Flash Fiction

Night Swimming

I think back to falling out that window and sneaking across the open field. Maybe I fell, maybe he did. His golden retriever followed us barking too loudly and we shushed him, as we lit our way with our small red flashlight and parted tall yellow grass which seemed above our heads, but I’m sure was not.

After parting the seas, we turned out the light, and took off our pajamas, left only in our under-clothes, so recently stripped of Batman and Wonder Woman emblems. The dark was protective, but still we ran and jumped into the obscurity of the lake. It seemed a lake then, now it seems like a pond, expanding or retracting by the rhythm of summer showers. But we whispered Marco Polo, and tried not to laugh. The dog waded next to us, knowing that we were naïve and alone.

There were lights shining. At first we thought they were fireflies, out past their curfew, but then a flame appeared on the water. It did not evaporate, but magnified, and he placed his finger over my lips to request silence. His arm brushed against my stomach underwater, and I tried not to giggle, not to give away our position. The dog growled, and we slid under the water as the light grew closer.

We hovered low and noiseless in the lukewarm water, hoping the dog would follow our lead. The cackle of teens, the clanging of PBR bottles, and scent of Marlboro Lights hovered in the fog. We waited, the dog too, and the water began to feel cooler in our stillness. I ran my hand over my arm and felt goosebumps underwater. We tried not to react when we heard a car horn honk, a voice from another teen calling them away.

Eventually their lights, laughter and scent dissipated into darkness, so we surfaced and peered across the field. We giggled as we waded towards the shore, but then silenced ourselves, for fear that older brothers and sisters and their corrupted childhood might spot us, seize us, and take us to places we were unready to visit. But only retrospect possesses this knowledge.

Dripping and satisfied in our solitude, we slipped back into our pajamas. The dog shook himself off. The rattling of tags seemed thunderous in that vacuum of sound. Again we parted the seas, attempting to follow our previous path of crushed grass in that immense dark, lit again by the weakening light of our flashlight. Distant streetlights and the occasional headlights lit up our destination. Ahead loomed his house, a faux Tudor exterior, the white stucco now visible and divided into triangles and squares, the window we’d need to reach still lit just faintly. Before we even began the climb, I had to remind myself to breathe.

We clamored up the tree, scraping our knees on shedding bark, and the dog whined quietly, as if he were mouthing the words, impatiently awaiting our safe return, so he might curl up in his doghouse and sleep soundly in the knowledge of our sanctuary. As we jiggled the window open, I pleaded for his silence, and he reluctantly abandoned his charge. We fumbled across stucco, and through the window towards the safety of his room. A Millennium Falcon nightlight lit the way, and I landed on the floor staring up at a ceiling filled with tiny glowing constellations, the faint scent of my watercolors and his leather glove. I snuck back to my room through the closet, our secret passage built by his dad when we were young, younger than we were that night.

My room, the guest room, has been changed only recently, and the pink walls have been replaced by soothing yellows. The twin I’d converted with sheets into a princess bed for sleepovers, now replaced with a queen, a deep red bedspread and soft cream sheets. I wonder if his parents patched up the passage when he left, when they took him away. I move boxes of memories aside, to assess, to squeeze through an ancient passage to the room that’s not his. Through that window, I watch for lights and hear a dog bark in the distance.

Meredith Harvey is an English Professor who has published primarily in academic venues on the subjects of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and postcolonial identities. More recently she has published flash fiction in the online literary magazine Instant Noodles and in Five on the Fifth. Additionally, she published a co-written horror short story in a horror anthology by Graveyard Press.