by Jessica Lampard
The banks of the river melted under our feet like dark paint as we slipped, forbidden, to the water’s edge in the night. We fell into the crooks of boys’ arms and they fed us vodka they’d swiped from their parents’ cupboards, standing behind us to feel our new breasts through our bikinis. Even as we stood still, the rush of booze and hot breath on our necks gave us the sensation of moving forward. We saw, when we shut our eyes, a shimmer of light. As if our futures were coming closer and brighter. Maybe we’d move out of the town where nothing ever happened, become somebody.
For weeks, our hair smelled of river. We mastered the swim from one side to the other. We each had our specialties: Cherry could swim the fastest, I could dive the deepest, and Lacy was the best at holding her breath. One afternoon we went as far as we could imagine: under the shade, where pine branches skimmed the water, we let the boys under our bathing suits. Playing at passion, we opened our mouths and water flowed in.
We tasted rot, wondered what animal had drowned upstream. The boys left us to investigate. “A bear,” they said, and we followed them to where the flies thickened over its eyelids in twin masses the size of baseballs. Blood a sticky jewel at its mouth. We vomited into the shallows and thought we’d never clean out our insides.
We started to stay indoors, the autumn breezes rattling dead leaves onto the river. “A drowning man will always grab a blade if it’s offered,” our English teacher told our class one day, and for the first time we paid attention, copied into our notebooks. We took the parable literally and imagined ourselves acting it out: in a river much stronger than our town’s, our hands reaching into the air toward a huge, metal knife to pull ourselves out, invisible chords of current yanking our legs down.
The river blew out of our hair, was replaced with the scent of dust from the library and the sweetness of our apple shampoo. We took up reading, half-hoping to find another quote that would pull our old fears and pleasures out of us, replace them with new.
When one of us admitted to having skipped three periods, we added our graffiti between the BITCH and Thug Life written on the cement tunnel at the edge of town: A drowning woman will grab a blade.
We kept her secret.
Jessica Lampard graduated from the University of Victoria’s creative writing program, and has since worked as a technical writer, editor, and book reviewer. She is currently writing a collection of short stories. Her work has appeared in The Tyee, The Coastal Spectator, Wink Books, and elsewhere.