No one actually knew if a girl drowned in the pond or not. That’s what local legend suggested, and plenty of people swore they remembered hearing about a tragic afternoon where something like that happened. That, and the family that moved away from the home on the small hill above it. Was the girl their daughter? A stranger? It depended on who you asked.
Ophelia never obsessed over the details, just the idea of the pond she drove past each day was tainted with death. Whether the story was real or not meant nothing to her mind that convinced her she needed to hold her breath beneath clear bathwater for exactly ten seconds after she returned home from school. It was atonement for passing the pond, paying respects to the maybe-spirit who ruled her watery grave in the afterlife. If she did this simple ritual, it would prevent her from suffering the same fate.
Her father never asked about Ophelia’s routine. She only had to mention it was “girl things” she had to take care of and he left her alone. He probably assumed it was a typical relaxing bath and went back out to work on one of the many fixer-upper cars in the yard. Ophelia wondered what it would be like to enjoy a “typical” bath, one with a Lush bath bomb disintegrating around her knees while she watched intently or foaming bubbles growing into rolling mountains.
Instead, the moment the tub filled halfway, Ophelia submerged her head into the water and counted to ten. Water steadily trickled from her hair and down her back after she returned to the surface. Her atonement for the day was complete.
It had been storming that day. But rain or shine, the ritual had to be done. Ophelia flung her backpack in her room and was about to head toward the bathroom when her father called out to her from the living room.
“Oh, glad I caught ‘ya,” her father said to her, “the power is probably gonna go out and we can’t be wastin’ water on your baths just in case we need fresh water when the pump stops workin’.” He gestured to the already full tub. “I filled this up ‘bout a half hour ago. You can skip a bath just for tonight, right?”
Ophelia felt a sharp uneasiness in her gut, but nodded. “Yep, not a problem.”
He grinned. “That’s my girl. I also made some canned ravioli and heated up some leftover pizza so we can still have dinner even if the microwave and oven don’t work for the rest of the night.”
Ophelia grimaced. She hated the metallic taste of the canned ravioli. It tasted like a hint of blood, which freaked her out almost as much as the pond. But maybe that would be distracting enough to prevent her from dunking her head into the water they desperately needed in case the power did go out. Living in the rural part of the county meant you often lost your power before everyone and had it fixed last. It may be a week, maybe two before it could be restored.
Alright, Ophelia thought to herself. It’s your chance to break yourself from this.
It went alright for fifteen minutes. She tried distracting herself with some coloring books, the ones with meditative mandalas in them. When that stopped working, a Rubix cube. An intermission for blood-flavored ravioli. Then her homework as the rain hit against the window. The sound of the rain made her think of water, then the dead girl in the pond, then the tub, over and over again. And then she thought of something even worse.
Rain water is a mix of water lifted from Earth. Doesn’t that mean that no matter what, all water is tainted with death? Ophelia suddenly realized. Her breathing quickened. All that was on her mind was the potential that this whole time, she hadn’t been cleansed at all.
“No!” she whispered harshly to herself. “Don’t even go there.”
But Ophelia did go there, right into the bathroom, to fulfill her daily mission. What she did not account for was the small puddle her father neglected to wipe up from the floor after he prepared for the storm. The sound of thunder masked the large thump sound her father would have heard — but never would — as Ophelia’s head hit the porcelain at the bottom of the tub and remained there until her father went to fetch water to wash his hands.
No one actually knew if a girl drowned in the bathtub or not. That’s what local legend suggested, and plenty of people swore they remembered hearing about a tragic evening where something like that happened. That, and the man that moved away from the home. Was the girl his daughter? A stranger? It depended on who you asked.
Gretchen Gales is the executive editor of Quail Bell Magazine. Her creative and journalistic work has appeared in Next Avenue, Your Tango, Flora Fiction, Plainsongs, Nebo, and others. Gretchen is also the co-editor of Her Plumage: An Anthology of Women’s Writings. See more of her work at writinggales.com.