In a field peppered with trees there is a little pond with a woman who lives inside. Her name is Kathy. But make no mistake—Kathy is not a mermaid. No, there are no fish parts anywhere on her. She suspects that she may be related to the Lady of the Lake, but she has no sword—only a couple of rusted beer cans from a group of teenagers who snuck down to the pond one night to drink, smoke, and dance to a heavy, electronic beat.
She spends her days with the carp that live in the pond. They are not excellent conversationalists—they open and close their mouths before they streak away, a golden-orange blur. The green frogs make a sound like a plucked chord, the same note over and over. Sometimes they lay hundreds of eggs in thin sheets. One time she floated to the surface to look at the tiny black sacs growing life within them and felt a hole where something important used to be.
She has tried to lure men siren-like into the pond, but unlike a siren, she doesn’t want to dash them upon the rocks. She wants someone who will wrap his arms around her cold, puckered skin and do all the things that men and women are supposed to do. But whenever she hears the soft whomp of sneakers on grass and she opens her mouth to sing, the notes become lodged in her throat like a thousand wriggling tadpoles, and she slowly sinks to the mud-slicked bottom.
Kathy has a plan. She is going to catch a man with one of the beer cans. She has a vague notion this is something they like. First, she will take the bulrush and sedge and twist it into a vine. Then, she will tie the end to one of the cans and toss it into the grass. It will sit and gleam in the afternoon sun and lure someone to the edge; then, she will tug on her end of the vine and voila!
It takes her most of the afternoon to pull up enough stalks. She chooses her favorite can: the green and silver Heineken. It is already approaching dusk when she finishes braiding the plants and wrapping the end around the rutted metal. Then she tosses the can beyond the surface of the pond and waits.
She waits for several hours before she realizes that it is far too late. The dark tapestry of night has engulfed the sky. Nobody will be walking by the pond today. She pulls the contraption back inside, dejected.
As soon as she wakes the next morning, she resumes her vigil, ready to wait for hours or even days if she has to. The sun swings to its spot directly overhead, the time of day Kathy usually spends in the cooler, darker water. But today she sits near the surface, the heat from the sun uncomfortably warm. This is what it feels to be burning, she thinks. When the sun finally tips beyond its apex, she feels a slight tug on the vine, softer and then more insistent. She unwraps the vine from her arm, her fingers trembling with anticipation, and pulls it toward her. All at once, the pressure disappears and the can returns, empty. She was too impatient, too rough. She will try again and this time, she will be gentle.
She only has to wait another hour before she feels a tug on the line again. There is a shadow just beyond the surface. She begins to pull the line toward her, slowly, achingly slowly, and the figure moves too, closer and closer. Finally, when she sees the shadow hover over the rippling edge, she gives a sharp yank and the figure plunges inside. Suddenly, all is color and noise.
For a moment, she can’t see anything beyond the thrashing, and then she can make out a couple of shapes—the red arc of a sneaker, a hand reaching towards her. She grabs the hand and the figure stops moving, and then she is looking into the eyes of a small boy. A boy! His tiny brown eyes are open wide and his cheeks are puffed out with his last gulp of air. This was not what she wanted at all. The boy resumes kicking and flailing, and his legs become twisted around the line so that he cannot rise to the surface.
After a few moments, the boy begins moving less and less, and Kathy realizes that he is dying. She clutches her hands together and swims in circles around him. What is killing him? The answer slides cool and certain into her brain: the water! He must not be able to breathe. She grabs his waist and swims toward the surface, tossing the small, limp body onto the grass. Moments pass when she hears nothing but the metallic hum of cicadas. And then, miraculously, the boy coughs and gags and empties the water from his lungs.
Kathy swims to the very bottom of the pond in case the boy becomes curious and comes looking for her. She is nothing but trouble for him. She nestles among the pondweed, among the fallen leaves that will one day become reeds shooting their bushy red tendrils into the light. She knows she will never again break the surface of the pond. When she looks up, she can just see the filmy blue of the sky. She collapses in on that small joy, a tiny bead of warmth thrumming in her chest, until it is enough.
Melissa Reddish graduated in 2008 with an MFA from American University. Her work has appeared in 34th Parallel, Prick of the Spindle, and Northwind, among others.
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Photo credit: Viviane by Alex Indigo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.