This short story is about growing up and what it means to know yourself. It looks to explore that balance between following rules because you feel like you are meant to, and ignoring rules because that’s what you need to do to be your own independent person. We don't have to be perfect all the time. It reminds us that we are alive.
She had always wanted to swim in the lake. Every childhood summer had been spent sitting by the water and looking at the surface or making long detours to pass it on her walks. Those summers she made many friends, other kids who also spent their school breaks away from the city. Those kids complained of being disconnected from their ordinary lives and would spend hours telling her about their friends back home, which she had no interest in at all. She felt like she was the only one who appreciated the nature around them, the stillness, the lakes. Her new friendships would never last the whole summer. All she wanted to do was sit by the lake, and they soon grew tired of her, thought her boring. Each time she asked her mothers if she could swim in her lake, they would reply in the negative. They just didn’t understand what was so enchanting about it and why she wanted to ‘bathe in mud’ when they could go to the beach. The lake was small and brown, tucked away in the forest. So private, so serene. She would spend hours dreaming about what it would be like to touch the surface with her toes, just a soft nudge, and to watch the ripples. She wondered if any fish or frogs lived in the lake. Although, she contemplated, the water wasn’t clear enough for her to see to the bottom, so would that mean that the hypothetical fish could not see much either? Would they live their whole life in the colour brown without ever knowing there was more?
In the winter months when they were back in the city, she took to reading everything she could find about lakes, spending hours in the school library after the other kids had gone home. Brown lakes can sometimes be acidic she read in a book called ‘Fun Facts about Water’, and it frightened her. What happened to a person who swam in an acid lake? Was acid the same thing as poison?
Her parents laughed at her, told their friends of her ‘childish obsession’ as they called it, expecting her to outgrow it within a matter of months, the way her siblings outgrew their ninja turtles and fireman phases. But this one never went away.
The sweat ran down her face onto the pillow, it was three in the morning, and the window was kept closed to keep bugs out. She preferred the stifling heat to the high pitch mosquito buzz. In the dark she heard her own tight breath, a few thumping heartbeats for every in and exhale. She was back in her mothers’ holiday home where she had spent her summers as a child. Not having been there for longer than a weekend in years, she now she had the place to herself.
The lake floated into her mind like it always did when she was awake at night, but for some reason it stayed there tonight and wouldn’t go away. She had never really forgotten about the lake, it had always been with her, often tinged with shame, as a symbol of her spineless self. Whenever she was back here, she felt like she was given a new chance, a chance to once and for all be rid of herself. But swimming in the lake was nothing but a childhood fancy, she kept telling herself, and if there ever was a moment to do it, it must have passed years ago. However, tonight something was different. The urge to leave her house was growing stronger by the minute, as if all her life, every minute of perfect obedience, had culminated into this very moment. Never in her life had she done anything forbidden. She stared at the wall and wished she was someone else. Someone else would have bathed in the lake years ago, and then gone on to try more things, every day giving into a new sweet desire. Did those people feel fulfilled? Because she certainly didn’t. Smothered by her own hungers she had never let herself grow, always just carried the lake in her mind, alongside all the other denied pleasures of her life. Tonight she had to do it. She stumbled out of the bedroom, rubbed her eyes. For a second she worried about making noise, but then she remembered there was no one to wake up.
This must the beginning of something new she thought. She opened her front door and stepped out. The air was chillier than she expected. Slow and steady she made her way towards the lake. It would take her less than five minutes to walk. She would wade into the water and float until parts of her fell away and sunk to the bottom. Those parts she would leave in the mud. Never again would she feel this way, like she was somehow wrong, like everything to do with her was wrong. No longer her past would hang over her, as suffocating as the August heat. The brown water would submerge her and slowly she would transform.