‘Do you know I’ve never jumped into a pool voluntarily?’ says the girlfriend. ‘I’ve always been pushed.’
The girlfriend is lying with her feet in her boyfriends lap. Outside, it is the middle of winter; snow slaps the window. Inside, the room is sticky with false heat.
The girlfriend’s legs are long. She is sitting almost completely upright and yet her feet still touch the other arm of the sofa. The boyfriend finds himself drumming his fingers along the soles of one of her feet. He is feeling uncomfortable. He is not a fan of his girlfriend’s feet. They are wide, the nails yellowish, the heels hunky and dry.
‘I used to go to my grandmother’s house every Christmas,’ explains the girlfriend. ‘It was the only time I got to see my mom. They had a condo in Florida, right near Kissimmee. ’
‘Lucky for some,’ says the boyfriend. He sees a bright pool, his girlfriend, lounging on a plastic lilo with a clear glass. He moves his hand from her foot to his hair. A pleasant sense of affluence settles around her. They both sit up a little straighter.
The girlfriend reconstructs her grandmother’s house in her mind: the dark-wood bungalow, with the leaking dishwasher, the cockroaches as long as her thumb. Her mother and grandmother, bickering, serving food to themselves and throwing it away. Her own twelve-year old body: a plump and pimpled mess, transplanted each year into this strange universe.
The girlfriend lets the story unfold around her – she is not sure how much to unravel, if she is to achieve the response she wants.
She tells him about Florida winters: how the humidity is siphoned out of the air, how the atmosphere feels empty without it. She tells him about the dried-out water parks, the hotels with the curtains drawn across a thousand windows, concealing nothing.
‘I couldn’t swim, all those Christmases,’ she says. ‘I was scared of the water. Every time I went down the steps of the pool I thought something was coming up from the bottom, something I couldn’t see.’
‘All kids think that,’ says the boyfriend. He braces himself, and, cringing just slightly, cups her foot in his hand, squeezes it. His girlfriend is so sweet. ‘Snakes in the toilet, alligators in the sewers. Sharks in the swimming pool.’
‘I didn’t think it was a shark,’ says the girlfriend.
She sees a dark shape rising beneath her twelve-year-old feet. She shakes it away; a shiver that the boyfriend feels flow across to him, climbing the ladder of his spine and sending a tingle across his shoulder blades.
The boyfriend leans back against the sofa. He doesn’t like the sound of this bottom-feeder. He suddenly doesn’t like this story.
The boyfriend is erring on infatuation. He likes how secretive his girlfriend is. Still, there are things he dislikes. His girlfriend can be a little serious. Sometimes he notices other potential girlfriends, and his heart will seize, then accelerate.
The girlfriend becomes attached easily, but she is not the sort to let her attachments free. She likes her attachments ordered in a row.
The girlfriend feels she has let herself get in too deep. She is stuck, her mind in a knot. The girlfriend wants to tell a story so stabbing that it will pull her boyfriend apart at the veins.
‘What was your grandmother like?’ The boyfriend asks. The boyfriend feels safe with this question. All grandmothers, in his opinion, are nice.
‘She pushed me in the deep end.’ She laughs, an awkward laugh with the air squeezed out of it.
The girlfriend remembers the water folding around her, lukewarm as spit.
Responses flood through the boyfriends mind. ‘Did it work?’ he asks. He deepens his voice with sympathy.
The girlfriend kicks her legs off his lap, flings them over to the floor, organising herself into a set of straight lines. They sit, awkwardly beside each other, as if they are performing in a play.
She has known, since hitting the water of the pool, since being pulled out, time and again, that this is her both her brightest and darkest story. Her life after twelve became a lot easier. Her mother would be gone that year, her grandmother too. The bungalow, built mainly of Styrofoam, was flattened on a December day, struck by freak lightning, quick and nimble as a click of the fingers. The girlfriend, out at the movies, thrusting her face upwards in the dark, tasting a foreign taste, would never go back to see the pool, overflowing, full of the dark house. Such strange stories become us, thinks the girlfriend. They are almost always lies.
The boyfriend sees a little girl thrashing underwater, a house wiped clean. He sees a house full of women punishing one another. The boyfriend is faintly repulsed. The boyfriend is curious.
‘They died?’ The boyfriend asks. ‘A storm? In December?’
‘It’s not so strange,’ she says. ‘That’s what its like down there. Sinkholes open up and swallow you, tornadoes wipe out towns.’
The boyfriend is stuck. What possible confession can he make to match this? He thinks of his own winters. He thinks of the kitten his mother almost ran over on Christmas morning. Almost. He sees his mother and father arguing over the cooking– not even shouting, for the fear he would hear their raised voices. He tries to think of a symbol he can smash to show the underlying tension in their relationship – a plate? A fish tank? Nothing is believable.
The boyfriend winds a hand towards his girlfriend’s thigh, considering. He tries to catch her eye. Failing, he looks out of the window, watches the snow turn in the dark.
The girlfriend thinks about her mother, wandering through the rooms of the bungalow. She sees her long form in the dark bedroom, telling her, at first casually, ‘Tell them this isn’t my body, sweetie. Tell them it’s not mine.’ She sees her mother’s hands on her big, twelve-year-old feet, the nails digging into the flesh of them. She sees the sun licking the sky white outside the window, her grandmother pulling her mother out of the room, dressing her, driving her away. The girlfriend never went back to Kissimmee.
Feet, mad mothers, and lightning, she thinks. Those are the parts to choose from.
The girlfriend narrows her eyes at the boyfriend. She knows he has a warmth to him, a blindness. He has not seen certain things. She will show him, she will hide things from him. She will never tell the whole truth.
The boyfriend is calculating. The boyfriend is holding this falsity in his palm, tossing it between his hands.
The girlfriend places her feet back in his lap. She watches the words hover in his lips.
By Dizz Tate
Photography by Laura Brown
Laura Suzy Brown is a visual artist/image maker working in Brighton and London.