by Stephen Paden
The crystal-blue water from the pool outside called to her. She smiled.
Mother was on the phone.
She looked harder at the water; the soothing liquid that swayed back and forth in the warm summer breeze. She continued to smile.
Mother hung up the phone and resumed the preparations for dinner. The house began to smell like freshly cut onions and chopped celery. Mother grabbed the piles and piles of fragrance and dropped them tenderly into the pot on the stove. She wasn’t familiar with the song mother was singing, but she liked it. She turned her attention back to the pool.
She spotted some leaves from the trees above that had broken from it and started falling towards her soothing paradise. She threw her hands against the glass and pressed her nose tightly against it, watching intently as two maple leaves slowly came to rest on top of the water. The small waves tossed them gently back and forth.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she heard her mothers voice trail off into the other room. ‘Potty,’ maybe?
The leaves began to circle themselves, caught between ripples caused by an indecisive breeze.
It fascinated her.
But her longing to to be near the pool, to dip her hands in it, began to grow. Her heart began to beat faster at the thought of putting her hands in the cool water. Her mind raced with the images of her mother and father taking turns splashing her around in it last summer when they went on vacation to see her father’s mother. The coolness of the water was first shocking, then relaxing. She remembered mother holding her tight as she began to cry; her tears falling from her cheeks to join the crystal sea below her. Of all the images the water conjured in her four-year-old mind, her mother smiling at her, telling her without words that she was perfectly safe, took hold and gave her courage.
Her mother had a beautiful voice. The sweet song she sang resonated through the hallway and softly into her little ears as she looked at the latch on the sliding glass door. It was in a position she recognized when her mother would open it. Her short, elegant fingers caressed the handle for a moment, and then she pulled the door open a few inches with all of her strength. She nearly stumbled to the ground when her fingers slipped from the handle, but the friction of her clammy hand against the window held her up. Her courage and fear worked together to pull the door open just enough to fit her small frame. She was free.
The wind blew her red locks over her face, but her gaze never left the pool. She walked slowly to the edge.
The leaves had stopped circling themselves and now rested a few feet from the ledge of the deep end of the pool. She examined the water under her closely and could not see her reflection too well. The afternoon sun was too bright above her.
She walked over to the edge at the deep end and looked at the leaves. She could get them, she thought. Give them to mother. She would be proud. Mommy’s big girl, she would say.
She squatted down and inspected the leaves closely. She smiled.
Without hesitation, she reached out for the leaves, almost falling into the pool. Her heart raced even faster. Crouched, she edged one foot closer to the pool. Then another. At last, she was at the edge and closer to the leaves. She reached again and felt the sweet sensation of the leafy texture against her tiny fingers.
She retracted her hand and took a deep breath. She reached again, but this time, too fast. Her right knee fell first into the water, followed by the rest of her. The memories of splashing around in the pool with her mother and father were gone, and in their place was fear. She descended slowly to the bottom, staring up at the prismatic rays of sun that bent all around her. She held her breath like mother had taught her while she scanned the surface above for the two leaves. As her feet hit the bottom, her eyes had located the pair.
Her chest began to tighten, but she held her breath like mother had taught her. Her smile waned and the scattered light from above dimmed as the tightening in her chest turned into pain.
“Hold your breath, sweetie,” her mother once said.
Her body began to relax as the tightening in her chest began to fade. The light, however, continued to dim. She looked one more time at the leaves, but it was now too dark to see them.
She was scared. If she stopped holding her breath, mother would be mad at her, but the tightening in her chest was returning, and the ability to hold it back was nearly gone. Realizing she could no longer hold it, she exhaled and took a deep breath.
The water raced down her windpipes and into her lungs. The stinging of it hurt worse than the tightening in her chest. Her body convulsed as she tried to both scream and inhale.
The light from above was now gone.
Her last thoughts were not of her mother or her father or even the leaves. They were a jumbled mess of images that didn’t make sense to her. They were of nothing and everything all at once. And then they were gone.
Her body relaxed and fell flat against the bottom of the pool.