She leaned down and grabbed the railing. The plank was thin and cool under her hand, parched like driftwood carved by the seasons. She looked out across the water. The surface rippled, silver and shiny, waving like a bedsheet pulled from the dryer and snapped wide over the bed frame, hovering silently before resting on the mattress.
Agnes noticed. Everything was moving left. The current’s canvas like chocolate diamonds; the leaves on the oak trees, shaped like children’s knitted gloves, the palms open and flat; the four swans gliding in the distance, beak to tail-peak, like bloated pearls threaded on a piece of string. Ahh, towards the emerging light, she acknowledged looking up, the hint of a smile cresting her face. Daybreak amazed Agnes. The world starting over, yesterday scrubbed away with the night, leaving only today, which has never happened before, and will never happen again.
She took a deep breath and stepped off the dock, trusting a stair was hidden below the water’s surface to catch her foot. The chill of Lake Silverfish raced up her legs in bumps like minuscule mites swarming. They clambered across the expanse of her belly, up her arms to her face, causing Agnes to shiver like a plastic, inflatable character tethered to the roof of a tire shop, yellow and tall like Sesame Street’s Ernie, its toothy grin ridiculous across the frozen face. The shock stung like a bee. Her body registered the familiar assault and flirted with passing out. This sometimes happened to Agnes after a welt sprouted, the intruder long buzzed away, satisfied.
She clamped her mouth shut to stop the chattering and winced at the silky feathers blooming under her feet. The step was covered in a cashmere of tendrils and blades, spores and florets, slippery and soft. Mushy like sautéed mushrooms, she winced. Before she could change her mind, Agnes pushed away, choosing the bath of icy blades in favor of the slop covering the rest of the stairwell. Cold squeezed her like Death shaking hands, impatient and determined, bony fingers threatening to never let go. Agnes’ limbs looped with a flurry, cutting butterfly wings through the batter with every stroke, propelling her past the crown of weeds swaying against her legs into clearer waters.
Swimming came as naturally to Agnes as walking. She wasn’t sure which she had learned first as a child. You’re such a little fish, Agnes!, her mother used to coo, turning the page of Good Housekeeping from the lounge-chair on the side of the pool, a concrete hole dug on the side of a two-lane highway, behind a chainlink fence, somewhere along the south side of Jersey. For hours Agnes would throw the penny she had asked her mother for that morning as far as she could, diving to pick it up off the floor like a retriever fetching a tennis ball, before popping up breathless, adjusting her goggles, and pitching the coin to discover it all over again.
Agnes headed for the little square of floating dock in the middle of the lake. She wanted to inspect the steely keg bobbing next to it, tethered by rope, and the plastic owl nailed in the corner meant to scare the birds away. Not warmed-up yet, Agnes flipped over anyway. The cold smacked the back of her head, filling her ears with the wet words from the world below. She swished the water past her gently, just fast enough to stay afloat, staring at the wisp of clouds like Q-tips above. Moving left, she noticed. Like everything else. But me. The lake hummed drowning the thought. Ironic, she noted, smiling. Slowly, Agnes flipped back over, the cold flash-frying her wet hull once more, prodding her arms and legs to cycle quicker in their native tongue. The water streaked with cobalt blue, like paint squirted onto a palette from an aluminium tube, disorienting Agnes. She looked around as she stroked, not believing the story her eyes were convinced. She tipped her head back, looking up once again, and noticed the dark patches of blue moving in and filling the sky between the clouds, reflecting back onto the lake. She was struck by how much richer the image was then its original.
Agnes swam into a warm patch, her muscles instinctively relaxing from their rigor. Where do these pockets came from, she wondered. In a pool, everyone knew, or at the very least, assumed, the cause for a sudden change in temperature. Slick weeds tickled her feet, surprising her. Ahh, maybe they warm the water around them, Agnes considered. She pushed the weeds back with each kick, but the tendrils clung to her ankles like fingers. Agnes kicked harder, punching into their guts. She pulled her leg back, but the blades braided together like rattan weaving into a basket. Agnes kicked with her other foot, the twin fighting for its mate, sending her body planking upright, feet swirling, tangling in a tsunami. An unfamiliar feeling washed over Agnes.
Agnes lurched, slapping the water. Liquid crowded her, seeping into every crevice, clouding her eyes and deafening her ears, a large bubble lodging in the crux of her throat. Agnes fought back against the forest below, kicking and punching, thrashing it like a house intruder who woke her in the night, one hand placed over her mouth and the other gripping a serrated blade pressed against the heat coursing through her jugular. The water danced with Agnes, retreating when she advanced and advancing when she retreated, her partner in an erratic waltz.
You belong to the forest. Was that a threat? A promise? Or the truth? Agnes didn’t know. The air turned thick like mud, and the trees grew out of the sky licking the dirt. Brine burned Agnes lungs, as the weeds coaxed her closer to their queen. Agnes started to cry, afraid, angry, her tears shedding into the brack like an offering, the weeds wrapping her in a warm embrace. Her movements became looser… weaker… unpredictable.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this! Her old friend revealed as a villain, the sanctuary now her catacomb. Agnes took a deep breath, filling her lungs as far as they stretched. Opening her eyes wide, she threw back the quilt and set her feet on the cold wooden floor all at once, as if they were stitched together like a fishtail. She stared at the lake shimmering below her from the bedroom window at the top of the stairs. Standing up, Agnes walked to the bathroom, grabbing her suit from the hook on the back of the door.