Soundtrack: Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire
Words: 13 333 <-freaky number! And yes, I have been slacking...
A short story I wrote for this month's issue of our school magazine. It's name is "Water Girl" (working title. It's kind of lame and oh-so-much lamer once you actually read it).
My chalked feet tense on the taut rope—the only thing that stands between me and the ground, a hundred metres below—as I peer over my curled toes and swallow hard. There’s a children’s wading pool, stands full of people and me.
“Introducing...” Oswald, the chubby ringmaster, begins with a flourish. A pre-recorded drum roll comes over the speakers and a spot light dances around the tent before it fixes on me. I squint in the bright light but flash a winning grin at the audience. “Marina the Water Girl!”
I wave and smile, gritting my teeth. Relax, Marina, I take a deep breath, no one wants to see a girl jump off of a tightrope and almost land in a pool. If they wanted to, I bet there’s something on the internet. Some blooper reel set up just to poke fun at people like me.
My old biology teacher, Mr Temple, used to say, “Humans are sixty percent water and forty percent ignorance.”
The other kids would sneer or scoff, but not me. Mr Temple and I always ate lunch together at the collapsible table attached to the Strong Man’s trailer, away from the other kids. We sat in silence, content in each other’s company. “Sure glad I’m not a human,” I said once, through a big bite of turkey sandwich, when I was feeling particularly bold.
“Me too,” his eyes twinkled and he took a swig from the little thermos that he always kept on hand
The other kids used to make fun of Mr Temple for his long white hair, half moon glasses and tie-dye tee shirts. They said that he was a hippie, said his thermos was full of booze and he wasn’t a real teacher. There were wrong about the last one, though. Mr Temple was the best teacher I’ve ever had.
He left the circus last summer because all of the travel was getting to him. Apparently he wanted to spend more time with his family but no one knew who exactly his family was. It was hard to imagine that Mr Temple had actually come from somewhere. That’s what he told the rest of the class, anyway. On his last day, he ate lunch with me.
“Guess I’ll be seeing you, water girl,” he said with a smile.
“I hate when people call me that,” I scowled.
Mr Temple nodded sagely. “That’s why I have to go,” he replied. “All you freaks—you’re not really freaks, are you?”
He looked like he wanted an answer, so I shook my head and he laughed. “Well, maybe sometimes, but we all are. You know what, Marina? You’re most normal person here.” That's the first time anyone's ever called me normal.
I imagine Mr Temple in the stands, cheering me on. Or maybe he’s covering his eyes, crossing his fingers for me. I’ve done this stunt a thousand times, and my mother a thousand times before that. She was the original Water Girl—called Aqualine by the ring master even though her real name was Isobel. I don’t know what my real name is, if I have one. Marina could be just another gimmick but for now it’s what I answer to.
Oswald touches his nose, my signal to get a move on. I bend my knees and dive into the air. I watch my mark—a little red dot painted dead center of the pool. If I miss by even a fraction of an inch, I’m gone. Despite years of practice, I can’t calm my nerves. My heart jumps around in my chest, rattling against my ribs, threatening to break free and kill me here and now.
I’m in the air for less than ten seconds but in that time I can feel the crowd hold its breath. My turquoise tights and dark blue body suit ripple as I careen downward—the white ribbons Oswald insisted on braiding into my dark hair catch the breeze and for a moment I pretend that I’m more bird than fish.
The crowd roars when I land with barely a splash. I could tell you that it’s all smoke and mirrors and bungee cords, but when you get down to it it’s mostly guts, stupidity and a firm assurance that the tiny wading pool is my only option.
But next time, maybe just a millimetre to the left would be the better choice.
Hope you like it!