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A Very Short Story
In our village there was a wood, and in the wood there was a pond, and in the pond there was a woman. Nobody knew how she had ended up there, but everybody had a story. Some said she killed herself; some said it was her daughter killing her; some said she had always been there, in the pond, since before the town was built. That the woman was there we had not doubt, not at twelve, when we dared each other to swim in the pond on a night of new moon, with the sky at its darkest.
So I found myself on the edge of the water, naked and alone, in June. My friends were waiting for me elsewhere in the wood, not too distant (it was a small wood), but not close enough that I could hear them. Everybody could dive in and swim with people watching over them. We had to do it alone to show our mettle, and then go meet the others dripping wet, so that they would know we were not lying. This was the way things had been done for centuries, apparently, a tradition passed down from elder sibling to junior, to classmate, to crush. The children are still at it. I seen them, on summer nights.
The water was pure black, darker than the sky, without even starlight to grace it. I had this feeling, that I was going to dive into a black hole, a portal to another world. I was certain I was going to die, or, at any rate, go somewhere I couldn’t come back from. I wanted to renounce. But Susie was waiting with the others.
I put my toe in the slimy water, then my foot. I wouldn’t be able to wade in slowly. I had to jump. So that’s what I did, I jumped.
And when I went underwater, in the perfect silence, I opened my eyes, and saw her. She looked just like my mother, who had left us after I was born, Dad said, without ever looking back. She had fish teeth and black eye, but her lips were just like mine. I came up for air, went down again. She was not there anymore, and I wondered, now, how could I have seen her, in the complete darkness of a pond under a new moon.
Sixty-one years have gone by since that night. I don’t know what’s been of Susie (it is a wonder I remember her name), and many of the others. They moved out of our village, had families, careers. I never left. I went back to the pond on most nights of the year, and I swam, when it was not too cold and there weren’t kids around. I wonder what I will do when I see her again.