In the backyard of the house I grew up in is a swamp. My dad cleared the cattails when we first moved in, creating a pond for us.
My sister and I head to the water’s edge. The smell of decaying vegetation wafts off the swamp. Dragonflies skim the water, eating the mosquitoes that swarm around us. One finds my arm and I slap it dead.
We each grab a stick off the ground and squat at the water’s edge, swirling the duck weed. A tap draws our attention to the kitchen window. Mom, a yellow apron over her church clothes, waves a wooden spoon at us while shaking her head.
We turn back to our sticks. Then back to the window. She’s not watching anymore. I sit on ground and put my toe in the water. It’s the temperature of a bath tub.
“Mom’s going to get mad,” my sister says.
“It’s just my toe,” I say.
A splash and ripples beckoning me. Suddenly, I’m in the water and sinking to my knees in the slimy bottom. The water wets the bottom of my shorts. I pull my leg up hard. Splurch. My foot is free. A splash tells me my sister is following.
I train my eyes on the weeds at the water’s edge. There. No, there. I plunge my hands into the weeds and grab hold. It wriggles and squirms, but I hold on tight and pull my prize up above the surface.
Yellow eyes with slit pupils look around. Webbed feet push against my thumbs. Long legs paddle against my pinkies.
My sister fights hard against the muddy bottom to reach me. I hold it up and she touches slimy spotted skin. It calms, only the throat pulses with silent croaks.
“Can I hold it?” she asks.
“Fine. But don’t drop it,” I say, handing it to her.
Her hands are too small and it easily jumps out of her grasp.
“Gah! I’ll never catch it again.” I say, fishing around in the water again.
She starts to cry.
A shadow passes over me and I look up. Mom is standing there, still holding the wooden spoon.
“Get out now,” she says, “and rinse off in the hose before going inside.”
I grab onto the weeds on the edge and haul myself out, heading for the hose. Mom helps pull Hillary out of the muck. She hightails it over to me and I hose off her legs. We scurry up the peeling porch steps and in through the backdoor.
“Take your clothes off and leave them on the washing machine before you go upstairs!” she calls after us.
We strip, throw our clothes on the washing machine, run along the round white tiles, up the stairs, and fill the tub. We’re scrubbing with soap when she comes in.
“I don’t know why you girls can’t stay out of that swamp,” she says as she rubs my face too hard with a washcloth. “I get tired of washing the bedding all the time.”
After spaghetti dinner that night, I crawl into bed, and lay on top of the sheets. I’m flipping my pillow in search of a cool spot, when the itching starts. I rake my fingers against my legs. Hillary calls out for Mom from her room.
I scratch and scratch as little red bumps rise on my legs and arms. I hear my sister’s door close again.
She enters, holding a bottle of calamine lotion. She slathers the thick, white paste on my arms and legs.
“It itches,” I say, scratching some more.
“Well of course it does,” she says. “That’s what happens when you go into the swamp. Stay out of there. You’re old enough. I shouldn’t have to tell you.”
I turn away from her and eventually fall asleep.
One morning, after a week of calamine lotion, the bed is covered in dead little black bugs. Swimmer’s itch, the doctor said the first time it happened. The bugs in the water lay their eggs under the skin. As the insects grow, the rash appears. When mature, they pop through the skin and the rash goes away.
Mom comes in, sighs, and strips the sheets.
This week’s prompt was, “Water gives life. It also takes it away. Write a short piece – fiction or non-fiction – inspired by one or both of these statements.” I cheated a little with this one. This is part of my assignment for the writing workshop I’m taking. I thought it fit okay. Also, this is based on a true story. I have a tendency to embellish to make the story work better. I hope Oprah doesn’t call me out on it.