Monday, September 22, 2008
"Pool at night" 2006
When she hears the cars pull up out the front she's up on her feet before their doors slam. There is no phone here, in this little weatherboard house perched on the edge of nowhere, no parents, just four friends and Julia’s little sisters. The usual. “Babysitting”. An open house of sorts, you know, Julia’s parents are always out till late on Friday nights. Everyone knows that.
She knows, without even looking, who it is, and instinctively seeks a place to hide: the front door is open, there isn't a back gate and anyway, there are only the dark suburban streets and beyond that a landscape lit with the sparkling fairly lights of nowhereland, the edges of civilisation, the suburban fringe spilling into a tangle of industry and flatland.
The screen door shrieks at the doorstep as it is flung open. She hears their voices and moves to the back of the house, looking for somewhere to go: the laundry doesn’t lock, and Julia’s smallest sister has already begun to cry when they all saunter into the living room, all swagger and threat. Having a party, girls?
She knows he is among them, she is sick of his pursuit. They smell of beer and bravado, with a deep base note of something rather dark and barbaric.
She hears Julia ask them,
What do you want?
But then he asks where she is and catches sight of her there in the hallway. As he turns towards her she is propelled into flight, and her movement pulls him along, like a thread.
I am on my own. I don’t want witness to this.
She is tired : there seems to be no end to the argument, the pursuit, the harassment,
Because I don’t want to seems to hold no meaning. It is silent on her lips, she is mute, because, as they say,
She has asked for it.
For some reason she has crossed some unknown and unseen boundary, a kiss at the school dance seems to have contracted her to endless harassment, a ride on the handlebars of the bike took her to a deserted oval. She has fought him off thus far, but there is a nastier, darker element in his voice, and he has brought backup, and the little girls are there and they all look at her as she takes off out the back door Lisa starts to cry there are angry jeers and beer and cigarettes and nowhere to go. Six of them.
For reasons belonging to some code she doesn’t know, she has done something wrong. Until she allows him into her body he will never leave her alone, though even then, she suspects, he would continue forever after to pursue her whenever she stepped out of the light, he would be waiting. He needs to live up to his boast now, now that he has bragged to all his friends,
I've had her.
Except that he hasn't.
She slips out of her skirt in one movement. They all run out into the back yard, some remain on the steps for a better look, smirking, laughing, hooting. Clothes are liabilities in deep water.
He takes off everything except his shirt, laughing.
If this is where you want it, fine.
He comes in after her.
They are tangled and grappling. He manages to grasp her waist, he is so close she feels the brush of his penis against her leg, and curls herself away from it. The water forces him up for breath, and he has to let her go. She curls like a water beetle in a bubble.
It is like the sky itself is shifting, with the pale glow of streetlights and the light from the kitchen in the house shining through the water like that. There are faces in that square of light, watching.
She lies face up looking through two meters of water knowing in a moment he will dive again and come down for her, but she has slowed her breathing, her heart barely beats. The faces of the others are dim shapes around the edge of the pool, it is silent down here, and she can’t hear them.
He is a large dark shape fringed with light, and makes a watery explosion. She tenses, ready, coils up with her feet against the edge. He can’t hold on to her as she explodes in a tight thin arc, twisting and flying, across to the other side, upward where her head, for a fraction of a moment, breaks the meniscus of the water and the noise floods in, the cold air floods in, the light flashes, the air smells like dark dirt.
She fills her lungs and hears them jeering and screaming, hands reaching out. Down she goes again. His shirt sodden and he flounders, standing shoulder deep, trying to find her. Enraged and clumsy, panting, he cannot breathe under the water.
Tonight however , it seems that she can.
When his hands find her, she goes limp for a second then uncoils all of her strength, spinning and twisting, down on the bottom where she knows his lungs will summon him to the surface. For a second he has a handful of her hair, but she retreats. The back of her head knocks silently on the bottom of the pool. Still her lungs are quiet and her heart slow, her hands, barely moving, fan her to the absolute bottom of the pool, almost motionless.
Next breath she hears the muffled shriek of obscenities as he screams at her. The others are watching this sport, six of them, urging him on, and the prospect of him losing face in this is enraging him more than the fact that he just cannot get a grip on her. He tries to herd her into a corner. Again and again she escapes, hiding in the shadows. Just as he almost entangles her in his limbs she sinks lower and spins out of reach, over and over and over
Twist me and turn me and show me the elf
He is running out of air.
I looked in the water
He lets go for breath
And there saw
She can stay under all night, if she needs to.
He gives up, and climbs out. For a moment she thinks he is going to launch a fresh attack, but he remains a dripping silhouette on the edge.
She watches him, lit sharply from the bluish streetlight which fills the yard,
pulling on his clothes, his penis recalcitrant with unspent hardness, bounding repeatedly out of submission as he hops around, seething with anger, pulling clothes onto this wet body, tripping. His friends watch him sideways trying to tuck this monstrous organ into his pants without much luck. Furious. His voice is distorted with threat. They have all seen his failure, and her fight.
I’ll get you, he says, and next time I’ll fucking kill you, as well as all the rest.
Only the top of her head shows. She is up to her nose. Her heart resumes thumping. She takes a breath.
It seems completely silent when they leave the yard. Fragments of fuck you float over the paling fence and car doors slam. fuckingprickteasingslut tyres skid, motors growl and thunder slowly and throb up the street. She waits.
She decides to stay there, where the water is deep and blue and the streetlights rock to and fro like stars in a bowl. She doesn’t want to face the others, she doesn’t want to explain why she has run into the backyard and dived into the pool: her skirt lies on the steps, accusatory. You took it off yourself, they say later. We saw him dive in, we saw you through the window.
I saw his cock, says Jane, as he was diving in, he had his pants off, I saw you there I had to lock the door.What about Lisa?What about us?
But mostly there is nothing to say. He was only after me, she wanted to say. I only wanted to be safe, I didn’t want them there in the house, with Lisa, with everyone.
They are all too disgusted.
She couldn’t explain, she had no words to say:
The water made me safe.
Suddenly the weight of such words as might make things right was just too much, and too unknowable. She hasn’t words enough to shake off that night: it clings to her and weaves itself into whispers. She wears her reputation awkwardly, thinking beyond hope that she isn’t wearing one at all.
She learns to erase her tracks, and cover her steps. One day she makes her escape for good, and they never find her. Years later when she finds an intruder in her home: she seizes him by the hair and roars into this terrified face until he begs in fright for her to let him go and she does not she breaks his toe she throws him down the stairs.
Even the love of her life one day says to her
I thought you did…
And words escape her yet again, but this is one she loves and it matters. She proves it to him: she loves him badly, and it matters that he sees her shoulders bare of the stole of taint she may have worn in the eyes of others. That those claws reached out and soiled her, despite the fight.
He loved her anyway, as it happens.
The water saved her, then. The water saves her always, still she lies peaceful there where nothing can reach her, and thinking years later of all those things and the fragments of those people, all dessicated and gone, she escaped, and grew up to be a woman afraid of nothing. Almost forgetting about the night the water hid her, on the edges of civilisation. Before they got the hell out of there, all of them.
She stayed for quite some time that night, hours and hours, floating on the surface with her hair hanging down, watching the dark sky and the haze of streetlights. Floating endlessly in a bowl of stars.
After some time she closes her eyes, and the kitchen light goes off.