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  • Julianna Ma

Below

By Julianna Ma
Posted on July 1, 2023
Cover Image Title: Below
Cover Image by Julianna Ma
Classification: Digital Art
Specifications: Resized from 2160 x 1620 pixels
Year: 2023

It was just me and the new girl, Annabelle J. Lee, at the swim meet that day. Right off the bat, I could tell something was awry. Her teeth chattered and her hands trembled, yet she had not even dipped a toe into the water yet. Her eyes darted from me, to the rippling abyss of water below, then back to me.


“Don’t worry; it’s okay to be nervous on your first day. You know, when I first started, I could swear I threw up a whole breakfast sandwich into the pool. Legend says it’s still somewhere down there,” I say with a reassuring smile.


Annie nods, although I am not too sure she hears me.

“Hey, are you all right? We don’t have to do this today.”


Her eyes widen for a second and she freezes, like a deer caught in headlights, her teeth still chattering. She slowly and methodically turns to me.


“No. I… I can do this. I just need a minute.”


“Well, uh, if that’s the case, do you want to go to the shallow side to practice? Let’s do some warm-ups over there.”


“I can’t. Sorry.”


“What do you mean?”


Annie makes a noise halfway in between a sob and a gargle. She takes a pause for a long, deep breath, which does not seem to calm her down in the slightest. Her face has gone pale from fear, and I can almost hear the marathon pace at which her heart is thumping. I am afraid she may die of cardiac arrest right on the pool deck.


“I don’t know. Please, I’m fine. Let me do this.” Then, for good measure, she shakily repeats, “Please.”


“You don’t seem fine. You’re welcome to come back some other time, y’know.”


She purses her colourless lips and her head twitches from side to side. I take this to mean “no.” I can now see tears welling up in her eyes, huger now than ever before.


“Please. Push me into the pool or whatever if you need to.” Then, quietly, as though she is afraid of being overheard, she squeaks, “I can’t move.”


“I’m sorry, what?”


Before I can muster up a proper reply to her apparent insanity, she takes a big step onto the pool’s edge, teetering precariously over the edge and flailing her arms out wildly. Her body suspends itself mid-air like time has stopped, arms whipping around like airplane propellers. She turns to me with a pleading look on her ghost-white face. Pleading for what, I did not know, but in that moment, I made a decision that would haunt me for the rest of my life.


With a magnificent spray of brisk pool water, Annie disappears below the waves.


“Hey, Annie? You can come back out now,” I say after a couple of seconds. I try to disguise the panic in my own voice.


My trembling fingertips and sandpaper breaths had known since I pushed her into the pool. Annabelle J. Lee cannot swim.


[ * The End * ]


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