I don’t know what made me do it.
The giant puddle was like every puddle: a hole in the world reflecting back light and sky. I’d always loved them, been fascinated by them. Wanted to close my eyes and leap through into that mirror world. As a child, I would skim my fingers along the surface, distorting the reflection, and then sit back to watch it slowly, slowly right itself.
Tiergan Fitch used to push me into them when he found me poking around his family land. He patrolled it on a red dirt bike, lording around like a knight on a stallion, and I was the trespasser and thief. "Yo, Izzy, you like puddles so much, marry them," he’d say, chin lifted. He’d raise the pine staff he always carried and charge. His bike would veer close and I’d lose footing only to tumble back into the water. As he peddled off, he zigged and zagged to smash through every single other puddle.
I thought he was a heathen who hated water. Everyone else thought he was just a bully, until we were in sixth grade and Juliet Banks decided he was beautiful. She looked up his name in a baby name book and told all of us, "It means strong willed, so of course he can be difficult." Her lip gloss and eyeliner made her look older, and she started wearing real bras like the grown-ups wore, that she said her mama bought her at the mall. Soon all our friends were begging for push-ups and tinted lip gloss, and I was alone in my jeans and training bra thinking Tiergan was a dick.
It became a game. I’d creep into the woods after a rain, toes quiet in my sneakers, hair all pulled back to avoid snagging in the thin pine needles. The best puddles were along the hiking trails, since most of the forest floor was covered by years worth of soft, rotting needles and leaves. The air smelled better than peach cobbler, all clean and fresh and alive with rain, electricity, pine resin. If I was lucky, I’d find a boulder off the mountain, pocketed with tiny fresh water circles. I’d climb up and sit cross-legged in front of the best one, surrounded by cool, damp air and the pointed tips of the trees. Tiergan would have to get off his bike and come up on his own, get his hands all dirty against the rocks. He’d glare at me and reach down to scoop all the water out of my puddle.
Once when I’d just turned fifteen I yelled after him, "What’s wrong with you?"
His bike skidded to a halt and he didn’t look back. From my position on the boulder I could see the top of his head, the swirl of his cowlick. I didn’t think he was very pretty, like stupid Juliet Banks.
"My mother drowned in a puddle," he finally said, before taking off.
Which I knew was a gee dee lie. His mama ran off with a professor from St. Mary’s. Everybody knew that.
I stopped playing our game. There were puddles in town, in my own backyard. But in town they got filmed over with oil, and that was all shiny and rainbowed, but you couldn’t see the other world in them, couldn’t imagine falling through to find your other self. And in my backyard, Daddy was too near.
At school, in the cafeteria, I caught Tiergan watching me from his table with the other Freshman who’d made the football team. Or rather, I caught him looking through me like I was as transparent as water. I flipped him off, which Juliet and Tabitha noticed. "Oh my God, Iz, what are you thinking! Does he like you? Oh my God!" They went on and on, while I stared at Tiergan Fitch, fluttering their hands and begging for the scoop on how we knew each other. I told them he pushed me into a puddle once when we were kids.
That afternoon it stormed so hard we all ended up in the school basement in case of microbursts. On the way home, I veered immediately into his woods and ran so hard down the hiking trail my footprints made fresh little puddles in the mud.
A half-mile in, a huge puddle – more like a tiny lake – cut across the track. I fell to my knees beside it, ignoring the cold mud that squished against my socks and the hem of my skirt. I froze. The surface of the water was perfect. Still as glass, and so wide I could see the whole gray sky with its leftover waves of clouds. The tips of pine trees poked against the edges like a ruffled border. I panted from my run and was overwhelmed by the scent of resin and rain.
I leaned over, and there I was: red-cheeked, hair falling out around my face, hands pressed to my chest where my heart beat a hundred times too fast.
Something under my reflection moved. Another face like mine, with huge round eyes. But no mouth. In its eyes were secrets. I darted out my hand to grab at it. Instead it grabbed my wrist and tugged.
I fell in, all of me collapsing into the water, and it was deep – oh, so deep. Tiny hands grasped at me, and I whirled around, not struggling. It was dark here, black like a cave, and the water clear and clean as rain. Light spilled down from overhead, from the puddle.
Eyes surrounded me. Each pair like tiny caves themselves. I couldn’t breathe, and the water was freezing. But I wasn’t afraid. Their secrets pressed at me, whispered through the rainwater, and I stared at them, at the hundreds, the thousands of them. I opened my mouth to reply, to tell them my own secret.
Water poured into my mouth. I jerked, flailing back, kicked for the surface, but they were above me now, too, with their huge eyes. My lungs spasmed, my stomach, my throat, all begging for air. I reached out, grasping with my hands, and the things slid smooth cheeks and cool fingers against me. I could hardly see them anymore, the weight of the water in my lungs and stomach dragging me down.
Something hard knocked into my shoulder. I grabbed at it. Rough wood. I circled my hands around it, and felt myself lifting up.
The creatures whispered their silent, rainy secrets after me, scratching my ears, but I clung to the wood and was pulled up, inch by inch, until my head broke the surface and hands tugged under my arms. My fingers dug at the mud and I coughed and choked, tears hot on my face. I rolled away from the puddle, puking out all the dark rainwater.
On my back, I opened my eyes. The sky was blue as the last of the clouds faded. Birdsong pinged and rang all around, and I could hear the slow drip of water off the pine needles.
And there was Tiergan Fitch, leaning against his staff with his mouth pinched and eyes worried. "The rain washes too many secrets away," he said. "It isn’t good where they collect."
He crouched beside me and helped me sit up. I didn’t even mind his warm hands on my back.
*This week, our common prompt comes from Simon (
). An account of the original mythology can be found here:Wondjina
image by snowcat via flickr creative commons.