After waiting, and waiting, and waiting, the sun finally started to set. I’d been watching out the window all day, painting the sky as it shifted gently between colors and light.
time of day
I was waiting for the moon to rise. That day, I knew it would be a small yellow crescent if it showed at all from observing the cycles night after night.
Under the dim light, it would be nearly impossible for mom and dad to see me scramble down the side of the patio. Once down there, it would be easy to slither off into town. I knew my way without a map or even a flashlight–it was natural, like swimming for a fish, or migrating for a bird, or crawling to the sea for a seaturtle.
The water in the fountain always called to me, particularly on a night like this when the ocean would be in low tide. (I still don’t know whether there was ever a connection: even my best friend would think it was a little ridiculous to believe I could sense the tides.) Everything from my day felt like a tease, from the sound of the bathtub running to the clinking of the rocks I held in my hand to the brilliant glossy illustrations of the ocean and poetry I was studying for school.
The fountain looked more beautiful than ever today, more beautiful even than the picture of when it was first built that hangs outside City Hall.
I climbed up the side to sit on the stony edge, where you could not only hear the water, but feel its vibrations as you looked into the dark depths. I wondered to my myself how deep it really was to get that opaque blue color, full of shadows. Sometimes I would watch the shadows circulate and imagine them being animals swimming below the surface, or think of when I was little and thought the little splashes from underneath were from dolphins trying to leap out.
I’d even fall asleep sometimes. This night, I had the strangest dream.
There were dolphins leaping out of the water!
The dream recurred every time I went to the fountain that month. Could it be that I wanted so badly to be a diver that my subconscious permanently fixated on the subject in the presence of moving water? It had only been a school project, I thought to myself.
your dream as a movie trailer
I wanted to tell mother about it, but I couldn’t mention anything of the kind to my mother. My brother had explained why after I made the “What I Want to Be” project.
“You know how we only have one grandmother?” He whispered to me one night.
“Yeah?” I replied. It hadn’t occurred to me then that I should have two. At that age I think children just accept how their family is as normal, or maybe I was just a particularly distracted child.
“You see, mom used to have a mother of her own.”
“She did?” I was confused. “Where is she?”
“She died when our mom was very little. She, uh, drowned while swimming on the beach one night.” He looked into my eyes. “So mom doesn’t like to think about the ocean or anything that reminds her of it. She gets really upset about it if you even mention it. Dad too. That’s why we moved out here in the mountains.”
“Oh,” was all I could think to say. I didn’t even remember living anywhere else; it was strange to think about.
“So do you promise to never mention it? I just didn’t want you to show your project to mom and get her in a bad mood.”
“I won’t.” I promised.
“Thanks sis.” He whispered back to me, and immediately left.
I kind of found myself wishing that he had stayed a minute longer. It was lonely, keeping a secret. Maybe I could have told him. Although then again, I didn’t want to tell Jacob something that would make him think I was insane, since then he might not cover for me when I leave the house at night like he’s been doing for years.
I laid there, wishing that it would at least rain. I was just itching to find out what was happening. But instead I fell asleep in the breathless hot air.
Now that summer was here, I would put my feet in the fountain when I went. The water somehow stayed cool even though the concrete around it sizzled with heat. It was days like this that Jacob and I had wished we had a pool like everyone else in the neighborhood. I half-wished he was still young enough to want to go swimming, instead of studying for college until mom found him dozing off in his chair. I guess I’d have to bring someone else along.
It occurred to me that maybe I could make sure I stayed awake by taking some of Jacob’s study pills. So I took those before going to my room after dinner. Mom was proud of me.
“See, you will be able to study to be a doctor!”
I climbed up a level, where the water splashed all around. I didn’t want anyone to see me from the road, which now seemed to have the occasional car even at night. And there they were, leaping majestically out of the water with splashes that looked like quicksilver in the faint glow of the stars.
“Come with me” whispered a voice. I looked around dizzily.
Next thing I knew, I was hurtling into deep blue waters on the back of a dolphin.
There are no words in the world to describe what I saw on the other side of the water. A world of brilliant colors, slinking shadows, sparkling sand, and dizzying distances. And of course, dolphins in every direction, leaping into the sky, and dancing underwater in fields of bubbles. Everything looked photorealistic–more so than anything I’d ever seen.
Naturally, I returned the next night, hoping the same thing would happen. When no dolphins appeared, I tried leaping into the water. I got a face full of concrete. Almost immediately after realizing I was injured, I told mom that I’d accidentally bumped my head on my desk. The next night there was no luck. Nor the next, or the next, or the next, or the next. I soon realized it must have just been a dream because of those pills and bought some of my own.
I liked to roll them in my hands. They were like little pearls to wash down with a sip of water. And soon they’d wake me up so I could keep going through the days and nights visiting the fountain. Now that mom was busier with work, I liked to go every night.
That night wasn’t supposed to be any different.
I snuck out, as per usual, locking my door. I was so glad that now mom and dad thought I was old enough to deserve some privacy. I was still working up the courage to ask them if I could go an oceanography trip, but I thought maybe this would be the year. In the middle of town there was the fountain, lit up like the moon, its waters bursting forth.
