Ripples and Raindrops

Submitted for Contest #89 in response to: Start your story with a character taking a leap of faith.... view prompt

28 comments

Apr 10, 2021

Contemporary Fiction

“It’s okay, baby. I’ll catch you,” he says. 


I can barely hear him over the echo of laughter, the patter of wet feet on cement. The sun hangs, bright and burning, in the chlorine-scented air. I pick at the pink frills of my bathing suit, readjust my purple goggles. One of the big kids runs by the lifeguard’s chair and leaps, leaving a splash and a sharp whistle in his wake. 


“You can do it,” Dad coaxes, in the same voice he uses to calm a panicked animal. “Jump.”


My heart pounds. I’m afraid, not of the water itself or even that he will drop me. I’m afraid of opening my eyes and finding myself in another world, one without oxygen, floating in refracted light. 


I jump anyway, forgetting to hold my breath. 


Water splashes around us, cold and smelling strongly of chemicals. He lowers me slowly into it, calloused hands under my thin arms, smiling. 


“That’s my brave girl.”


💧


Our backyard fills with squeals. My little body is hot and golden in the sun as I propel myself skyward on our secondhand trampoline. Underneath me, a sprinkler shoots streams of deliciously cool water through the thin membrane. I fling droplets as I leap into the summer air, trying to reach the sky.


Dad sits in the shade, reading. A bee shuffles around the rim of his lemonade glass and he shoos it away. 


“Watch me!” I yell. I leap, touch my toes in midair, and land clumsily on my side, shooting off into the safety netting around the edge of the trampoline. I rise, unfazed, hair and eyelashes dripping.


“Good job, baby girl,” Dad says. Drops of water fill the square holes in the netting like stained glass, obscuring him in tiny rainbows. He’s distorted enough that his grin looks like a frown through the curtain of liquid and netting hanging between us. 


I begin my favorite game. I am a lion, down on all fours, crawling and bouncing through the spray of the sprinkler, which is now rain on the savanna. I roar mightily.


Dad watches for a moment, all but forgotten, and returns to his book. 


💧


The life vest clenches tightly across my chest. My legs stretch out uselessly in front of me, bare feet dipped in the lake water collecting in the front of the kayak. 


“Don’t worry,” Dad says when I ask about the water. “It’s not a leak.”


His kayak is green and mine is orange. They’re the same size, but his looks significantly smaller with his long legs folded awkwardly into it. He paddles easily, confidently, and teases me while I spin in circles in the middle of the lake.


It’s more of a pond than a lake, really, rainwater and snowmelt cupped gently in the hands of the mountains. It sits surrounded by needle-thin pines, tall grasses, and raspberry bushes. Moss and algae float heavily on it’s surface. Here and there, fish break through in search of insects. 


“Race you to the dock!” Dad shouts. 


“No fair,” I cry out after him, wobbling as I try to find the right rhythm with my paddle. He’s nearly there by the time I’ve gotten myself to stop spinning.


Left, right, left, right. I mimic his movements clumsily, and my kayak inches forward in a meandering line. I can hear him laughing at me long before I reach the dock.


“Shut up,” I mutter, and he only laughs harder. 


I reach my paddle deep into the water, collecting a long strand of moss, and fling it at him. 


He stops laughing, moss sitting gloriously atop his head like a crown, dripping on his face. For a moment I’m afraid I’ve gone too far. 


“That’s it,” he snarls, and with one swift movement of his paddle I’m drenched in a wave of lake water and algae. 


We dissolve into hysterics, his laugh big and bright, mine high and tuneful. The lake ripples and the little valley echoes with joy. 


💧


I sit on the front steps of our house, the concrete warm beneath my legs. Rain tumbles from the sky in slow, fat droplets, only slightly cooler than the heat of the summer air. 


Eyes closed, I let the water fall on my face, wrap its fingers through my hair, run in rivulets down my cheeks. 


I’ve promised myself not to cry, not over a vapid teenage crush. He certainly isn’t worth my tears, but I’m grateful that the sky cries them for me.


The door opens behind me. I tense but do not move, don't even open my eyes. He sits down next to me on the steps in the rain. He doesn’t know the boy’s name, didn’t even know there was a boy.


We sit together in the cleansing rain and think of the things we are missing, the holes within us that the rain can’t reach.


“Tell me about Mom,” I whisper.


And for the first time, he does, in a voice as low and soft as the murmur of rain on the grass. We cry together then, our tears mingling with the last of the summer deluge. 


