She was my best friend. Or I thought she was.
Ten minutes, she said. It was no big deal–any girl could do it, and then some. Audrey’s record was thirteen minutes. She said the world record was twenty-three. She hoped to beat it some day.
I guess I did it to impress her. I didn’t have many friends, and I didn’t want her, or any of the other girls, to think I couldn’t at least hold my breath for ten minutes if they could. The stupid thing was, I didn’t even ask them to prove they could hold their breath that long. I just believed them. Out there, swimming around with the six of us in the open lake, with the rain pouring down, much farther away from shore than Audrey’s grandparents told us to go–why didn’t they watch us? How could they let me do this?
It’s tough to count with my head underwater. Paddling my open palms upward to keep me submerged, my hair gliding across my face, tickling my nose, making me think of minnows enveloping me. They’d swarm all around my body, in my hair, in my bathing suit, until I was just a shine beneath the surface–and then the minnows would disperse and there would be nothing of me left.
Somehow, the thought was soothing. Pretty sure I hit five minutes. I’m over the hill.
I grew tired. My arms were sore from pushing the water up, pushing me down. It was dark, and the counting was like counting sheep. I didn’t know if I could keep myself under the surface. I’d just have to float flat with my face submerged–a dead-girl’s float, like I used to do to scare lifeguards at the local swimming pool.
Someone was tugging on my elbow. I yanked my arm back. I was at six–maybe seven–minutes. No way I would give up this far, this close to the goal. That probing hand, snatching my arm, my hair, the strap of my top–but I kicked and loosed myself and swam out farther, underwater all the while.
My would-be record-saboteur seemed to give up. Eight minutes. No, it had to be nine. My shoulder hurt–I think I was scratched. And I needed to breathe. Swimming away made me so exhausted, and there were little bubbles slipping up my cheeks and along my eyes. Nine and a half minutes. If I couldn’t make another thirty seconds I wasn’t worthy of friendship. I knew it. Everyone knew it.
I counted down from thirty. My eyes felt like they were bulging out of my skull, and my chest felt like it was being sat on by my dog. But I counted.
I emerged. Swallowed just as much rain as air. I saw my friends on the shore.
That’s when the lightning struck.
The three prompt results today were: “Nearly drowning,” “The person your mother always warned you about,” and “Struck by lightning.” It was a happily congruous group. Until next time!