That’s when I heard a sound behind me.
“Cynthia Madelyn Morgan! What do you think you’re doing?”
I was caught, finally.
“Do you want to know what really happened with our other grandmother?” I heard a voice whisper in my ear. In the dim light of my new room (with no windows) I could see Jacob’s face.
“What?” I murmured sleepily. “Do you know what time it–?”
“Shh! Do you want to know or not.”
“No.” I said. “I’m tired of all of this. No one considers my feelings–”
“Cindy, will you just listen? I’m sorry I woke you up, okay? I’m usually up at this time so…”
“Fine.” I admitted. So maybe I was curious.
“She killed herself.” He stated. “She killed herself by jumping into the ocean.”
“What?” I half-yelled. Jacob shushed me.
“I didn’t want to tell you because you were still a kid back then. But I’m telling you now. I never thought you’d try to kill yourself, but I guess its the crazy streak that runs in the family. Don’t do it sis. Promise me?”
“I wasn’t trying to kill myself! How many times do I have to tell you, I was just jumping in to swim.”
“Just promise?” he said, looming over me.
“How do you even know about this anyway?” If I knew one thing about my parents, its that they didn’t like to tell us anything we didn’t “need” to know.
“Because I was there!”
A silence fell between us.
“I wasn’t supposed to be. Grandma kept telling me about mermaids and how she was going to go visit some where she was going. I wanted to come along, so I snuck out to follow her to the pier. There–there was a storm outside. Black clouds and everything.”
“Grandpa tried to convince her to stay, get help, that he loved her, and mom and dad were there too. But they couldn’t stop her. I wish I’d come out from hiding then, so I could have tried, but I was scared mom and dad were going to be mad. But I’m telling you Cindy–just don’t.” He held up the cross on his necklace so that the light from the hallway shone through it.
“I won’t ever kill myself, okay?” I promised.
But I knew my grandmother hadn’t. She was going back to the sea. And so would I, one day.
I didn’t know why I hadn’t left yet. There was nothing in this society that made me want to stay. It seemed that every year since the incident, my parents grew more and more protective, and life worse and worse. There comes an age when adults stop trying to help you enjoy your life and instead actively conspire to make it miserable. Also, there comes an age when you realize that adults are wrong about many things too.
I was excited for Valentine’s Day not out of any notions of romance, but because tonight there would be a protest in town against pollution. I figured it was a flyer lodged in the crack of my locker.
But this is what I found instead:
I looked on the back for a clue, but all I found was a note that said “I’ve had a crush on you for a long time now. If you like me back, would you meet me at the Township Cafe this afternoon.”
Precisely because this was the kind of thing my mother would never approve of, I decided on impulse to meet him. There was no one there though, except a boy being yelled at by the manager. He had shaggy dark hair and piercing electric, greenish eyes.
“Why hello Cindy!” the manager turned to me. “How are you?”
“I’m good.” I mumbled. I didn’t really like him.
“Cythnia,” the boy said quietly, “its me.”
“Oh, um hi.” I stuttered. I suddenly felt very self aware. It was an uncomfortable feeling, like being naked. We stared at each other for a minute before I ordered our food and said “lets go sit down.” He nodded and followed me to the veranda.
“I’m Calian. Sorry for not telling you my name earlier: I just didn’t want anything to happen to my family if you were upset about the note.”
“I’m not upset.” I said. “Why would I be?”
“You kicked the other boy.” He said very quietly.
I blushed. I didn’t think everyone in town knew about the incident. I’d never even seen this guy before. I let out an awkward laugh. “I just, um, well he was kind of a jerk. He catcalled me. Uh, so, how do you know me?”
“I saw you at the protest.”
I suddenly felt much better about myself. Soon we were reminiscing about the “Save the Wildlife” protest. Apparently he loved the piece I wrote.
“So, why haven’t I seen you around?” I found myself asking as I finished my sandwich.
“Oh, we just moved here.”
“Cool, from where?” I replied conversationally.
“I come from Afghanistan.”
I suddenly realized why I wouldn’t know him.
“O-oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize–”
“Please don’t go.” He asked, eyes wide.
“I’m not.” I reassured him. “I just meant I was sorry about the war and stuff. You don’t have to talk about it.”
For the first time in a long time, I was tempted to tell my secret.
I have to admit I was wrong about people. Things were different with Calian–we could talk all night about his old home, his cheery town where the kids all played outside til dark and the festivals were loud and boisterous affairs with music, lanterns everywhere, and the smell of food cooking outside, and how he got involved in many movements because of the things he’d seen with his dazzling green eyes.
I finally told him my secret, and rather than thinking I was insane, he said, “The world is a strange place, sometimes.”
“That’s it?” I asked. “You’re not gonna tell me your opinion?”
“I don’t know what’s true. But if you want to go, you should go. Its your life.”
Late that night, I sat with the fancy letterhead my mother used for important letters, trying my best to neatly write the final words they would hear from me in a while.
I left it in the mailbox as I headed out into the night, quietly closing the door behind me. I finally knew why I couldn’t go before…and why I had to go now.
The fountain looked more beautiful than ever when I dove in.
End of Part I
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