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Underwater, Nobody Can Hear You Scream.

by Allison Rice 11 months ago in fiction · updated 11 months ago
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Following her mother's death, Elli struggled to make sure that everything was covered.

Blowing out an exasperated sigh, Elli threw back the light sheet that was covering her body, sat up, and kicked her legs over the side of the bed. As she rose, sweat trickled down her naked back, forming a pool at the base of her spine before disappearing into the already-damp sheet. It was another sleepless, hot August night. Two months ago, Elli had turned 16. Two days ago, her mother had finally succumbed after a long battle with cancer. Two hours ago, Elli had (apparently) broken up with her boyfriend of nearly a year. The same boyfriend that she’d tenderly shared her virginity with had decided that being an emo douchebag was more important than being present for his girlfriend during “this difficult time.” She’d called him – long distance even – and told him that her mom had died. His response?

“Well, just so you know, I don’t do funerals.”

To hell with him. He’d gladly gone to the memorial for the captain of the basketball team who’d been killed by a drunk driver. They hadn’t even known the guy, but the whole school got the afternoon off, so they’d taken Elli’s Chevette and joined in the funeral procession from the high school to the cemetery. Her now-ex boyfriend hadn’t sworn off funerals that day, nor did he complain about receiving a blow job halfway down the laneway when Elli drove him home.

What an asshole.

Elli supposed that she probably ought to have some feelings of grief or remorse for breaking things off with her first serious boyfriend. Yes, she had acted impulsively, but his blasé reaction had triggered something inside of her. The moment that he’d so callously dismissed her devastating announcement was the moment that she realized that she was no longer interested in putting up with his selfish crap. Relationships were meant to be reciprocal and enjoyable. It had been a long time since their relationship had been fun. Elli had thought that it was her family situation that had been causing things to seem bleak lately. She realized that despite everything, she wasn’t to blame for their relationship deteriorating. Jerk. Like she didn’t have enough to deal with right now!

Her stepdad had hinted that she would have to start “earning her keep” around the house now that her mom was gone. Seriously? She already watched her half-siblings nearly every day, and drove them to their various scouting and sports activities. At ages eight and ten, she knew that they wouldn’t remember their mom before she became sick – beautiful, wild, and carefree. They needed Elli to keep their mom’s spirit alive and help them manage the crippling grief that they were experiencing. Elli wished that she could find even a tiny bit of that pure, unrestrained emotion that her younger brother and sister were able to express. They wept openly and unabashedly. Elli was too busy. She had made funeral arrangements, called her mother’s friends to share the horrible news, chose pallbearers, wrote thank you cards to all the ladies from church who sent casseroles, and picked out everyone’s clothes for tomorrow…the funeral. Elli hadn’t been able to shed a single tear.

Elli stood and grabbed her mother’s old robe off the hook near her bed. Mom had received many gifts of pajamas, bed jackets, loungewear, and robes during her illness. But as cancer caused her to waste away, mom had favored a heavy, flannel robe worn over sweats – even during the summer heat. So Elli had unofficially inherited the impossibly soft, thin, green silk robe that her mother had worn before her illness. Elli could remember how beautiful mom had looked wearing the robe tied snug around her breasts, hair cascading down her back – before she lost the breasts and the hair. Elli blew out a breath, then cinched the belt under her own breasts and walked, barefoot and silent, out into the hallway. She stepped over the squeaky spot in the floor, confirmed that her stepfather was snoring away in the master bedroom, peeked in on her sleeping siblings, then slunk down the stairs.

It was slightly cooler on the lower level of the house, but even at two in the morning, the thermometer on the back deck read 90 degrees. There wasn’t a breath of a breeze, and humidity hung thick in the air around her. Elli walked down the steps to the pool. When mom had gotten sick, she’d insisted on putting a pool in the backyard so that her kids would be more likely to stay at home rather than hanging out at friends’ houses. She’d been right about that. Elli smiled at the memory, then bent and unhooked the two safety latches near the steps at the shallow end of the pool. Mom had insisted on having a heavy-duty childproof cover installed. Every night it was clipped into place so that nobody could use the pool without an adult being present to supervise removing the cover.

Elli used two hands to squeeze each hook latch. She unhooked the two at the shallow end, then stood up, patted the left pocket of the robe, and found what she was looking for – a joint and a small lighter. Elli took two deep drags on the doobie, then snubbed it out, returned it to her pocket, and slipped out of the robe. She noticed how the moonlight shone on her naked skin, pale from so many days spent inside at her mother’s bedside. Elli briefly ran her hands down her torso, then lifted her arms overhead and executed a shallow dive into the opening of the pool cover. Elli’s mom had always said that she was part fish – like her birth father. She’d never known her dad, but she knew that he’d been with the Coast Guard, and that he’d died when she was a baby. Elli had completed her lifeguard training as soon as she was old enough – which was last year when she'd turned 15. Her siblings always had someone qualified to watch them swim.

Elli let the force of the dive carry her across the length of the pool, then she pushed off the wall on the deep end and swam to the very bottom of the pool. She allowed her fingers to graze the drain, then let loose a scream at the top of her lungs. Air bubbles exploded violently around her, but above the surface, they weren’t even noticeable.

Underwater, nobody can hear you scream.

After letting go of her full lung capacity of air, Elli compressed her legs and kicked up the incline from the deep end to the shallow end until she reached the steps where she had unlatched the safety hooks. Once again, she found the opening that she had made in the cover, slid her naked body through, then re-latched the cover. She squeezed her hair out, and slipped the robe back over her body – now calmer, cooler, and more relaxed after the smoke, scream, and swim. As she ascended the stairs to her bedroom, she figured she might finally be able to get some sleep.

