Monday, February 22, 2021

Flash Fiction: "Self Help"

 A "dive" into some fiction today, which I don't spend enough time writing. I found and polished up this old story from one of my MFA classes. At the time, I was interested in the idea of self-help gone awry, and the prompt I was given for class was "swimming pool." 

"Self Help"

Laura Lundquist did not have a swimming pool. 

She lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment, ten minutes away from the marketing firm where she worked. She had no dog, no cat, and no houseplants. She spent her evenings watching documentaries and foreign films, and trying new recipes, the results of which often languished in her fridge for weeks before she threw them out.

Walking into her apartment after work, the July heat radiating on her skin and hair, Laura imagined slipping out of her clothes and into the cool chlorine of Noah’s pool. She’d dangled her feet in it at last year’s work party, and he had smiled at her briefly, as she sat alone. She spent that afternoon watching him, and trying to hide the fact that she was watching him, and trying to figure out whether or not he was watching her. The hairs on the back of her arms stood up whenever he walked close by. 

Perhaps his invitation hadn’t been personal. Laura was a part of the head count. Noah just happened to be hosting that year’s work BBQ, and they happened to work together. Still. She felt hypnotized by the way the sunlight glistened on his warm arms, or how the water gathered on the hairs near his ankles. When he laughed, it was like firecrackers in her lungs…joyful and suffocating all at once. 

When it all became too blinding, she’d stood up from the side of the pool and quietly walked into the house. In the bathroom, she had pulled open drawers, peeked into the cabinets. She had categorized the inventory of his private life. Old Spice High Endurance Pure Sport Deodorant. Colgate whitening toothpaste. A razor that needed cleaning. All of these intimate things. Answers to questions she didn’t know how to ask. 

With music playing distantly outside, and the chatter of co-workers on the back porch, she had quietly opened doors until she found his bedroom. She’d run her hands along the row of clean shirts in his closet, and sat gingerly on his bed. For a few brief moments, she laid back with her legs dangling over the edge, his comforter had been cool beneath her as she’d stared at the ceiling of his bedroom, her arms stretched out to either side.

In the office, he never looked up from his desk when she walked past. But she had seen him, four desks down, slip his shoes off as he worked. She watched him twirl a pen between his fingers as he bent down over his sketchpad. She’d seen his lunch in the office fridge. 

It was late July now, weeks since that party at Noah’s house. Laura closed the apartment door behind her and pulled her dress over her head. She kicked her shoes off as she walked to the bedroom. Her sheets were cool on her back as she stared at the ceiling. She ran her hand along her neck. 

What she wanted was to swim in Noah’s pool. She wanted to come home to that backyard. She imagined him sitting with his feet dangling in the water, smiling at her as the water cooled her limbs. She imagined that he would ask her about the book she was reading, and if Marie from accounting was still ignoring her emails. And all of the thoughts that Laura had tumbling through her head would have a second home in Noah, and she would be able to breathe again. She would drown, smiling, in his love. 

Laura’s mother thought that Laura was depressed, because “she never went out and didn’t have any friends.” Laura replied that she liked being home and had friends at work. Laura arrived home one day to a package from her mother, containing four different types of vitamins, two DVDs of “guided positive affirmations,” and a book called “Taking Charge of Your Life: Going For (And Getting) What You Want.” 

In late August, Laura made her decision.

His back gate was unlocked. Laura stepped into the back yard and walked to the edge of the pool. She stepped out of her shoes and pulled her shirt over her head. She unzipped her skirt and let it fall, unhooked her bra, and stepped out of her underwear. 

She took a deep breath, and jumped into the blue-green, undulating water. Laura floated there, her face tilted to the sky, her arms making lazy circles. 

She didn’t hear the gate unlatch. So she was startled when she heard the voice she had been imagining. 

“Who the hell are you?” 

photo credit: Charlotte Astrid

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