Nathan Daniel Phillips | Hong Rui Choo
Cotton sat in a pile, gravel and dirt clinging to strands of cloth. Fold over fold. A small white dress and long blue stockings rested on wool slacks, grey socks, and a buttoned-down shirt. Footprints dotted the path to the pond where a long wooden pier jutted into the water. She stood near the edge, her light underwear merging into her pale skin, the boy behind her. Birdsongs volleyed from one side of the pond to the other and insects churned loudly, their legs and wings clapping together forming deep, percussive rhythms. The pond sat like glass.
She saw a tint of light pass for a moment across the pond’s bed like jewels lining a chest. She turned to the boy, the large stone house behind him.
“Coming?” she said. He remained still. “They’ll be back soon.” His eyes moved across her and covered the breadth of the pond. “Well, I’m going.” Arching her legs, she jumped off the pier and into the pond. The boy rushed to the edge and saw the mass of white within the dark blue. The girl’s hair lay on the surface, strands isolated. As her body lowered into the water, her hair followed. He stood waiting. His arms shaking slightly, toes curled around the edge of the pier.
She emerged and the breath he had held for thirty seconds released itself from his lungs. Her arms moved in circles under the water and her legs kicked.
“Are you coming in?” Small waves emanated from where she entered and rippled toward the edge of the pond overtaking one another. “You can’t just stand there.” She began to float. The sun streamed down bright and she closed her eyes. Under the pier, water fought against the rocks and one of the birds that had been singing to its pair flew from the weeds, up into the air, and away. His eyes traced the white arms under the water, moving in circles and eights.
Her feet had yet to touch the floor of the pond.
The boy’s fingers tangled behind his back. She smiled at the boy and began to sink. He screamed as his eyes followed her beneath the surface. Once under, she opened her eyes. The pond was deep green. Her arms stopped circling. She descended deeper and her toe scrapped along a surface of sharp, ruffled scales. Like grazing a thousand brass shields. She paused a moment, unsure of what she felt. Slowly, her foot lowered until, again, she felt the bristled bottom. Her foot skated across the ten inch-long body, drawing 8’s along the hardened muscle, but could not find an end to the resting scales. The expanse of dull blades endless as a dragon’s hide. Soft, pale feet journeyed across the monolith, detectives for what her eyes could not see. As she continued, she felt a drop from one body to another. She forced her toes into the motionless hill. Her foot continued in until she felt the scrape of scales halfway up her calf. With dwindling breath, she planted both feet and pushed toward the surface.
Breaking the liquid ceiling, her body spun in search of the pier. She saw him preparing to jump; his eyes large and fists balled. His legs began to bend like a tree in wind.
“No,” she shouted, her voice muffled by the water. “Don’t jump in. Don’t. No. No!” Sheets of water skirted her face and she heard the splash a few feet away. She stopped and waited for his resurgence. When he broke the surface, his face crumpled and tears fell from his eyes. She swam over. His arms reached out and locked around her neck. Her words failed to calm him. His grip around her as they approached the edge of the pond where they would have to stand and walk to the shore.
“I don’t want to walk I don’t want to walk. Not on top of them,” he said.
“Put your feet on mine. I’ll walk you over. It’s okay.” And like a father teaching his daughter to dance, the boy rested his feet on the girl’s, which fell onto the bed of scales and slowly lifted and fell again. Their faces were close and she traced a drop of water that traveled down a long strand of hair clumped together on his forehead as it crested the slope of his nose and traversed his lips and rested on his chin before dropping back into the pond. “Eyes on me,” she said when his head began to fall to the water. The whites encompassing the brown circles turned red from crying. Her green eyes remained motionless, fixed on his.
They hobbled, his feet perched on hers, onto the grass. Dirt pooled under them. After a moment, the girl rose, retrieved the boy’s clothes, and returned to where he lay looking into a grey sky.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. She dropped the clothes on his stomach and turned to the pond. Her legs quickened and she ran down the pier, the thump of her feet hard against the wood, and she jumped into the pond. The boy sat, eyes wide.