The woman we called Bubble Girl lived with her strange family on the edge of a small nameless lake and sometimes we’d see her swimming. She swam through all the seasons except winter. She wore a black, 19th century full-length bathing suit which pretty much meant that she swam in a dress. She wore shoes and stockings in the water too. We’d see her floating on her back, her heavy black dress ballooning around her and there she was; an overweight trainable that had attained a calm peace and contentment, floating there. She seemed (to me) as spiritual as a Sadhu or a fertility goddess bound to the watery Earth. She wore a pink rubber bathing cap with plastic daisies on it. She used to fart in the water (she suffered from chronic flatulence) and when she farted and the bubbles rose and broke the surface of the water, she would laugh. She was missing her front teeth. Her laugh came out on the inhale and sounded like a honking donkey. She lived with her parents and three younger brothers. Even though we lived in a well-populated suburban neighborhood, the brothers hunted for food; rabbits, squirrels, birds, anything made of meat. It was rumored that they ate stray dogs and cats as well. There were rumors of incest. They lived at the end of a dirt road in a house without siding. The Lamonts. The Bellingham Hillbillies.
One day, in blistering July heat, my friends and I decided to go swimming to cool off. There was a small beach on the south side of the lake and if you lived in the neighborhood you could swim there. Right next to the public beach was the Lamont family’s private beach.
We spent about an hour splashing in the water and laughing. We used to throw sand at the hovering dragonflies, pretending they were WWI biplanes, making whistling bomb sounds with each hurled scatter of sand.
And then The Bubble Girl came out in her absurd bathing suit and marched into the water. Our laughter went from fun and uproarious to cruel. A bullying laughter. Bubble Girl didn’t seem to notice us staring at her, snorting and cackling.
“Hey, how long before she cuts the spleen?”
“Any minute now.”
“What a fat slob.”
“No shit, right? Work on yourself a little bit.”
“Hey come on, show a little compassion. She’s a retard.”
And then it happened. Bubbles rose around her, provoking renewed laughter, now raised to obnoxious, braying guffaws. It was like we wanted her to notice us. Like we wanted to hurt her feelings.
The bubbles kept coming. She didn’t smile or laugh this time. She wore an expression of strain. Her arms were in the water, wrestling with something below her waist.
The unthinkable. “Is she taking a shit?”
“Oh man, she better not be.”
“She’s already a biohazard without shitting in the lake too.”
More bubbles, larger this time. She looked like she was treading water over an active volcano.
“Oh my god! Hahahaha!”
More bubbles, even larger. We heard her groan and exhale and then we saw rising red liquid leach around her like an expanding burgundy moat. Blood. Very dark blood.
“Oh shit, she just had her period!”
“That’s too much blood for one period. Isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. Pretty gross though.”
“Shit, she’s leaving.”
The Bubble Girl walked slowly out of the water, holding her stomach. Her bathing suit sagged and dripped. She walked across the yard and disappeared into the house. We floated in silence, staring at the red spot she’d left behind.
“Dare me to swim through it?” I said.
“You’re a sick bastard.”
“Gimme five bucks. I’ll do it for five dollars.”
“You got it. But you have to stop and stay in the blood for like, at least a full minute, anyway.”
“And go underwater too.”
“And you call me sick. You want me to drink it too?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“Okay, you’re on,” I said. “Five bucks.” I started to swim toward the pool of blood.
The water was warm that day. First I had to swim through a patch of sago pond-weed and algae. The reeds were thick and knotted and wrapped around my limbs like tentacles. It was a creepy feeling and I increased my speed and hoped I wouldn’t disturb a snapping turtle. They grew to HUGE size in the lake.
I stopped a few feet from the red territory. It continued to expand like a cloud, growing lighter in color as it thinned and diluted. I turned around to face my friends and waved. “Here goes suckers!”
I swam into the red, then stopped, treading in place. “Somebody count to sixty!” I yelled.
“Go under first!”
Shit. I stopped kicking my feet and sank under the surface.
It was then that I felt something. Like a gently stroking hand, something soft and smooth and fleshy slid across my stomach to my chest. I bobbed back to the surface.
The dead infant bobbed up as well, floating inches from my face and my world slowed to a stop. Night fell. Gravity bottomed out. My body turned to rust and dissolved in the water. I stared at the little floating thing for several seconds. Its face was a snarled knot of deformed features. Its arms and legs were like flippers.
I finally overcame my paralysis and frantically splashed away from the hideous little monstrosity.
When I rejoined my friends I was drawing heavy, panicked breaths. I was sure I’d turned ghostly pale.
“What the hell happened?”
“That wasn’t a whole minute. I ain’t paying you shit.”
“Fine,” I said. At that point I didn’t give a shit about the money. I told them what I’d seen and they craned their necks to look.
They saw the little pink head floating on the surface like a miniature beach ball.
We ran out of the water laughing, screaming.
I don’t know what my friends did, but I raced home to take a hot shower and scrub the shocking awful off my skin...
Eventually, someone notified the police and they came and took the dead baby away, scooping it up with a large pool-cleaning net.
I don’t know what became of the Bubble Girl but I never swam in the lake again.