Chapter Thirteen: When the medium-sized girl tried to drown her sorrows before belatedly discovering that she is, indeed, mostly weatherproof
“She’s not going to make it.”
“Yes she will.”
“Bet you an hour of no complaining that she won’t.”
“Bet you a handful of jerky that she will.”
“But you don’t even eat jerky?”
The medium-sized girl frowned at OTC, confused by his lack of imagination.
“No, but I’m sure it would be fun to see how far I could throw it.” And then maybe she wouldn’t have to smell so much of it. OTC did the thing called “eating” far too often. It stank, and he chewed so incredibly loudly.
“That. Is ice cold.” OTC studied her for a moment. “I can respect that. Deal. If she doesn’t make it, you have to go an hour without griping. If she makes it, you can throw a stick of jerky however far you want.”
“I believe I said a handful.”
“Whatever. You’ve got small hands.”
“Quite a bit larger than they used to be.”
“Do you have a point?”
OTC began grumbling to himself. Again. The medium-sized girl supposed that was better than him grumbling to her. He really could go on.
They sat back down, settling in to watch the flailing woman. They rested atop a colorfully tiled roof, which itself rested atop a mostly submerged house. Theirs was one of many such mostly submerged houses. They were on the outer rings of what used to be a city, apparently, though the medium-sized girl wasn’t convinced OTC knew what he was talking about. It was a habit she had rather aggressively fallen into, if we’re being honest.
Only the far edges of this “city” were under water. Further in, the earth rose up and broke through the waterline. Tiled islands gave way to inner-city beaches gave way to a mountainous, partially washed-out metropolis.
However, our unlikely pair of traveling companions was not looking towards the mountainous city center. They were facing away, looking out towards where they had come from. The trail they had taken to get to this place was gone, having been rained out three days past. A moat-like situation had popped up in place of the trail, choppy and wind-churned. OTC kept making jokes about the things called “pirañas” and “James Bond,” which, of course, were references the medium-sized girl didn’t quite understand. Though, even if she had, she probably wouldn’t have laughed.
A woman—the woman upon whom our unlikely traveling companions had placed bets at the beginning of this vignette—was trying to swim across the moat. She did not appear to be a particularly strong swimmer. She was flailing quite a bit, and not a few gasps of “help” and “dios mio” escaped her gurgling mouth. The medium-sized girl could empathize. Swimming was difficult, in this place. The water was much deeper, and everything was heavier. She had already sunk several times. OTC had had to dive down and pull her out most of those times, though once she had been able to clamber up a flagpole.
“Where do you think she’s going?” The medium-sized girl asked.
“It’s a mystery, really. An unknowable, inscrutable mystery.” OTC replied, rolling his eyes. “Though, now that I’m thinking about it, the incredibly elevated, relatively dry city behind us might be a possible destination.” He fished a stick of jerky out of his pack. The medium-sized girl wrinkled her nose, but otherwise turned her attention back to the woman. She was about halfway across the moat by this point, though her pace was flagging. She kept dropping beneath the surface.
“Looks like I’m gonna have a nice little hour of silence, huh?” OTC said, chewing slowly and watching the place where the woman’s head had last been spotted.
“No,” the medium-sized girl said, “no, she’s going to make it.” And then maybe the medium-sized girl would have another person to play with. Better yet, maybe she could use this woman to ditch OTC altogether. He kept telling her that she “wouldn’t make it on her own” (which she didn’t really understand, to be honest, since he had yet to tell her what “it” was that had to be made). Regardless, she thought this woman would be just as good as OTC at keeping her from being “on her own.” Probably better, actually, seeing as this woman hadn’t stabbed and disappeared her mother and condemned the medium-sized girl to this terribly bright, stinking world.
“Aaaand we have a winner,” OTC said, watching the water’s surface. The woman still hadn’t come back up. He sighed, fishing another stick of jerky out of his backpack. The medium-sized girl watched him, feeling a little red. It was a new feeling, and she didn’t quite know what to do with it. OTC began to peel open the plastic packaging, which only made her feel redder. The medium-sized girl simply “couldn’t,” as they say. She snatched the meat snack out of OTC’s hand and threw it as far as she could manage.
“Hey, fair’s fai—WAIT NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING—” But she didn’t stick around to hear the rest of the “not again”s and “girl I swear”s. She slid down the roof and hopped into the cold, blue sea.
She sank right down to the bottom. It wasn’t too far of a fall, but the earth below was rather steeply sloped. It had once been a mountain, after all. She sank to the bottom, then slipped, rolled, sank some more. She eventually got her footing. She looked up, blinking away some of the murk and muck. The sky above glimmered distantly, distorted and dimmed by twenty feet of water. The medium-sized girl nodded to herself, thinking that this was the appropriate level of brightness.
The drowned woman floated halfway between the earth and sky some couple dozen feet away. The medium-sized girl watched her, wondering how she managed to float so well. She set out towards the floating woman, walking in that slow-motion way characteristic of divers and astronauts.
“How can you float so well?” She tried to ask. Only bubbles came out, though, which felt rather funny on her nose. She laughed at the sensation, which only made more bubbles fly about. It was less funny the second time around.
“I could float in the woods,” she said, cupping her hands around her mouth, thinking that might help. It didn’t. The water continued to mangle her words.
“Can’t here, though,” she bubbled. “I don’t know why.” She trudged forward and down, eventually reaching the woman. Well, sort of. Reaching the place where the woman would be if she sank to the ocean floor. Which she didn’t seem to be doing. Like, at all. If anything, she was getting further away. The medium-sized girl didn’t understand how that was happening—the woman seemed to be putting no effort at all into this “floating” thing.
