This story from Haralambi Markov is one of those fantasies you think could be metaphor until the end, when it still could be but you really hope it isn’t.
“Don’t frighten her.”
“I’m frightening her?!” David does all he can to keep his voice low, working on bandaging the wound in a squat. His hands move fast. His touch is unforgiving. “You can drop dead from blood loss any minute now. Don’t talk to me about fear.”
“What do you want me to do, David? I go to therapy. I take the fucking meds. You want me to chain myself to the bed now, too?”
David flinches at that last bit. So the though had crossed his mind.
“It’s five AM and I have work in four hours. I startle every time I don’t feel you next to me. I fear next time I wake up to an empty bed, it’ll be the last. This is fucking unbearable.”
He breaks down. I have never seen him cry like that. Una breathes more laboriously low, on the verge of crying. I comfort them both as I guide them inside the car and take the driver’s seat.
I drive on the way back and tell my husband everything he needs to hear—slowly and with conviction, a recital of sweet nothings. What I really do is think about the man in the water, my family’s legacy and undoing. The one Una will inherit once I die.
The first time I see Hartrich is when I drown at the age of nine. It’s November and the water is cold, but my chest burns as mother holds me down against the rounded rocks in Lake Constance. We drive out in the late afternoon from our old flat in Wasserburg and by the time we reach the resort houses and tourist attractions painted to look like the houses from old folk tales, it’s already sunset. Windows already sprinkle light in the gathering twilight. Mother says it’s to honor my Father who drowned in the same lake two weeks earlier.
She lies. The first thing she does when we reach the waterline is to grab my ankles and pull so I slam face first in the water. Breath stolen, drowning immediately.
Even though it’s day, the lake’s massive body is dark, or maybe it’s the darkness that creeps in once you run out of breath. I’ve stopped struggling. The violent part is over. Mother has won with the vice–like grip of her hands on my neck, and my arms and legs grow slack as she squeezes out the last of my life. We’re far enough from the houses to conceal what she’s doing and deep enough to catch his attention.
It’s when she releases me that I catch his face, a shade of white in the depths of the lake, looking at me, biding his time for my mother to retreat so he can come and steal me. Take me to where my father went willingly. His face grows bigger and bigger like a waxing moon on a clear sky.
I don’t mind. This is the last thought I have before I die.
All is pain as I take my first breath anew and I hear my mother scream at the lake, patting my back. Water weighs down my clothes and feels like I’m dragged into the earth.
“It’s done! He drowned! You hear me? He drowned! You have his last breath. You took his father, now leave us alone.”
That’s the first time I hear about my family curse—the bloodline that drowns in the lake.
She’s crying now as she strips me down and there’s nothing else to be heard in the night—her sobbing and my teeth chattering as she strips me from my wet clothes and towels me in the open. The sun has set for quite some time now and the only light crawls from the houses in the distance.
I stare into the illumination until my eyes sting. Until his face has been burned clean from my memory. For years, I pretend I don’t know what he looks like and he pretends I’m safe from his curse.