💧


I sometimes dream about her, floating face down with her hair splayed out in the sunlight like a flower. In the dream, I’m always suspended in the water beneath her, so that her face is too dark to see clearly against the brilliant light dancing around her in the ripples.


I wonder if Dad dreams about her, too, her lifeless limbs wrapped up in waves. I wonder why he still loves the thing that stole her from us, why he has taught me to love it, too. Perhaps he hopes like I do that the water remembers her, holds her close to my skin because it knows she was mine.


💧


“Leave me alone!” I scream through the locked door. I hear him walk away, his footsteps heavy and helpless. 


The letter flutters from my hand to rest by my feet. My eyes swim and blur the words written there, the words that shattered me.


We regret to inform you that we cannot offer you admission... 

We appreciate your interest... 

So many fine applicants...


He will tell me what I do not want to hear. There are other colleges, other programs. It will work out. I don’t have to attend Mom’s alma mater, even though I dreamed about it for years. In time, I know I will tell myself this, too, and life will go on. 


For now, I crumple into myself and let the disappointment drag me under, out into the sea of self-doubt.


I do not know how long I wallow in grief for the future I’d envisioned. When I do emerge, he hugs me and offers a sympathetic smile. Outside, snowflakes cling to the window, melting against the vague warmth of the glass.


💧


We walk slowly through the sand, my arm linked through his. The golden light reminds me how precious these moments are, how little we see one another now, since I moved across the country for school. 


Up ahead, a cluster of friends and distant family gathers on the beach to celebrate my college graduation. I lock eyes with the second half of my soul, standing at the edge of the crowd. We share a secret smile. 


“I like him,” Dad says. 


“Me too, just a little,” I joke.


As we get closer, I realize that everyone is watching. Then I realize that the second half of me has fallen to one knee, holding out a ring that shines like dew in the sunset. I don’t hear what he asks me over the sudden crash of waves in my heart.


I say yes, and the ocean gleams a little brighter.


💧


Dad beams down at his newborn granddaughter, her tiny feet wriggling in the soapy bath. She watches him, her big eyes filled with contented mysteries. Between them passes a depth of love I’ve only begun to fathom. 


“I’m so proud of you,” he whispers.


I am proud, too. Proud of my little family, of the man I married, of the life we’re building together. Mostly I’m proud of the way my daughter’s fingers curl around mine.


I hug my father tightly, and think of the oceans that fill us, the water and memories that hurt and heal in equal measure.


Tears of joy fall into my daughter’s bath. She croons at us, raising a fist. A single droplet clings to her hand. My whole world is collected there, shimmering in the sunlight on the tip of her fingers.

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28 comments

Frances Reine
17:46 Apr 10, 2021

Like looking through an old attic camera. It's beautiful in every sense of the word.

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Claire Lewis
23:09 Apr 10, 2021

Thank you Frances :)

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Thom Brodkin
14:52 May 10, 2021

I hope you read this to your dad. I’m a dad of a daughter and this touched my soul. I wish I had your gift of description. I paint in big pictures, you notice the details. I hope you read this to your dad. It’s a love story he needs to hear. I know I asked already but please read “The Eulogy.” I like my stories better after you’ve read them.

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Claire Lewis
16:09 May 10, 2021

Hi Thom, thanks for the lovely comment! I just got back from a weekend visit with my dad, so this feels like a timely comment haha! I think I’ve already read it, but maybe my comment didn’t post? I’ll go double check right now!

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K. Antonio
13:31 Apr 14, 2021

I really enjoyed all the water imagery. Water is something so obscure and curious, it's one of those things that can emit sad memories, happy memories and dark memories. I think using the element to showcase so much language and emotion was beautiful. *Full disclosure: The novel I'm currently working on has a lot of water imagery, so this really resonated with me.* I think the last line was wonderful and I enjoyed how the story flowed, basically giving us these moments from the main character's perspective starting at her childhood and do...

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Claire Lewis
04:40 Apr 15, 2021

Thanks K! I love water imagery, it’s so versatile and almost soothing. You’ll have to keep me updated on the novel; I’d love to read it!

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Emma Louise
18:46 Apr 10, 2021

This story was different from your usual, in it not being fantasy, but I think it was just as enjoyable and well written. The water a constant in her growing up is beautiful. My only suggestion would be this... I know that water is a constant theme, but you use the word "water" a lot. For example, maybe in the last section you could say "tears of joy fall into my daughters bath", because we know it is water. Also, when she gets the rejection water, he pours her a glass of water, but it isn't quite the same constant water surrounding her as ...