“Would you mind coming down, please?” The medium-sized girl bubble-asked. The woman gave no response. The medium-sized girl kicked off the ground as hard as she could. She jetted up a little, floated some. Slowly sank back down.
“Ugh,” she muttered, a stream of bubbles escaping upwards. She began to wonder if this woman was worth it. She wasn’t cooperating at all. OTC didn’t cooperate much, either. And the medium-sized girl was pretty sure she didn’t want to add another person like OTC to their little group. She sat down on the ocean floor, settling in to think.
“Ugh,” she muttered again, irritated when the thinking didn’t immediately produce any thoughts. It was not something she had ever practiced at—her mother had always been the one with the thoughts—and she hadn’t paid enough attention to OTC to figure out how he did it. Though she wasn’t entirely convinced that he did it, either.
She closed her eyes. She let her mind wander, hoping it would land somewhere useful. It didn’t. Instead, she was taken back to the pool in the wood. She smiled, rather enjoying this thought. It was nice and quiet and still. Her mother was there, smiling. Everything was a gentle black and white. There were no red feelings.
“I’m sure you can do it,” her mother said, pulling smokey weeds out of the pool.
“Do what?” The little girl asked (because of course she was little again).
“What you’ve been working at, darling,” her mother said, laughing. “What’s this? You’ve already forgotten yourself? I think that’s a new record.”
The little girl tried to remember what she had been working at.
“Mother, what should I be doing?” The little girl asked. Her mother laughed again, throwing some more weeds onto the bank of the pond. She reached over and touched her daughter’s forehead, smiling.
“You should be concentrating, darling, and listening.”
“To what?” Her mother frowned at her, confused. But the little girl was able to answer her own question.
“The butterfly!” She said, remembering the song. She had been listening for the butterfly’s song. Whenever she heard it, she got light as a butterfly’s wings.
“Do you think it’s in this place, too?” She asked, falling back into her new, heavy body/ The bright, watery world rushed in to greet her.
“Of course,” her mother said. The medium-sized girl looked around, but her mother wasn’t there. Just the memory of her voice.
The medium-sized girl did as she was told, listening carefully, waiting to hear the butterfly’s song. This place sounded different, though, and she didn’t know what exactly she was supposed to be listening for. She didn’t think too much about it. She mostly just listened. Listened and waited.
She had to listen and wait a little faster, however, once she noticed OTC wiggling towards her. She tried not to tense up too much. He was rather grabby when he thought she was doing the thing called “drowning.” Whatever that meant. She scrunched up her eyes and listened harder for the silvery wings, hoping that the fluttering tune would reach her all the way down here.
It wasn’t a song with words, per se. It was more of a sound. A beautiful sound, and a sigh. It was the keening of silvery wings, fluttering on a breath, weaving in and out of the world, riding the southern wind through the space between things. It was wonderful.
The medium-sized girl reached out and took hold of the song. Everything fell away—everything but the song, that is—and she was filled with wind and memory. The butterfly’s song carried her up, up, up, and the world fell to a gentle black and white. She reached the floating woman and took hold of her. Something was wrong, though. The woman was rather cold, for starters, and her eyes seemed a little too glassy and blank. The medium-sized girl recalled that the woman had looked quite a bit better, when she had first started swimming. The medium-sized girl decided it would probably be best if she was returned to that state.
“Now, how to do this,” she bubbled, holding the woman in one hand and the song in the other. The song showed her the way forward—up, in this case—but it also remembered where it had been. Whenever she heard it, the medium-sized girl was filled with its memories. It had many—most of all the pasts, in fact—and sang them so well. She had never tried to focus on any specific one before, but she thought that was probably what she was supposed to do. She listened for the woman’s past. It wasn’t hard to find, near as it was. The medium-sized girl let go of the floating woman and took hold of her past. It was a sad, crushing sort of thing, incredibly loud and filled with quite a lot of crying. The intensity of it shocked the medium-sized girl, who had always known the butterfly’s song to be a subtle, pretty thing. She didn’t understand how a constitutive part of it could be so incredibly overwhelming. She shook her head and pushed past the noise.
The medium-sized girl pressed the woman’s past into her body and pushed. The body fell backwards. The medium-sized girl wasn’t entirely sure what she was seeing, though she assumed it was some version of this woman being pulled the wrong way through the last several moments of her life. The medium-sized girl kept pushing the woman, not letting go until the floating woman’s head had busted through the water’s surface, gasping for air. Only then did the medium-sized girl let the butterfly’s song, in its soft entirety, carry her the rest of the way up to the water’s surface. Once there, she let go of the song. Color and sound collapsed back down upon her. She almost groaned. It was just so horribly unpleasant. She didn’t sink, though. OTC had finally reached them, and had flung an arm around her waist, keeping her in place.
“What… what just happened,” he spat, struggling to swim and speak and not drink saltwater all at the same time.
“I’m winning this bet,” she said. OTC spat some more, and probably cursed as well. The medium-sized girl couldn’t always tell which noises were which.
The floating woman was now a flailing woman. She screamed when she saw the medium-sized girl and OTC, sudden as their appearance was. Relative to her timeline, anyway.
“Calm down,” OTC said, reaching out to grab the woman. She latched onto his arm and they all began to sink. The medium-sized girl decided that sinking again was less than ideal. She pushed OTC’s hand off of her waist, freeing his arm up to swim. He didn’t protest, panicked as he was and increasingly certain of her relative water-proofedness. He immediately began to use said arm to pull him and the wailing woman back towards the rooftops.
And so it was just her sinking. Again. She watched them flounder away, anxious and distant, their bodies churning the water white. She eventually bumped into the ocean’s floor. She sat there, thinking she might just wait it out down here. Though she still wasn’t quite sure what “it” was.