(photo by Celeste)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
“A History of Drowning”
by Sarah Diemer
I’m six, the first time. I swallow the blue water in mouthfuls, feel the heaviness in my gut, filling me. Everything is weighty, solid, and I’m floating in the water, surrounded by it, suspended. My eyes are closed. My lungs are full of an alien thing, but I don’t feel it, anymore. Just relax. It’ll all be over, soon.
There’s screaming, distantly, and a great splash. Mom says that when the lifeguard drags me out of the pool, pounding against my belly and squeezing my nose with his big hands, she sees an angel hovering over us both, silver and glowing and perfect.
I don’t die that day.
I wish I had.
I’m sixteen, the second time. At the school’s pool, the sharp stench of chlorine clings to my skin as I slice through the water, parting molecules.
Annie’s at the side of the pool, her long, white legs dangling in the water, drawing her hair up into a ponytail. Her fingers move through the brown waves of it with precision, eyes downcast, rubber band between her teeth.
I love her so much, I can’t breathe, can’t think. All I am is that love, a beating pulse that runs through my muscles, electric, as I dive below the surface. Her feet are there, kicking back and forth, a froth of white bubbles obscuring her bubble-gum pink toenail polish, the bright scar that runs over her heel, the way her second left toe is a tiny bit crooked. I don’t need to see the details–I have her memorized, now, every line of her.
I erupt out of the water beside her, lean on the edge of the pool, looking up, sputtering the water out of my mouth as she grins down at me, face glowing, lips wet. I reach out to touch her leg, devouring the distance between us, but she looks up, eyes darting to the girls on the other side. Lana is watching us.
“Not here,” she whispers, and siddles a little away, but I move closer, mouth downturned.
“You told me it didn’t matter anymore,” I whisper, because she’s whispering. It echoes around us, anyway, the pool a shell of sound.
She rolls her eyes, draws the band across her hair, and she slices into the water beside me, moving away from my touch with quick and easy strokes.
She promised it wouldn’t be like this anymore. She’s promised many times.
I’m left in her wake, swallowing water.
At the ocean’s edge, my lips taste like salt, my skin coated in a thin sheen of spray as I stand in the water, feeling the roll of sand beneath the balls of my feet.
I feel a hundred.
Annie left me today.
I knew she would. It was a long trail of inevitabilities, but she’s gone now. She’s too afraid. Too afraid of what the others think, of the rumors, of the whispers behind hands, and when I left school a few hours ago, the backpack on my shoulder weighing more than the moon, she was grinning up at Pierce, safe Pierce, Pierce who happens to have the necessary hardware to make life safe. A boy.
Not like me.
The girl who loved her.
I’m drowning. The water is only up to my knees, but it’s so heavy, so calming as it rushes and roars and speaks: come in. Relax. It could all be over soon.
I’m a good swimmer, but the storm last night made the riptide harsh. I can feel it sucking, pulling beneath me. If I went out, if I kept walking, the waves are enormous, like the curling fingers of God.
It’s so easy to drown.
I breathe out, feeling the hot salt-water slide down my face to splash into the ocean below. It would be almost poetic if I didn’t feel so angry.
I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask to fall in love with her, didn’t ask for her laughter, her smile, the softness of her mouth and fingers. I loved her, and I never asked for it. I wish, in a thousand ways, that I’d never had it. Life would be so much easier if I’d never had it. I wouldn’t know what it was like to kiss a girl’s mouth, swallowing her laughter. I wouldn’t know what it was like to hold the curve at her hips, the perfect compliment to my fingers, like a puzzle piece, shaped true.
But because I know, I’m ruined. I can’t turn back. I can’t be something that I’m not. And the pain is a swallow too great for me. I loved her with a fierceness I didn’t fully understand. Not until now that I’ve lost her.
I take a step into the water. And another. I’m past my knees now, my jeans chafing my legs as the water licks my fingers, reaching up for me as I reach down to it. I take another step, and the sand shifts beneath my feet, dragging me closer to the gray water that crashes and sings. Another step, and I stumble, taking a mouthful of bitter cold.
Out of the water, someone takes my hand.
It takes a full heartbeat to feel the warmth of skin against mine. I turn, the roar of the ocean in my ears, pounding in my blood.
The girl stands in the water beside me, staring out to sea. Her eyes are dark, shadowed, but when she turns and glances at me, I see a flash of light, there, a spark.
“I was afraid,” she says, licking her lips. “I didn’t want the water to take you. She’s very angry today.”
“She,” I whisper.
The girl points out to the crashing waves, points down to the water that curls around our thighs, rushing and cold and what I wanted. The ocean. The sea.
We stumble back to shore. I still feel the water, even when I’m standing on the shifting beach, even when she lets go of my fingers, stepping back from me. She’s wearing a strange, white dress. It drips from the hemline, soaking the sands.
“It’s not time,” is what she tells me.
Later, I will say that I walked, numb and cold, to my car, and when I turned back, she was gone.
The truth is, she kissed my cheek and disappeared.
Her lips were like ice, searing.
I remember that.
I am almost eighteen when my car hits the patch of black ice. There is gravity, pressing me against the seat of the car, and then a great roar of nothingness as it propels me off the bridge, and into the water.
Somewhere, I’m scrabbling at my seatbelt, pressing the palms of my hands against the glass, sobbing as everything becomes a nothingness of black.
Until she comes, like I knew she would; strange, white dress floating in the darkness like spun silver.
It’s over, is what she tells me when she presses her lips to mine. I breathe her in, like light, like oxygen.
The water carries us both, quiet as the dark.
If you enjoyed “A History of Drowning,” you can now enjoy the entire month of “The Monstrous Sea” Project Unicorn stories on your eReader, and support the project at the same time!
Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
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