at them all. She had hair so blonde it was almost white and skin that seemed almost transparent to Sarah. When she shut her ten year old eyes, she could imagine a gust of wind taking her and breaking her against a house.
The wife had been hastily introduced to Sarah, in a quick and distracted manner when she had arrived. Sarah had nodded and given her light-as-air kisses on her cheeks and had forgotten her name almost instantly.
“I hear you’ve been swimming,” her uncle said, as he grabbed a husk of crunchy and flaking bread.
“Yeah,” she said, and kicked her feet under the wicker seated chair. It was too high; her grubby feet only barely grazed the stone-tiled floor. She was short for her age; all the other girls had sprang up like slender lilies, while Sarah had stayed short and square. Her mother said she would sprout later on, that she’d only gotten her growth spurt when she was fourteen, but it still didn’t stop Sarah from fantasising about finding a way to stretch herself out to painfully graceful proportions.
“I need to clean that pool,” her uncle continued while he put chunks of hard butter inside the velvet soft innards of the bread, “You shouldn’t have let her go in there.” Sarah thought he was reprimanding her mother, but when she looked up from her plate she saw that he was admonishing his wife.
“She didn’t tell me that I wasn’t allowed – I didn’t tell her I was going in there,” said Sarah, upset that someone might get into trouble because of her.
He ignored her and kept scowling at his young wife. “I‘ve told you, nobody should go near the pond-pool. It’s too deep and it’s too dangerous at the moment.”
“I’m sorry,” said his wife. She spoke louder than Sarah thought that she that would. She sounded sharp and severe; like an axe hitting stone.
The way her uncle looked at his wife made Sarah feel nervous. They had come out to meet this new one. Her uncle had gone through a few wives already. This would be his seventh.
He seemed to meet them and marry them all within a year. Sarah’s mother had once commented to her father, when she didn’t think that Sarah was listening, that it was all so silly and he was foolishly romantic; he married them, and then after a year or two they’d hear that they were gone. They left him heartbroken, these wives, and that was that. He never invited anyone to his now numerous weddings anymore, and Sarah’s mother didn’t want to go.They only visited afterwards. This new one looked like all the others, like air, so Sarah knew already not to get too attached to her.
The next morning, as dawn fizzed through the low clouds, Sarah snuck out for another illicit swim. The pond scum looked as though she had never broken through it. It had kept its beautiful rich green. She wanted to feel it on her skin. Dragonflies buzzed around her head while she took off her clothes.
She dove through the green, and swam underwater, the same as the day before. She thought that perhaps she had gotten quite close to the bottom of the pool. Another dive and maybe she’d make it. On her way up through the water she felt something brush her chubby knee. She caught a glimpse of something white and long as she surged towards the surface. Just a weed, she thought.
She got out and took a running jump back into the water. Bubbles raced against her as she rushed down into deep water. Once they settled, she felt something rest against her thigh for a second. She looked down to see a graceful white arm standing out starkly against the gloomy water. It looked as though it was waving quite cheerfully at her.
She stared at the independent limb, her body hanging and floating in the depth of the pond-pool. Her eyes slowly became adjusted to the dark, and then she could see that there were black sacks with bricks sat on top of them lining the very bottom of the pool. Her stomach swooped as she realised the pond-pool was deeper than she ever thought it could be. It was as deep as a cathedral.
The arm hung and waved by itself, attached to nothing and tangled up in green weeds. Sarah saw then, that one of the bags at the bottom had a hole in it. She observed it all. She took it all in as though she was studying a painting in a museum. The dark murky water was now separate from everything that the sun touched and illuminated above.
She turned and swam back up, exhaling as she went, and breathed a heaving gasp when she broke through the thick pond scum. Dragonflies were still flitting by and the sun was still flowing through the clouds and onto the green water. Her uncle was by the pool-side watching her.
She took in his downturned mouth and hunched shoulders and thought he looked sad. She could see he had a cheerful yellow towel beside him, it looked impossibly fluffy and warm. She clambered out of the water and he handed her the towel, it didn’t feel as soft as it looked. She rubbed it’s rough material all over her painful skin. It felt like sandpaper; it tore at her flesh.
She was starting to feel dry and warm again when he sighed, “It’s very hard, he confided, “To find the one thats meant for you. To find the one that is perfect.”
Sarah nodded with her arms and towel pulled tight against her flat chest. He looked away towards his perfect house and back again to her.
“But I keep trying,” he said, almost as an aside. He looked at her properly then; not past and through her, as though she was an old, long-remembered ghost. “You shouldn’t be swimming in there,” he said.
“I know, I’m sorry,” she said. She remembered her feet kicking out under her, keeping her bobbing like a cork in the water. She shuddered thinking about what she was floating over. What was lying fast asleep below her.
“Good. Come on up to the house. I’ll make you some hot chocolate to warm you up.” As they walked away from the pool, he carried her crumpled clothes for her.
She took a deep shuddering breath, “I think one of your bags has a hole in it.”
“Oh? I’ll have to sort that out later on.Thank you for letting me know,” he said. “You’re a good girl.”