Chanelle A. Bergeron
Meredith College, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
His name was hard to pronounce, so most people avoided it. A soft string of vowels made
it begin like a sigh in the mouths of those who preferred the sharp cluck of a consonant at the
front. His name hung like fresh water in the mouths of people who preferred truncated sounds.
Our sounds landed like the thud of an axe against wood, like the bark of a dog left out in the
He wore blues and reds, mostly, and he wore boots. Leather ones cuffed at the top like
the collar of a shirt, the light tan hide a color close to custard. These things made him stand out
amongst the rest of us, these blues and reds, this custard against our differing shades of green:
moss, forest, pea.
I was younger then, I was thinner, I was sanguine. My hair reached well beyond my
shoulder blades, and I could swim for miles in salty or fresh water. In water my hair trailing out
behind me in long unconcerned strands. I was one of the only people in the whole town who could swim at all, or even cross a puddle without fear or hesitation.
In the morning, the sky is reflected on the water but in the afternoon, if I looked closely,
it was my face and the sky, warbling on the surface of the water. On those days, I would step in.
Step into my reflection, step into the sky, wade into the water. Under its surface I would practice
pronouncing the water’s dense, droning sounds. On these days, my mouth filled with water, with
lake, and so I learned that water would take the shape of anything it was held by.
It was said that I was born in water. I never met my mother. I was always told it was
January when she had swum out past the pier where the seals bob and buoy and disappear. I
could never know for sure. But it was said that I was born in the caul. That I arrived in the world
with a wet veil still covering me completely, that I was still breathing water when most babies
would have taken their first, sharp breath of air.
My mother was said to have swum out on the coldest day of the year, ice like shattered
glass floated in the water. The sun bright and the moon still in the sky and the pier covered in
snow, in frost. The townspeople took me in, as they did all orphans back then, and never spoke
directly about my mother. Only in fragments, only in threads. Only over the phone to one
another as a casserole baked in the oven, and there was the need to remark that I was beginning to look more like her around the mouth, the long stoic neck, and in the inner webbing of my small hands.
I was almost always in water, but rarely in baths or bed or the pew at church on
Wednesday evenings when everyone liked most to go. Instead, I would go to the lake with my
books and read them underwater, my eyes open and taking in the words which moved like little
fish across the page. It was easier to turn the pages underwater than above, one simply needed to go slowly and densely like in a dream. When I couldn’t swim, I would go to the river and put the pebbles in my mouth, sucking them for their flavor of mineral and warm rain, returning them
back to the water with great care when I was through.
When he arrived in town, I was younger and thinner and used to the sound of water. The
first time I saw him, he was standing in a puddle in the middle of town, and he seemed as if to
ripple. The people in our small town were shocked, of course, they mumbled and clucked and
pointed. They were fearful. Their green offended by his blue and red; their consonant shaped
mouths unsure, trembled.
When he arrived in town, he did not stay long. Long enough to stand in a puddle, long
enough to ripple. Long enough for me to walk right up to him and ask his name as the town
gawked behind us. Long enough for me to learn his name and to see his swimmer’s eyes
reflected in mine.