I entered the yeah write super challenge and had a blast writing this 999-word flash fiction piece for round one. My prompts were as follows:
Emotion: Disapproval (a character must experience the emotion)
Event: Swim in a pool
Because there were no genre limitations, I enjoyed stretching my wings a little bit with a type of story I haven’t written before.
It didn’t score highly enough to advance to the next round, but I had fun with it in any case. Have a comment? Constructive criticism? Please share your thoughts at the end of the story! (Note: If this is your first time commenting on one of my posts, there may be a short delay before your comment is visible.)
Synopsis: Karin swims in the community center pool at night, searching for a way to escape the reality of her life. Her encounters with a mysterious stranger give her more than she bargained for.
Sharing the Pool
There was rarely anyone at the gym at 3 AM besides the sleepy desk clerk. Until I encountered Marta, I’d had the pool to myself every night.
Swimming was my escape. When I propelled my body through the pool, I felt powerful for a few minutes, almost free. My secret visits to the gym gave me something to look forward to: stolen moments away from Andrew.
When I finished my workout that night, I was surprised to see a woman in the next lane. I hadn’t seen or heard her enter the water, but there she was.
She wasn’t swimming; she just stood there in the pool, looking at me with sad, dark-circled eyes. Her long hair floated freely in the water.
I nodded as I made my way to the ladder. My arms were covered in goosebumps, and I was shocked by how cold the air above the water seemed.
When she spoke, I almost didn’t hear her raspy question.
“How long has he been hitting you?”
Water sloshed onto the pool deck as I spun around. I had almost forgotten my upper arms were black and blue where Andrew had grabbed me, angry about God knows what.
I couldn’t believe this stranger’s nerve; my mind scrambled for an excuse, but came up empty.
“You should wear a swim cap. Read the pool rules,” I muttered before turning to the ladder, not looking back as I hurried to my towel and the locker room beyond.
Two nights later, I made a mental note to mention the temperature to the desk attendant as I hurried to get into the water. I wrapped my arms across my chest, shivering.
The bruises on my upper arms were starting to fade, but my legs told a different story.
I didn’t see her until I was in my lane. I would have sworn that she hadn’t been there a moment before, but she was next to me again. I decided I needed to apologize.
“Hi. I’m Karin. Hey, about the other night…” my voice trailed off as I noticed purple bruises circling her throat, the color standing in stark contrast to her too-pale skin. “Are you OK?”
She waved off my question with a bony hand. “I’m Marta. Bobby won’t hurt me anymore. You need to leave your man, before things get worse. If you stay, you’ll be sorry.”
Despite the chill in the air, my face heated and I couldn’t look at her. I knew I was being rude again, but I donned my goggles and butterflied my way across the pool, my mind whirling.
Who is she, and how does she know so much about Andrew and me?
I swam until I was exhausted. I hadn’t seen her leave, but Marta wasn’t in the pool anymore.
When I got home I used my key to get back into the house, careful not to make a sound.
Andrew’s heavy snoring reassured me he hadn’t known I was gone. I let my breath out slowly, unaware I had been holding it, and felt the familiar sense of dread cover me again.
As I slipped back between the sheets, I had a traitorous thought:
Maybe Marta was right; maybe I should leave.
Marta was in the pool, in her lane, when I took a break midway through my workout the next night. The boiler was obviously not working again. I shivered as I tried to catch my breath, and rubbed my shoulder where Andrew had pushed me into the wall. Once again, it was if Marta knew exactly what had happened.
This time, her gaze was direct and unflinching, her words chastising.
“Leave him now, before it gets worse. Your man is bad news.”
I struggled with my emotions until hot tears overflowed. She was right; Andrew was getting worse every day, his “punishments” becoming increasingly cruel.
“How? I can’t just leave him.” I sputtered.
She frowned and shook her head. Gone was the sympathy from previous nights; now I sensed only disdain.
“Maybe he’ll change…” My voice sounded breathy and weak.
“He won’t change. They never change.” The tone of her voice sent a new wave of shivers through me.
I pushed off from the side of the pool without answering. I swam hard, pushing myself to exhaustion.
When I finally surfaced, Marta was gone.
Pink hints of the sunrise were on the horizon when I trudged up the sidewalk to my house; I’d swum longer than intended. The morning paper lay on the top step, and the headline caught my eye.
Benson Trial Begins
Benson? Had I heard something about this case? I read on, oblivious to dawn breaking around me.
The trial of Robert R. Benson, of Center City is scheduled to begin today at the Washington County courthouse. Video surveillance allegedly showed Benson choking, then drowning his wife, Marta Benson, in the Mapleton Community Center swimming pool on March 3…
I stopped reading, but my eyes were drawn to the victim’s photograph. On the page in front of me was a pale woman with haunted eyes. It was Marta.
A shiver overtook me as realization hit. My encounters with Marta replayed in my mind, one after another, and the pieces fell into place: The bruises on her neck; the drop in temperature in the pool area; her haunted gaze.
I heard Marta’s warning over my racing heart as I backed away from the house.
“Get to the car. Leave, now. Go to the women’s shelter.”
As I turned the key in the ignition, the front door of the house slammed open. Andrew stormed down the steps, bloodshot eyes calculating but wild, a knife clutched in his meaty fist.
“You get back here right now, woman. No wife of mine sneaks around in the middle of the night.”
I didn’t wait to hear more. The tires squealed as I sped away from the man who had controlled me for too long.
“Thank you, Marta,” I whispered through my tears. “Thank you.”