A year and a half ago, on August 3rd 2012, I was inspired by a photo prompt a fellow-Wordsmither, Gerry Wilson, had suggested. I sat down and wrote the first two sentences of a short story. The story was in my head. I planned to write it over the coming weekend and even commented on Gerry’s blog with a promise that my next comment will contain the link.
Some time later, the photo was still on my desktop, giving me hard time for a promise unkept. The worst part is that the story was still in my head, but I didn’t find the time to sit down again. I deleted the picture, but thank goodness I kept the initial sentences on file.
Here is the story. Not exactly the one that was in my head, but pretty much so.
*This is a story without a title*
Here is Gerry Wilson’s original post. It is really awesome that I managed to find it, as well as recover the picture again.
*** From left to right on this picture are Peter, Susan, Bobby, my cousin Rebecca and me, Quentin. My sister Alex took the photo from across the pool. That was the first day of the happiest summer I’ve ever had. Later on, I would remember it over so many a tearful nights, that it would hurt me in the throat to even pronounce the names. Especially the name of the one who is not on it.
That is Susan’s parents’ pool we are standing at, on the picture. We took the picture in July, the morning after Susan’s 15th birthday. After that we would go and play there every day. Early in the morning I would crawl out of my bed and run to the terrace of my step-mother’s luxury house, to see that Peter is already standing on the edge of the pool. “Hey, Pete,” I would shout out. “Wait for me. Don’t jump in!”
Then, without looking to see if he would do as asked, I darted downstairs, past my smiling step-mom whose understanding brown eyes always followed me with a playful flicker, and across our freshly-mown lawn.
I rarely had the time for the official passage to Susan’s, but usually used the wicket gate our fathers had made in the wall, out of good neighborly manners. Our fathers were friends, indeed. I think they had gone together at University, if not even something more. One morning, I passed through the gate and reached the pool, only to see Pete and Susan making out at the near pool bank. First, I heard Susan’s giggle and hurried whispers, then I saw them. Seeing me, both pushed away from each other and looked different directions. I didn’t care what they did, but I was thankful they tried at least to keep some decency and not make us all uncomfortable in their presence.
Pete snapped, “Where’s Alex?” “God, Alex,” I would slap my face. I had forgotten her again. Alex was my half-sister. She was my father’s daughter from his marriage to my step-mom: a cutie, 4 years old, and very gentle. She was often ill, her lungs had some difficulties. I don’t know what was wrong with her then. The only thing our parents told me was I had to take good care of her and not molest her in any way. I liked the kid, so I didn’t mind looking after her whenever I could. Sometimes I forgot she existed, though.
When Peter asked his sleek question, intending to send me away so he could steal a couple of more kisses and squeezes from Susan, I ran back to our house. Alex was waiting for me on the steps in front, smiling. Her mom was right behind her, holding a towel. Rebecca had already left for her parents’ villa somewhere on the coast. Alex was my responsibility now.
I stopped insecurely. My step-mom had seen me, as usual, when I passed through the kitchen, but had said nothing. Why hadn’t she made me stop and wait for Alex? She had only looked at me in her peculiar way.
“Alex,” I said, “are you ready? Let’s go swim.” I stooped and pinched her on the cheek. She beamed, “Let’s, Quentin. Let’s.” Turning to her mom, she waved, “Bye, mommy.” Her mom let a vixen-like smile and silked out, “I’ll be dreaming of you, honey.”
I felt great discomfort. It was as if this was meant for me. I looked at her, but she was smiling innocently like a Madonna, tenderly patting her daughter’s shoulder. Maybe I was wrong. Alex took my hand and we went to Susan’s. Bobby was already in the water, inflating a rubber toy for Alex. I didn’t see Peter, but Susan was sitting in a chair under a parasol. Her sunglasses covered her eyes, so I didn’t know if she saw us. Alex tore her hand from mine and, screaming with joy, jumped in the swimming pool. Bobby met her with a welcoming hurray and hurried to reach her. Alex couldn’t swim at all, no one had taught her, but she managed quite well while in the water. Bobby was holding on to the toy and pushed it forward for Alex to grab on to it. She did and, screaming even more, struggled to climb on it. Finally, she tried to jump over Bobby. They liked each other very much. He stood still so that she wouldn’t tip and helped her stand on his shoulders. I was looking at them, and didn’t notice Susan had disappeared.
When I finally got in the water, I took a look around the swimming pool and noticed that we were alone in the entire yard. “Maybe those two are upstairs in a bedroom,” I thought disgusted and curious at the same time. I tried to imagine what they could possibly do in a room with a bed, and I remembered the films showing a man and a woman alone, but I wasn’t sure exactly how this was done. I wasn’t that curious either. OK, I was, but only to a certain degree, and then, I preferred playing in the pool.
Then we heard the scream. And another scream. Alex froze, her eyes fixated on an upstairs window. Next thing, she gasped and dropped from Bobby’s shoulders in the pool. She breathed in trying to speak, swallowed some water and choked. Bobby held her tight and made a stroke toward the edge of the pool. I was right after them. We took Alex out and Bobby patted her on the back slightly. Alex was not OK. She continued to cough, her thin shoulders jerked up and down, and she could not breathe. I stared at her, and exchanged panicked looks with Bobby, who continued patting her. We had to try to make her breathe freely, but we didn’t know how. We laid her down on the tiles. It just got worse. So, we decided to turn her to her side. Seconds passed by and Alex didn’t recover. Her small body was turning stiff, her face got blue.
We completely forgot about Pete and Susan. The house on the other side of the swimming pool did not exist. The swimming pool was not there. Bobby and I stopped breathing, stared at Alex, and we were holding her hands. Alex was not breathing either.
Then we heard Susan. “Help! Help me! Bobby! Quentin! Help!”
I looked at Bobby and nodded. He darted toward the house. I stayed with Alex and trembled. Alex was dying or maybe dead. I didn’t know how to tell the difference. I was so cold and so afraid, that I didn’t dare to think. I remember now that hot tears rolled down my cheeks and shocked me. I wanted to wake up and see that all was a stupid and horrible dream, but I knew it wasn’t, so I cried in my helpless 15 years. I just slumped on the tiles beside Alex’s cooling small body, still holding her thin white hand, while my elbow was hooked under her head, now hanging loose and heavy. I wept, not caring who will see me or how I looked. I broke down and my shoulders shook until numb. My face paralyzed distorted and my thoughts were illogical, they felt like frightened deer scurrying through a forest scared by each leaf shadow and every moving shrub.
I didn’t know how much time had passed. When I finally looked up, I saw Bobby walking slowly and mechanically, like a zombie. He came out of the house and stopped, unsure where to go. For a moment I thought he would walk straight into the pool, but he checked himself and only then he noticed us. He ran to Alex, and squatted next to us, but didn’t touch her. Only then I saw his hand was cut and bleeding.
“What happened?” we both asked the other one. Looking at each other’s eyes, we knew that we were lost.