We live at the local swimming pool in the summer. Our eyes are bloodshot from swimming without goggles, vision hazy, like we’re seeing the world from behind a cloud. Our hair is matted down against our scalps. We smell like chemicals. No amount of impulse deodorant can rid our skin of the smell. We don’t notice. We just figure we look and taste of summer.
Its swimming club night. There are about fifty kids sitting on the hill behind the blocks, waiting for their race. There’s a splatter of hot chips scattered across the cement, the tomato sauce spilling like blood. A kid is crying to their mum about it, who is refusing to give them more money for another bucket.
We watch from the kiosk in our school uniforms.
The races finish at seven o’clock that night and there are swarms of Christmas beetles climbing over the blocks under the lights. People are slow to dissipate, so we sit in the back of my dad’s ute, talking shit about everyone.
Brodie tells us her boyfriend is still talking to his ex. Holly admits she’s on antidepressants. I tell them someone scratched out our carved names in the racehorse tree by the big pool. Caitlin says she can’t wait to get out of here. We all agree with Caitlin. The town is sleepy, isolated. The apocalypse could happen and none of us would know. In 2012, during the hype of the end of the world, there was one time where the clouds burned red, and we thought maybe this is it. It was just a shepherd’s warning. There was a snow-white frost the next dawn.
Eventually everyone goes, so we join our parents who are drinking a carton of beer by the little pool.
Brodie, Holly, Caitlin, and I go swimming. Our parents cackle in the corner and we hide up the deep end in the dark, watching Christmas beetles crawl over our knuckles. They glimmer like pieces of starlight.
‘Put your ear to the bottom,’ says Holly.
We dive under. I blow careful rings of bubbles, and once at the bottom of the pool I empty my lungs of air so that I can stay sinking. The pool floor taps, the light dancing across the floor. Like knuckles on wood, the pool floor taps again, and it echoes through the water like ice splintering on the ocean. Brodie and Holly go up for air, but I hang down there a moment longer. A bang slams against the bottom of the pool. I jolt, bubbles spewing from my mouth. I break for the surface, and gasp for air as I lay my head on the ledge. My knees feel weak.
‘What do you think it is?’ Brodie asks.
I shrug, and then smile, ‘Imagine if it was a person.’
They splash me, and eventually we just float on top of the water. I’m careful to not let my ears go under in case I hear the tapping again.
We get out after that, and Brodie and Holly walk home, while Caitlin and I lay on the warm cement and wait for our parents to decide to leave.
‘What will you do when you leave this place?’ I ask her.
She shrugs, ‘I don’t know. Maybe go stay with my sister in Perth, I don’t really care as long as it’s far away.’
It’s better than nothing. She looks at me, ‘I can guess what you’ll do.’
‘You’ll go to uni, maybe in the city. I don’t think you’ll come back.’
I smile. It’s nice she has that kind of faith in me. I’m entirely not sure if I reflect the same faith in her. She had the bones of a game plan, and no motivation other than the feral want to piss off out of here. I hope she will go, but then, I can’t imagine her leaving.
A swarm of Christmas beetles march suddenly across the cement. They look like a white beach towel, rolling in the wind. They scurry past my body, and one crawls up Caitlin’s arm.
She giggles and pulls it off, but then they all try and climb on her. She jumps up, the beetles’ shiny shells rendering her a human disco ball. She starts screaming as they weave into her hair. They scurry under her togs, and the lumps move across her tummy. The parents do not look up. I jump to my feet.
She looks at me, ‘Get them off!’
I reach out to her and start swiping the bugs off her arms. She’s screaming now. The adults still do not move. I yank at her hair, she scratches at her face. They start to crawl on me, their spiky legs poking into my skin like needles. I scratch them off and take a step back from Caitlin. As soon as I step back, they leave me alone, and descend over her.
She can’t yell out the words, the bugs are crawling over her mouth. I push her into the pool. Drown, I think. The beetles float to the top of the water like tiny life rings. They buzz to the edge, and crawl back into the dark. I look into the collections of bubbles where I pushed Caitlin. I don’t see her. I sit on the edge, my feet in the water and wait for her to pull me under, but she doesn’t. Eventually, I put my head under. There is no tapping, the water is silent aside from my own bubbles.
‘C’mon, time to go,’ Dad calls. No one seems to notice that Caitlin has dissolved in the pool. There is no panic, only the clutter of beer bottles being thrown into the bin.
I creep away from the pool. Mum and Dad drive me home. Caitlin does not answer my texts that night.
In the morning, she’s on the bus on the way to school.
‘Oi, what the fuck happened last night, where did you go?’
‘Uh, home. I left when you left,’ She replies. I do not bring it back up.
When I go to the pool, Caitlin’s name is the only one scratched out on the racehorse tree. She is sitting in the kiosk, unaware that she has been stripped of her name. I can see the scratches coating her face from the beetles, but she doesn’t seem to feel them, and no one brings it up when we sit in the tub of the ute that afternoon.
I move away the following summer. Caitlin does not. I visit the pool once, when visiting Mum and Dad. Caitlin is there, but she does not say hello. We fell out of contact only a piddly six months after I had left, same with the other girls. Caitlin simply stopped returning my calls, so I stopped calling.
Her shadow will seem to drift to the pool, no matter the angle of the sun. I understand then that she is tethered here, to the summers, to the water, to our hometown. The same town that wouldn’t know if the apocalypse had just decimated the world. She seems at peace, and I really, truly hope she is.
Author + Artist: Jaime Colley is a fourth year Creative Writing and Law student at QUT. She has been published in Concrescence Zine, Verses Magazine, Glass, and the Luna Collective, among others. Her writing often swings wildly between the dark potential of thrillers, the subtle delicacy of relationships, and if she’s feeling especially game, both. Jaime is a proud Taylor Swift fan and has somehow survived this far into her degree without drinking any coffee. Psychotic? She’s aware.
Editor: Grace Harvey