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Claire Lewis
19:25 Apr 10, 2021

Thanks for that suggestion, Emma, it’s absolutely spot on. I went back and made some edits based on your feedback. And thanks—contemporary is my favorite genre at the moment :)

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Michael Boquet
20:59 Apr 14, 2021

Great scenario with which to start your story. Love the water droplets that separate each paragraph. I really like how you marked the passage of time within the narrative. One sentence I noticed that I think could be tweaked: "I’ve promised myself not to cry..." It was a smart move to connect the girl's fear with memories of her mother's death. I found it both surprising and moving. Nice job.

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H Bolton
19:20 Apr 13, 2021

You write beautifully. I would happily read your description of paint drying. I'm wasn't sure why water mattered to the main character. The only thing abnormal in her experience was her mom's death but she doesn't focus on that too much. Maybe something in the beginning to mirror your ending?

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Claire Lewis
04:36 Apr 15, 2021

Ha, maybe one of these days I’ll write about drying paint just to see what happens! Thanks for the critique! The water theme was a bit of an experiment, just seeing what would come of taking scenes from someone’s life and trying to create a full character from a single element/motif. I’ll definitely think on ways to tie the character more closely to the theme! Looking forward to your newest story :)

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H Bolton
01:35 Apr 16, 2021

The experiment was successful - I was captivated!

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Rachel Smith
12:17 Apr 12, 2021

This is so beautiful, as usual. I'm welling up as I type.

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Claire Lewis
03:56 Apr 13, 2021

Thanks Rachel! Looking forward to reading your most recent story—bit of a hectic week so apologies if I’m slower than usual!

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Rachel Smith
08:21 Apr 13, 2021

Don't stress about it! Things are hectic for me too. I just hope you enjoy reading. :-)

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Heather Mc Quaid
07:48 Apr 12, 2021

lovely storytelling, great take on the prompt, and impeccable writing.

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Claire Lewis
03:58 Apr 13, 2021

Thank you Heather! I saw you posted a new story—looking forward to it!

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Shea West
00:21 Apr 11, 2021

I just discovered your stories the other day, and I must say you have a whimsically beautiful way of showing me through the story. You say so much with so very little, and it leaves me thinking, "Wow, how can I do that?" I loved the theme of water and how it wove in and out over the course of her entire life. Absolutely beautiful!

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Claire Lewis
04:03 Apr 13, 2021

Thank you Shea! I’ve got a busy week ahead but I’m excited to check out your page soon :)

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Shea West
05:34 Apr 13, 2021

No rush! But certainly wouldn't be sad if you made your way over. Some of my personal faves are "Smile," "An Alligator Hug," "The Birthday Fortunes." I'm so excited to have found your stories they're so wonderful.

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Ellie Yu
21:32 Apr 10, 2021

I swear every time you write I find myself in even more awe. This whole story flowed so naturally (forgive me for the pun), and it was so, so enjoyable. Your descriptions are exquisite, as usual, and they paint a brilliant picture of what it's like to love. I especially liked the third to last section - the shortest part, but it's the one that hit me the hardest. I don't have much critique, but you've always offered me some really great feedback, so I'll give you some back. This is probably a matter of personal opinion, but I think the jum...

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Claire Lewis
23:09 Apr 10, 2021

I’m always so grateful for your comments Ellie! I agree that the jump in time there is too big, and I’d considered adding something but I couldn’t think of anything I really liked. The wedding idea is really cute though, thanks for the inspiration :)

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Claire Lewis
23:43 Apr 10, 2021

Just added a new section, not quite a wedding but definitely inspired by your idea. Thank you!!!

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Ellie Yu
00:36 Apr 11, 2021

I love the new section; it's beautiful! It was my pleasure :)

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Christina Marie
15:37 Apr 10, 2021

This was so sweet and pure! It really gave me the feels the whole way through. Dad's are so special. Loved it!

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Claire Lewis
19:22 Apr 10, 2021

They are indeed! Thanks for the comment :)

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Claire Lewis
14:54 Apr 10, 2021

Iffy on this one. Suggestions?

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20:50 Apr 21, 2021

This was so well paced, especially considering it spanned such a long period of time. You manage to capture her changing voice as she matures too, which is really nice, and the raindrops to separate the paragraphs is a lovely added touch. Just as an aside, I think it is a really lovely, evocative title, too :)

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