Storytime: Across The Pond

Since I always talk about creative writing, I thought I’d actually share a story I wrote. I published it a few years ago in an arts publication on campus called the Undergraduate Review and maybe I’ll share some more in the future… I hope you enjoy:

Across The Pond

 

Only the cool, clear liquid separated the woman and the man. They were directly across from one another on the banks of the pond that would have been a perfect circle to a sparrow. A fog hung around the pond, blurring the surroundings from view so that the only thing either person could see was the gun-toting figure across the water. The water looked cold and deep, from the woman’s vantage. It was uninviting, almost laughing at her if she got too close, so she never tried.

It was like they were trapped at the edge of the pond, this perfect circle. The woman was dressed in a cowboy hat, a black button-down tucked into her jeans which were tucked into her boots. Each shoe was leather, and they were as identical and yet foreign as two feet are to one another. A heavy leather belt was slung over one shoulder and housed in each of its ringed openings was a shotgun shell. She wielded the shotgun deftly, and looked like someone going off to Afghanistan, such was her weapon’s modernity.

The man was dressed in a tight blue suit. It had thin lapels to match its thin tie, much like the kind in fashion today. His suede black loafers were starkly out of place among the reeds and grasses of the pond’s bank, their black unavoidable among the lush greens. So were the ancient pistols that waited in his dual-holsters. The guns could have been from early this century, or the last, the woman could not tell. But, they seemed to be anachronistic and she wondered why things like that should still have a place in this world. The man, too, was ancient. He looked like Chet Baker would have had made it to one hundred.

Despite appearances, the man still moved quickly. The woman had to be on guard all the time to catch him making a move, she could never really relax when in his presence. If he sprung to the left, or the right, she had to reactively spring to the right, or to the left. To the aforementioned sparrow, their movements would have resembled a disgusting zero-sum game. The two had been locked in this ebb and flow for quite some time, probably a few days, but she could not tell. The man had a watch on his wrist, but that was Man Time, it would mean nothing to a woman. The fog formed a protective cover overhead, and she could not figure out the passage of time from the Sun any longer. None of the tricks she had known since birth would help her here because it was his world, it was the man’s world.

“How you feeling over there, hun?” the man spat to her one day. Neither had spoken yet, it hadn’t seemed appropriate. They had just sat on the banks on the water looking at each other.

“Fine” she said back. She had been on the precipice of saying “Sir” but had stopped herself. She couldn’t even guess why such a man might ever deserve such a title, but she had almost said it nevertheless. “How long are we gonna be here, hoss?” she said not wanting him to lead the conversation. Hoss didn’t seem right either. All the words she thought of to describe this man properly seemed like they hadn’t been invented yet, like they would just die off in the pond before reaching all the way across. Though probably if the words did reach him, the man would just chuckle and call her a sweetie, or one of the other plethora of words that had been invented that didn’t really describe her but were used to anyways.

“Hoss? People don’t really speak like that where we come from. Now do they, sweetie?”

“No. I… no, they don’t” she couldn’t fathom why she had acquiesced there. One moment her gun was pointed at Hoss, the next she was answering his question and her shotgun was aimed right at a bunch of dandelions.

“Well, then. Why would it occur to you to use that word, hmm?” He put each hand on a hip like a schoolteacher and stared over at her. She did not answer, only retrained her firepower on him and his sanctimonious little hands. He smiled which took her aback and he could tell it did. “You’re wondering why I smiled?” he guessed. Once again she nodded. It seemed as though speaking would not be the way to beat Hoss. He drew one of the old guns from his side and looked at it. It hung limply in his hand for a while and she could not tell what he was doing. It could be something, it could be nothing.

“How long are we going to be here? Why are we here?” she asked him. His flaccid hand tightened all at once, and suddenly the pistol was pointed at her. He had never pointed the gun at her with such fury, until now. It was like a lion who, upon constant interruption from a lesser, weaker animal, finally gives a swipe of the paw with claws extended.

“Ooh, girlie isn’t so rambunctious now, is she?” the man laughed. She could tell that he was ill at ease, for once, and so let the silence settle. The man did not like this, and fired a shot directly at her. the bullet was so hilariously pitiful. As it streaked towards her, the woman was easily able to sidestep the attempt and it found rest in the soft mud of the bank. The woman, for the first time, took her eyes off the man so that she could stoop and pick up the shot. She was struck by how awful an attempt he had made. Not surprisingly, the bullet was old like the gun, but there was something patently weak about it. Maybe not weak, but just out of energy. After realizing how different the bark and the bite seemed to be, the woman burst out laughing. She even had to sit, dropping her gun, so that she might not accidentally shoot herself. “What?” the man asked honestly, “Why are you laughing at me?” he said dropping the gun.

As she sat laughing, the woman marvelled at how she had let herself be drawn into this duel. What exactly had she imagined could be done him?

“I just thought there would be a little more, ya know?” she said after regaining her countenance. “You seem a lot scarier than your bullets. They are really nothing to me, and the only way you could actually hit me is if I let you.”

For the first time, the woman actually looked down into the water that separated her and the man. It had an opacity that had led her to believe it to be quite deep despite its diameter. But now, when she stuck a hand in, she could feel sand. If it was laughing, the pond was merely trying to open up to her. She realized she had painted the pond with the same brush she painted the man. It was the brush of unease and unacceptance, something she carried with her every day.

The man started shaking when he saw her come up with a fistful of sand. This whole thing, the pond, the fog, he himself, were of the same nature as his bullets. Formidable to sight but not touch. The true nature of the things revealed themselves when she thought first, instead of just concluding based on previous experiences. It was like she had known herself to be unwelcome in the man’s world, without knowing why. She now realized that her world and the man’s world were the same.

“Please don’t do that” he quavered.

“What’s wrong with your voice, lil guy?”

“Nothing. I… You, well.” The woman liked what she heard. One by one, the woman removed everything from herself that wasn’t of her own cells and threw them into the water. The hat and gun were tossed first. Then she untucked her shirt from her jeans, her jeans from her boots and took that final guise off too. She hadn’t liked the clothes but they had seemed appropriate for some reason. They fit the image of what she thought she had been, what she conceived her role to be in the man’s world, now they disgusted her. So, she couldn’t bear to leave them on, plus she loved seeing the old man squeamish.

Finally, she stood naked and stared at the man. For some reason, he could not meet her eye. If she took a step left or right, he reacted accordingly. “What are you doing to me? Please stop this, you won.”

“I did not win, you just lost, buddy.”

“Why did you take off your clothes?”

“Why haven’t you taken off yours?” she asked. But, she had become tired of this game. She thought it did not really matter anymore, and only the old and decrepit like the man would partake, and how lovely it is that games like those new last that long anyways. She took a step into the water, for once feeling safe. The water was warm and it invited her in, as if all it wanted in life was a friend, someone who would not fight around it all the time like the man. Each step she took in the water was accompanied by a gasp from the Old one. But he didn’t matter any longer to the woman, to the pond, or to his world.

On a whim, the woman bounded over to the man. Still in the water, she invited him to join her.

“I can’t… and can’t you cover up.” The woman merely turned at the “can’t”. She walked to the centre of the pond and looked directly upwards. In the middle, the fog was gone and she could see the Sun again. She could see the sparrow who flew overhead, the mountains that brutalized the horizon. She looked back at where she had been, sentried across from the old man and laughed at her naiveté. How formidable a foe she proved to be.

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