[ToC]

 

THE POND

Lucas Southworth

The pond was maybe big enough to be a lake, maybe small enough to be puddle or pool. It had a ring of trees around it that were said to have once been a circle of dancing maidens. The breeze stirred a patch of daisies between them. The water shivered. In a boat sat second set of us, a man and woman in their hats, flirting, leaning in for a kiss. A third walked by holding hands. And we could see ourselves from the bank of course, trembling across the surface of the pond, staring back. In the reflection she wore the same white hat and white dress with red sash, the same flowers she'd picked and fixed above each ear. I had on the same grey suit and tie. The ground was wet but not muddy, and the grass drank happily from the dew. Children weren't swimming yet, but the chill of morning would soon lift, and they would flock in, feet bare, towels dangling from their shoulders. It had been her idea to come, and I smoothed the blanket, placed the basket between us. She closed her eyes to the sun. I removed my shoes and socks and found my way down the slope to a sandy spot. Behind and above danced the maidens, old and calcified, limbs stretching as if in anguish. I could see them in the water and I could see her. The woman. This woman. If I made sure not to block the sun, I could study her in a way I could only when she didn't know I was looking. My eyes slid up her leg and along the edge of her dress, an inch of sheer fabric, almost see-through, extending along the fringe. Water lapped at my legs, but my pants stayed dry, rolled up to my knees. I kept looking, leering, pretending I was watching minnows flitting about. I laughed. I turned my chin to the sky. She had been planning to leave me, and I had been planning to leave her, both of us waiting for the right reasons to do so. Kissing, pecking, was as much as we'd done. But in that she'd felt what I was hiding. My dark paranoias, the way I could never quite surface from deep down in the muck. I disgusted her. I was a beast. Her reflection come up behind mine, lowered itself to its knees, trailed its fingers in the water. A pretty face is at its most beautiful in grief and anguish, I thought. A man floating on his back in the center of the pond spread his arms and spouted water in the air. The maidens naked and bare, frozen in the act of dancing. I had prayed to nobody in particular. I had sought out the spiritual in everyday documents and failed to find it. Come eat, she said, in a way that revealed everything. Maybe she'd poisoned my half of the food or maybe she'd poisoned all of it. A patch of lily pads bristled like hair. The smell of flowers. The shadow of a bird crossing the sky. I squinted in the sun. I waded toward her. I reached out to touch her arm. She turned into a tree.

 

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This story started with an image of dead, twisted trees surrounding a body of water too big to be a pond, too small to be a lake. It was inspired by a single line of dialogue in Godard's Breathless, a few stories in The Most of It by Mary Ruefle, and the Apollo and Daphne and Narcissist myths.