Two weeks later…

Blowing out an exasperated sigh, Elli threw back the light sheet that was covering her body, sat up, and kicked her legs over the side of the bed. As she rose, sweat trickled down her naked back, forming a pool at the base of her spine before disappearing into the already-damp sheet. It was another sleepless, hot August night.

Two and a half months ago, Elli had turned 16. Two weeks ago, her mother had finally succumbed after a long battle with cancer, and Elli had also broken up with her boyfriend. They’d been together for nearly a year, and he had been the only person she’d ever been with, but he couldn’t be bothered to be there for her when her mom died. Since their abrupt conversation that horrible day, things had gone from apathetic to hostile.

She honestly hadn’t expected to hear from him at all after he’d behaved so cruelly, but she’d been surprised to run into him at the grocery store, then at McDonald's when she took her siblings for a happy meal. He was supposed to have spent the entire month at his dad’s house, but plans must have changed. She’d seen his old truck drive past her house several times recently. Then today, she had found a note on her windshield. She wasn’t quite sure what to do about it, and worrying over it was certainly not helping her get to sleep on this sweltering August night.

She noted that even though they had been together for eleven months, he still misspelled her name. The note read:

Dear Elle,

Well, I guess it didn’t take you long to move on, did it? We weren’t even broken up a week and you’re screwing some other dude.

Don’t try to deny it. I saw you. I see you way more than you even know.

I saw you with that guy. You were hanging all over him.

You in that red shirt that shows off your tits. whoring yourself. Did you let him touch those tits? Those are MINE! YOU are mine, El.

You said you was a virgin, but I know that was a lie. You sure liked it for a so-called “virgin”. Always begging for it.

You’ll beg for it again.

She was alarmed by the unusually hostile tone of the note. Elli missed having her mother to consult about such matters, and planned to ask her mom’s best friend what she thought about it. Her ex was just being an idiot. She’d worn the red shirt to the movies when her mom’s brother and his family came to visit after the funeral. She and her cousin Andy had taken the little cousins to see Labyrinth at the theater at the mall. Had he seen her there? She was pretty sure that she hadn’t been “hanging all over” her cousin and she wasn’t screwing anybody at the moment, thank you very much. Good grief!

Honestly, she didn’t care for the amount of attention that her stepbrother, Kevin, had given her while she was wearing that shirt, either. He was nineteen and came to “help out” after her mom passed away. If drinking beer and hanging out by the pool was your idea of being helpful, then she guessed that he was. He sure wasn’t helping out with their younger half-siblings, or doing anything like make dinner or fold laundry. In fact, one of the neighbors had come over to talk to her about their concerns about the younger siblings being unsupervised the other day when she’d been at the store. He said that she needed to spend more time at home or else he was going to call child protective services.

Elli had tried to talk to her stepfather about what the neighbor had said, but he had cut her off, telling her that he would talk to her when she was “calmer” and “not so emotional.” As if she had fallen prostrate before him and wept. Hardly! She’d talked to him calmly and directly about a subject that he didn’t seem to give a shit about – her little brother and sister – and he’d shut her down as if she’d been throwing a tantrum rather than trying to reason with him about the care of his children. Despite what he’d said, she could tell that he was shaken to learn that someone from their neighborhood had mentioned calling CPS. Elli knew that her stepdad would be completely lost without her help, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that he resented her for being a living, breathing, reminder of her mother, and for being another person that he was responsible for sheltering, feeding, and clothing.

Elli still hadn’t been able to cry. She was too scared, lonely, stressed, frustrated, and desperate to allow herself the release. She was afraid that once she started crying, she would never be able to stop.

Elli stood and grabbed her mom’s old robe off the hook near her bed. She hastily knotted it around her waist, then hurried down the stairs. She didn’t stop to check on the little ones, or make sure that the men were sleeping. Tonight, she felt an odd sense of urgency and foreboding, and she yearned to dive into the cool water of the pool. She released the two latches from the cover on the shallow end, then draped her robe over the railing. This evening, there was a new moon and no light. Despite the sweltering heat, Elli shivered before stretching her arms high above her head, then executed a shallow dive. She let the force of the dive carry her across the length of the pool, then pushed off the wall of the deep end, and swam to the bottom. Touching the drain, she loosed a scream and watched the bubbles surge around her. Releasing her full lung capacity, Elli compressed her legs, and kicked up the incline from the deep end to the shallow end until she reached the steps where she had unlatched the safety hooks. She pushed up on the cover, but it didn’t budge. She opened her eyes, looking for the familiar hole that she’d dived through hundreds of times.

It wasn’t there.

Someone had re-latched the cover while she was underwater.

Growing desperate, she lifted her face up to the cover, hoping to discover an opening or air pocket that she had missed. It was no use. The cover had been pulled tight against the surface, and no amount of pushing or kicking altered that fact.

In a last, desperate effort, Elli pushed her swimmers’ legs up and tried to lift the cover while screaming for help with all her might.

But underwater, nobody can hear you scream.

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About the author

Allison Rice

Finalist 2022 V+ Fiction Awards, Allison Rice is a work in progress! Author of 5 previous Top Story honors including “Immigrants Among Us” "Pandemic ABCs" and a piece about Inclusion, Alli is an avid reader, and always has a story to tell!

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (1)

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  • Allison Rice (Author)4 months ago

    Yes, my mom died in August of my 16th year. Yes, we had a pool and I used to do much of what is described in the story, but our pool didn't have a locking cover. I would creep myself out by diving under the solar cover and swimming the length of the pool on hot nights. Like Elli, young Alli took care of younger siblings, wasn't able to cry, and broke up with her boyfriend due to his "I don't do funerals" response to discovering that mom had passed away. The stalker boyfriend "suspect" came from something that a friend of mine went through around the same time.

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