I have a pond full of fictional dead girls in my backyard. I sit on the edge of the pond and dangle my legs in, trailing my hands in the water until I find a dead girl. I grip her tightly and pull her out to the shore. Most of the girls are too decayed for me to recognize, and I run my hands down their rotted faces and skeletal arms, trying to figure out who they used to be. If I could figure it out, if I could just remember, they would come back to life, but I never can. I look at them, one by one, girls from made-up lands, girls from the corners of my mind, dead in my backyard. They meant something to me, once, but now they are only a desiccated memory.
Sometimes I do recognize them. I remember what story they were part of and when I fell in love with them, I remember how my heart pounded for them. I touch their cheeks gently, trying to wake them up. I whisper to them as they lie on the grass, still in the clothes of whatever fictional world they came from. They do not wake up, part of them is missing, part of what made me fall in love with them has eluded my memory. They dry out in the sun and turn to dust. I stay with them until they crumble. I cry and curse my childish naivety, my teenage forgetfulness. When I loved these girls, I did not know I could, and by the time I knew, I had forgotten them.
At night, when the moon is full, objects float to the surface. Crowns, swords, and delicate jewelry from the depths of the pond, twinkling. I find them at dawn, resting innocently on top of the water, I take off my shoes and dive in. I dive until I can go no deeper, searching for the girl the object belonged to. Maybe this time I won’t be too late. Maybe this time I will find her while she is still alive, while I still remember enough. I never do.
I try draining the pond. I plant eucalyptus trees on the edges, but even they refuse to swallow up the brackish water. I lower fishing nets inside, but they always come up empty. Only my hands can bring up these dead girls, and my hands are already permanently wrinkled by the dark water, even when they are completely dry, my arms are weary from the weight of the dead.
On hot summer days, I take long poles and lower them into the pond to see how deep it is. I lower them until only the very end is in my hand but they do not reach the bottom. I am beginning to think the pond is endless. I am beginning to think the girls are endless. I do not know how it came to be that I fell in love with so many storybook girls without noticing I was in love with them, I do not know how I kept deluding myself, but now it is too late and I have forgotten these girls and I cannot reclaim the memories.
Sometimes, other fictional girls stroll out of my mind and sit next to me at the edge of the pond. I run my fingers in the water and pull out some forgotten soul with black hair and golden armor. This could’ve been you, I tell the girls sitting next to me. I am older now, so they are older too, most of them women and not girls. We know, the fictional women say sadly, there are so many of them. They cannot possibly know how many there are, but they look into the pond as if they used to know each and every one, and I am filled with guilt for letting them die like this, without ever acknowledging them. The fictional women in my mind understand. They leave me to grieve the girls I didn't know I loved. When the grief is too much to bear I cover the pond with a black tarp and weigh the ends down with rocks. I go back into the house and try to keep myself from looking out the window, but I cannot help but imagine that one of them could be alive, suffocating under the tarp, so I fold it back up and look at the water until tears come into my eyes.
Some days I decide to finish the job, to haul up girl after girl until the pond is empty. I drag my hands into the water, and when they come up with nothing, I dive in and start looking inside the depths until my chest burns for air. I drag girl after girl from the deeps. I lay them all out in a line in the sun, the light drying their spoiled bodies. I dive and dive again until I am too weak to swim, I fall alongside them, I put my arms around the memory of their bodies, and I whisper come back, please, come back, I know how to love you now.
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