They arrived in Chambers on the same night the wire factory burned down. Three stories, five hundred jobs. The newspapers speculated arson.

The factory had been big—big as a high school or a county jail. Then it was just a black square on the ground. The next day, it began to rain.

Despite the disruption of the fire, Naomi’s parents were undeterred. They’d come to Chambers brimming with metropolitan idealism, keen for a life of time and peace and silence. And the town, for its part, was sleepy. It promised dependability. Community.

The house was a two-story Colonial, built out beside the defunct quarry, which sat mossy and flooded at the bottom of a gorge. In the dark, the sound of waves came in Naomi’s window, water lapping against stone. At night, she dreamed of mermaids. She dreamed of fish that granted wishes when you caught them. The grass was high around the foundation of the boathouse and out back in the woods, all the hollows were dark and mysterious.

Naomi spent the first week swimming alone in the quarry in a plain blue bathing suit, under an overcast sky. No one bothered her. Sometimes she wandered through neighborhoods, looking for a bookstore. But people didn’t read much in Chambers—a town with a church on every corner and a For Sale sign in every yard.

All the trees had yellow ribbons tied around the trunks, but it was never clear what they were waiting for. Sometimes, in the drugstore, she would see kids from town. They all had plain faces, as unremarkable as potatoes. They all had the same expression, like they would never be interested in anything again.

In the afternoons, she sat on the dock with an old copy of Peter Pan, dangling her feet in the water. Tiny fish rose to the surface, their mouths comforting and slightly alarming against her ankles. In her dreams she was sleek and captivating, with hair of some exotic color. The rain was as warm as a bath and the smoke from the wire factory was barely even a memory.

As weeks passed and Naomi grew accustomed to the stillness, even the quarry began to seem ordinary. She swam out to the center, far from shore, to find the places where the carp grew huge and ugly in the dark and there were brief, shocking pockets of cold left by underground springs. At night, she dreamed of a girl in a blue bathing suit, hair the color of a new penny. In all her dreams, she was dissolving slowly and the carp were made of solid gold. But in the daytime, when they would lift their faces to the light, she saw that they were only the vague, disappointing color of mud.

8 thoughts on “Disenchantment

  1. You are so good at atmosphere.

    Especially creepy, moody, depressed atmosphere. It just hangs there in this one… between breaths almost.

    I haven’t thought about the cold pockets in a lake or fish kisses in ages. And now they’ll make my skin crawl.

  2. I’ve been drawn back to read this three times today. I find it beautiful, quiet and lingering. Like some of my favorite poems.

    Thank you.

  3. Looking back, I realize I left out that distinctive wet-dog-and-chalk smell. Well, I think it’s for the best (hard to be romantic about anything that smells likely to mildew).

  4. Especially creepy, moody, depressed atmosphere.

    Haha–now I just need to figure out how to perfect my sunshine-bunnies-rainbows variation of atmosphere and I’ll be set! (I think this piece may be evidence that I’ve read The Virgin Suicides a couple bajillion times too many.)

  5. “Three stories, five hundred jobs.” I like the weight, the loss, the depression, the vulnerability of this statement. Short sentences … mmm, something for me to learn here. Thanks, Simon.

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