an excerpt from
Bee’s pants were stained from the knees down with rust red dirt. She’d been working on the driveway for weeks, digging holes and filling holes and rolling the truck up and down the same stretch of road. She could see the progress and, as slow as it was going, felt a satisfaction she had never known before. Her job was simple, and her goal was clear. Life had never been so straight forward.
She could feel the day’s work in her shoulders, her body crying out for something more than almonds and granola. Driving back to “the Den,” as she had begun to call her ramshackle cabin, she realized that she would gladly risk setting the whole state on fire for one hot meal.
In the old rock ring near the house, she waited for the flames to die down enough to heat her canned beans and ramen noodles, silently chastising herself for not picking up some multivitamins. Something bad was bound to happen if she went too long without eating a vegetable. Her mother had always threatened her with scurvy if she didn’t eat her peas.
Her mother hadn’t been perfect, but she had tried. Bee’s childhood had been a circus. She was never sure if the rides were safe, if the seatbelts were going to hold, if the wheels were going to stay on the tracks. She had survived though, with her mother beside her laughing and teasing Bee for worrying too much. Her mother, who applied mascara while driving down the freeway, steering with one knee and telling Bee to “chill out.”
Bee thought her mother would be proud of her now, venturing out into the great unknown. She looked up from the fire to watch the sky bleed color. Neon pinks and orange burned behind purple clouds. The colors were reflected on the surface of the small pond below. The pond was too round to be natural. Someone, long ago, had carved it out of the ground, maybe for swimming, or to stock with fish. Bee watched the liquid sky ripple with the breeze.
One carefree summer her mother had taken her camping. For a month. She said she wanted to “get in touch with nature.” Of course, there had been trips to town for booze and hot showers and cigarettes and fast food, but there was lots of nature too. She had tried to drag Bee into the lake one night, but Bee was afraid of the dark water and had dug her heels into the mud. Her mother had laughed, leaving her on the shore and floating off like a crazed water nymph, singing some old hymnal to the stars.
Bee watched the flames and hummed, trying desperately to remember the words of her mother’s song as her eyes were drawn again to the pond. Finally, as though accepting a dare, she stood and headed down the hill to the water. She allowed herself only one wary glance back at the fire.
“No worries,” she muttered to herself, stripping her clothes as she went, peeling dirty jeans from her legs and leaving them strewn over the ground. She didn’t let herself think, but walked to the end of the short pier and jumped in feet first.
The pond was deeper than she had expected. She let herself sink, trying to find the bottom. The water was cool, and she drifted away from the glow of the sky above. Hair floated around her face, dancing gracefully, happily defying the gravity that was always holding it down. She sank deeper, letting bubbles escape past her lips and warble toward the surface. The song in her head played in a loop, and words began to emerge from the tune.
“Wade in the water
Wade in the water children…”
Bee closed her eyes, finally weightless. Something soft drifted around her ankle. Her eyes sprang open, her muscles tensed. Thin tendrils caressed her arms and legs. Some of them were strands of her own hair, but there were other, rougher strands, mixing with hers, groping her face.
Bee panicked, thrashing her limbs, convinced for a moment that the snakes had filled a mass grave of their own. She searched the murky haze, waiting for the curtain of human hair to part and expose a bloated face, eyes clouded and flesh veined, the split skin of gray lips bobbing toward her, begging for a kiss.
The ceiling of water was too far away. Her lungs began to burn as the pond pulled her deeper, away from the air. Bee kicked hard. The water invaded her nose and her throat pulsed spastically in a desperate plea for breath. No one would ever find her down here. No one would even come looking. She would be here for ever, with the swollen, watery dead.
A scream pierced her mind, and Bee realized it was her own as she broke through the surface. After the silence of the pond, her splashes sounded like explosions. She thrashed until she reached shallow water and her feet found muddy earth. Water still blurred her vision as she scrambled blindly toward the fire, tripping over her own abandoned pants and falling to the ground, her fingers clawing at the wet, hairy web that still clung to her face and legs. She scraped handfuls of it from her skin. Spitting the taste of the pond out of her mouth and forcing sprays of water from her nose, she realized, finally, that she had not been attacked by hairy pond zombies. They were just weeds. She’d been caught in a mess of lake weeds.
There was not another human being for miles and still the hot blood of embarrassment filled her face. The light show in the sky was melting down toward the horizon. All shadows were gone. This was the hour of the snake, when the heat of the day receded enough to let them roam free. Bee spat again, forcing her legs into her pants and keeping a sharp eye on the ground as she collected her shirt and hurried back to the campfire.