I present to you another piece in my series of unrelated flash fiction pieces. All photography is shot by me.
“Yearning for Water”
Story and Photographs by Denise Ruttan
Kyra Bartleby emerged from the water, her skin icy at the sudden shock of air. She sat at the edge of the swimming pool and dangled her feet in the water to acclimate herself to the outside world.
Around her, the noise of the city pool boomed into a cacophony. There were the little kids taking their swimming lessons, their youthful laughter soaring. There was the hot tub where old people soaked. There was the outdoor pool that was still busy, despite the impending autumn chill. There were the teenage lifeguards, monitoring everyone. Kyra almost applied for that job. But lifeguarding was for people who wanted to be heroes.
Most importantly of any of these, the high school swim team was starting practice.
Catching her breath, 16-year-old Kyra watched them, envy competing with resentment at their lean bodies and quiet confidence. Making the swim team was her goal. It was why she spent hours every day improving her stroke, speed and endurance. She was a junior this year. She was running out of chances.
She didn’t have the money for a fancy swim coach. She wasn’t the fittest or the trimmest. After swim practice she would also run three miles home from the swimming pool. The evening air would choke her lungs and knife through her chlorine hair.
Kyra knew all their names. Hannah, Mia, Beth, Sam, Liv, Brittany, Jessica, Rachel, Danielle. Melissa, Kelsey, Tiff. Shelby. Heather. Abby. Ashley. Courtney. She rattled down the list of the varsity girls. She even knew their eye color, and whether they brought their own lunch or bought food from the cafeteria. She knew what stickers they put on their backpacks and on their lockers. She knew their favorite bands and their preferred colors. She wanted to be one of them so badly that the need to belong was like a fire searing through her lungs.
At first, they didn’t notice her. They were distracted. But then the whispers and stony glances started. They didn’t appreciate having a stalker, she knew. That’s what they called her. Their creepy stalker. But she just wanted to belong to something that was bigger than herself. Something that was bigger than her lonely home with her single mother and their shared pain. A mother who disappeared into a flood of vodka and reruns of Cheers. Something that was bigger than the microwave pasta and old textbooks and tears. She wanted to experience the discipline and thrill of competition. She wanted to be part of a team.
Kyra sighed heavily. It was time to go. She headed into the locker room.
Usually, the locker room was a hectic place, full of laughter and conversation. But today, strangely, it was empty. Kyra showered in silence. She could hear a pin drop. She spent an extra long time luxuriating in the heat of the shower running slick down her naked body.
Suddenly, her heart stilled. She was not alone. A woman, probably 18, but seeming infinitely more exotic than any teenager she knew at Garfield High School, took the shower next to her. She slicked back her bronze hair and stared at her through glassy emerald eyes.
“Hi,” she said, her voice silk. “I heard you back there.”
“You what?” Kyra felt that sensation you get when you walk through a strange neighborhood and were paranoid some guy would nab your backpack and assault you.
“I heard you,” she said, more firmly. “I heard your longing. It was so very loud.”
“My… what?” Kyra stammered. She wanted out of this shower. The water was suddenly scalding and uncomfortable.
“You wanted to be part of something bigger than you,” the strange, beautiful woman said. “I can make that happen. You just have to want it, again, with me.”
“I don’t understand,” Kyra said. “You’re weirding me out. Please leave me alone.”
“Fine,” the young woman said. “Be like that. But you can have any wish. Just wish it in the next two minutes. And you’d better yearn for it. It’s in the yearning that you make it real.”
The woman walked away, soap still in her hair. Water ran in rivulets down her perfect, tan back. Her shoulder blades looked like a cheetah’s when it was chasing after prey. Kyra stared, her mouth agape.
Then, despite herself, she began to want.
At first, she didn’t notice anything. The locker room was still empty. Not even a child throwing a tantrum. Heaviness bloomed in her chest. Then she stared down at herself. She was … changing. That was the only way to describe it. Her body was changing.
Her fingers were growing … webs? She could not flex her knuckles. Her skin morphed into scales. Her hair disappeared into her scalp. She felt the rush of water in her ears like a symphony. She screamed as the water from the shower burned her skin. What was left of her skin.
She found herself staring up into the drain in the floor. She fought a roar of panic. She was covered in blood and pus. She flailed.
Then she heard voices. The little kid tantrums. The running feet. The mothers and their love.
And the voices of the swim team.
“Did you see that girl?” said Courtney, her voice contemptuous.
“Oh, creepy Kyra?” Liz said, scoffing. “She was watching us again. She watches us all the time. What a loser.”
Kyra’s rage replaced the panic. Rage at the way things were. Rage at her loneliness. Rage at the rejection. Rage at her mother. Water poured from her fingers. Water broke through the cracked cement of the pool that she loved. Her second home. Her home away from the home that didn’t want her. Now no one wanted her.
The rage turned into a flood. A flood of water. The water turned into a cacophony of pain. The water engulfed all.
But the swim team girls stopped talking shit about her.
They stopped talking.
Kyra didn’t want to belong, any more.
She was the water.
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