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"The Summer Friend," short story excerpt

Thursday 6/3/21

Now up over 270 short stories composed going back to June 2018. All lengths. All kinds. All styles. All voices. Tones. Shapes. Forms.


This is a story about a girl who doubts herself. She's going to swim in a pond where supposedly you'll die if you swim there alone, because hands come out of the water and pull you down.


***

“Them hands are gonna get you,” Corina said to Melissa, all but putting her finger against her lips to stifle a gasp. It would have been the worst possible kind of gasp, as Melissa knew—one whose source of horror is so great that even when it impacts someone else, a person feels it in their own body.


And it’s not like Corina was a recognizably epithetical person, so it must have been really bad. Really really bad. Corina was Melissa’s summer friend. They were friends once a year on Cape Cod because their families had cottages across the street from each other. Corina always spoke plain, said she wasn’t a bullshit kind of girl, which was akin to her trademark phrase and motto. She said it a lot.


But here she was using olden-style words and that would have meant that Corina came by her knowledge from someone who would have actually known.


“I’m telling you,” she began again, “people who swim in the pond alone all die. There are these hands that come out of the water and they pull you down. That’s what everyone says. That’s what my grandfather said. He heard it for his grandfather. My family were like the first people here. You think they don’t know?”


Melissa wasn’t sure if she was supposed to actually answer.


“No,” she said meekly.


Each year before Melissa saw Corina again, she thought about how bad she was at making friends. If she could be popular for a day, she believed, just have one day of real opportunity with the right kids, she could turn that into staying power. Into happiness. She’d say what came to her mind, and she wouldn’t have to rehearse it even once. So she told herself, “You can practice on Corina. See how far we’ve come since last summer.” Then she’d make a joke. “It’s not like she can go anywhere.” It was a bad joke because it hurt her and made her feel pain-wracked, given that it was true.


But it was hard to be brave. To say anything even to the nice kids at school. Those inclined, she felt, to look after her. She might show them that she didn’t warrant their kindness and concern. Then they’d be moved to conclude, “Oh, that’s why she’s such a fucking loser.” They’d get it. It’d click. That dreadful, dreadful “got it now” moment would occur. And who could come back from that? You wouldn’t even try. You’d just know to leave.


She hated being scared all the time. Hated how she shook. Hated how her voice sounded different when she talked to someone her own age and not her parents. Her voice at home was like warmed apple sauce. And her voice to the kids she thought of as the right ones for her was like dried grass that would be so easy to set on fire with just a magnifying glass the way some kids fried ants when she was younger.


But she’d start small. Even if small was big. And she’d start alone. She’d get brave. She’d grow the fuck up—as she was always telling herself to do—in the time when she was away. In the summer. The practice session. A reprieve in the margin of her life.


Her dad sometimes worked super hard on the weekend with his deadlines in his office. “I’m bunkered down in here,” he’d say. “At least they can’t get me. They’re all off golfing. It’s free time, extra time.”


Melissa could tell her father felt safe then. He was making a dent in his problems and no one could get at him. Not until Monday.


The summer was Melissa’s weekend, only it lasted for two months, not two days. She had her plan. She was going to swim in that pond alone. And if she lived, that would be the start. The glorious start. After which there’d be no stopping her.