Her mother always believed that open water had a way of healing the soul. Cradling concerns and enveloping reality. Just for a moment. Just until the pain went away. Just until its sweet release healed any remaining wounds.

And so she made a routine. A ritual so to speak. Every morning, as the sun rose. She ran four kilometres, there and back, to get to the lake. Just outside the border of her town. A brushed off paradise. Hidden. Ignored.

She went there as a child. With her parents. Watching her splash and play. Carelessly smiling. Drinking from flasks, and eating sandwiches. They’d rub off each grain of sand from between her toes, before getting back in the car. That was always her least favourite part. Going home. Leaving her little haven.

She believed them back then. Their act. The place where they’d pretend. Pretend to be happy. For her. She was only six then. Naively innocent. Sweetly inexperienced.

She lived in her memories. She’d built her own hideaway. Tucked in some upstairs closet of her mind. Forever returning to that spot. To bring out the photo albums. The video tapes. The memorabilia of her life.

Each morning she’d remove her clothes. The clothes girls are told to wear. Peal them from her frame. Fold them. Let her hair down. And step into the lake she knew so well.

She’d float. Chest to the heavens. Utterly exposed with no one to see. No one to judge her. No one to pity her.

Blissful silence. Pure, uninterrupted peace. Solitude had become a drug to her. The tears that paved their way through her veins, that stroked every curve and crevice, were not hers, but the sky’s. This lake was in her blood. It had long ago consumed her. This practice, this unbreakable habit, was her reprieve. Her escape.

She’d searched for redemption in, drink and sex. The traditional way. But nothing could compare to the promise she found in this one retreat. The lake where time was forgotten. Where her tears would mingle. Just for a moment. Just until the sun had awoken. She could think her own thoughts. The ones they all ignored.

What was it about the lake? She’d think. What was it that made her want to stay? Floating. Helplessly sacrificed, to the sweet ripples that knew her better than herself.

There were stories, in the newspapers of course. But those things always happened to other people. Other men. Other women. People that ran in different circles. Ran on different tracks.

How terrible, they’d all say. How awful. And they were speaking the truth. But never once believed. Could never truly know. For the remnants of her parents were adorned. With adjectives. With exaggerations. All for the mouths that are only sated by gossip.

the lake, illustrations by diane novario

She was mentioned only once in the papers. A passing remark. A feeble curtesy. But she was never the focus. Was never meant to be the focus. Not in this tale. All eyes had nowhere else to go, but upon the image of her parents. The same image that kept circling around and around, time and time again. The one with her mother in that blue knee-length frock that she treasured. As if it were made of the rarest sapphires. Her hand outstretched. Holding his. Wearing his usual. Button down, chino ensemble. Both frozen in place. Plastered smiles. Pinched for the camera. Bodies that would never age. Joy that would never fade. She hadn’t been born when that picture was taken.

The absence of answers was what had driven her to this point. The void of knowledge. Of truth. Of what happened. Behind the facades. Behind the masks that parents wear for their children.

Hair splayed out behind her. Limbs stretched out to their extremities. She was weightless. Burden-less. The lake kissed every nerve. Caressed her bare form, like the finest of silks. This is why she came here. This is why she came back. Every time. She’d had suitors. Both men and women. But none of them understood. No one could understand why she kept coming back here. The lake knew her better than any person could. Any white coat. Any shrink.

It consoled her. Heard her cries. And answered by keeping her afloat. Supported her frame. Holding her.

Through trials and tribulations. This was her cure. To hide her from the world. Just for a moment.

She’d use this time to reflect. On what was. The nights of bloodied shards. Of broken promises. Of black and blue kisses. And forbidden offences. Her favourite pictures in her albums were the ones that faded the fastest. The glow of the fire. Warming her face. Warmer than the marks on her mother.

For the majority of her childhood she remembered hiding. Under her bed. Just out of reach. From their volleyed threats. From the battle cries at night.

One time she went to them. The peacemaker. She watched. Watched their coupling. Heard their agony. Or so it seemed at the time. Does all joy come from pain? She’d wonder. Does all lightness come from the dark?

The lake held an essence of her soul. Held a firm grasp on her sanity.

This is where she should have been. Long ago. All those nights ago. It was her fault. The only truth she’d ever known. It was all her fault. A piece of evidence she’d never shared. Not with anyone. The lake. The lake. The lake. The lake. This lake. Not any other lake. Her lake. This was the only thing she never would share with anyone. Her haven. Her counsel. Herself.

What happened? She’d never tell.

She’d picture the cliche phrases on brightly saturated posters, in waiting rooms. Cheer up, it can only get better. A smile goes a long way. The sun will rise again. But how is the sun meant to rise again if it has lost its course? Been forced onto a different path? Sunk to the depths of its own misery, never to rise again?

She didn’t see the point. Not anymore. This world was foreign to her. She knew this world like a stranger. From a glance. From a distance.

She’d planned this. Long ago. She knew this day was coming. Each morning, on her run to the lake. She imagined. Imagined what it would be like. How she’d do it. She’d never worked up the guts to do it before. But finally the time had come.

Gazing up at the tangerine morning sky. Birds gliding on a phantom wind. She smiled. For the first time, she truly smiled. In the knowledge of what she was doing.

She prayed to the lake. That it would let her go. Just this once. And as promised, ever so slowly she sank beneath the surface.

Rust and debris greeted her at the lake’s bed. Plastic bottles. Beer cans. Wrappers. The unwanted. The things no one cared for. Not any longer.

She stroked at the lake. Moving swiftly. Returning home. Her rusted and decayed home. Algae wearing it like a second skin. She entered through the back. Heaving at the door. Closing it behind her.

The lake was all around her. In her. But she couldn’t help that now.

Two hollow husks embraced her. She knew they’d be there. Her parents. Blue. Floating. Cold. Not too far from that photo the papers loved.

This was what she’d never spoken about. All those years. And only she knew. The lake knew.

Her breath becoming sparse. Strapped into the back seat, where she was meant to be. All those years ago. Vision eddying. Coming in sharp ebbs and flows. This was justice. For what she’d done.

Maybe she’d died long ago. In the lake.

Her final breath was a sigh of relief. Long. Drawn out. Free of hurt. Free of pain. The weight from her shoulders evaporating. And she was reunited with her loved ones.

In her eyes, she had healed time. Her past. Her present. Her future. But in the lake. In this lake. Time doesn’t heal. It ferments.