“…cherry-pick the interesting incidents and emotions from your real life and put a fictional spin on them or give them to a fictional character with an agenda entirely separate from your own.” Louise Doughty tells us. You can do this with any aspect of our life and the more fictionalised your writing becomes, the less autobiographical. Write from what you know until you have enough writerly confidence to write what you don’t know, to rely on imagination alone.
And to that effect, here is my latest writing installment. Later, I will try giving this piece of writing to the main character of my book in a way that is relevant and true the storyline I am developing.
I remember ducking under the water, it was in play, and being at such close quarters to those hundreds of other children escaping the heat that summer, it was very crowded play. My sister and our eldest neighbour were somewhere in the pool, being cool, away from us embarrassing, younger siblings. My youngest neighbour somehow got stuck with me, and she was not happy about it. We were jumping up and down furiously like crazed Jack-in-the boxes, only where Jack had his box, we had the water, thick with sweat and greasy with sunscreen. We were laughing between breaths, I was laughing in joy gaspingly grasped before plunging back beneath the noisome air, she was laughing at me, at the sinister thoughts of what she would do.
Every time I broke water’s surface, there she was, kickboard held above her laughing head. “Again, again,” she cried gleefully.
The noise of chatter and children, of splashing and slashing of water, of babies’ bubbling cries, of parents scolding and of teenagers crooning was backtracked with the local radio station blaring from mega-phones mounted strategically so that no inch of space was peaceful.
But under the water I went into muted tones and water-streaked colour. Here was a quiet, private world. I stopped laughing, mouth shut tight against the heavily chlorinated water, my reddened eyes blinking at the marvels of this new sight, my neighbour’s legs, close, closer, closer.
And up again, to the noise, and her laughing demands of ‘again, again’ and I, ever keen to please her, danced like a monkey and obeyed, plunging time and again beneath the surface, springing forth time ad again into the air. Laughing and smiling, my mother, poolside, thinking we were having great fun and all getting along so well, lay back on her towel, eyes closed to the sun, breathing in the noisy warmth of the summer.
It was infectious, it seemed, this bobbing up and down, and soon others around us were doing the same. The simple exuberant joy of a hot day at the pool that held the promise of afternoon ice-cream. Under I went, eager to look again with watery eyes at the multitude of legs and the faces dunking in and out of the water.
No sooner was I under the surface than my neighbour, tired of the game and tired of me, bought her kick board down upon my head…and held it there. I didn’t notice straight away, I was on the down bob. I saw the shadow of the board atop me, but still did not consider the implications of my predicament. I was living in the safety and assumption of past experience: I bob up, the surface of the water breaks and back in the air I breathe and laugh. But this time when I sprang up, I hit my head against the kick board. My neighbour did not move it away from the force of my head, but pushed against my exertion, pushed me down, further into the water.
I went to call out to her, to tell her to stop, but water filled my mouth where sound should have been and instinctively my jaw snapped shut, leaving me silently retching against the taste of chlorine on my tongue. My eyes opened wide, looking for an escape but the legs in the crowded pool acted like bars of a jail cell. I was trapped below in a watery grave. I panicked, my head turning this way and that, my legs pushing off the floor of the pool, bouncing up and down again and again in desperation for added strength. My lungs, desperate for a fresh fill of air, fought my lips for open space, my nose refusing to inhale.
I’m not sure I was really aware of death, that I could drown, all I knew was instinct, the body’s need for oxygen and a natural drive to fight for air. My head kept bashing hard against the kickboard, again and again. I could see my neighbour’s hands on either side of the board, her fingers white from the effort of trying to kill me.
I didn’t think, I simply reacted. My chest hurt, I saw black spots in my eyes, and when my body could no longer take it, a hand pulled me up, breaking the surface. My watery eyes cried tears of shock, washing the chlorine over devastated lashes. My mother hit my back repeatedly in an effort to get the air into my lungs and to purge e of any fluid. I wet myself, which I’m sure was not her intention. I coughed and gasped as I breathed and breathed and tried to live again.
Mum held me close, chastised my neighbour and carried me out of the pool. I lay in pride of place, snuggled beside my mother, held in her arms, warmed by the sun, breathing air and listening to the drowsy sounds of that hectic summer pool.