The Well An Excerpt

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I think I’ve lived in dreams, so much so that I can’t separate them from memory. I thought I had fallen down the stairs, was as sure of it as I was of that feeling when gravity pulls you down. But, that was just a dream. I used to dream about drowning. But, that was a memory, after all.

When I was young, I had a friend, Claire. She moved away shortly after our friendship began, I can’t recall why. We met in ballet class between pliés and grand jetés. Her turn out was poor and my feet would tangle in a pas de bourrée. Together, we worked our toes and ankles, always striving for that perfect point.

Claire lived in an old Victorian house that kept to shadows, but still glimmered with dusty history. The hardwood floors creaked and the windows stuck shut from age, giving everything inside an eerie stillness. You could feel ghosts prickle the back of your neck. Anything was possible there, even bad things, scary things.

Like most of us, Claire lived on a large plot, maybe 10 acres, but her house was farther out in the country, so the land was less developed. It was all flowing hills thick with woods. Oaks and maples shot up and out in a tangle of limbs, their distal branches thin like a child’s arms sprouting green hands that caught the wind. The smooth, pale bark of ghostly beeches contrasted the evergreens, so dense that they trapped the night, its darkness threaded into their woven needles. We would play amid those sentinels, pretending to be off on some adventure. We believed in spirits and fairies, heard whispers in the breeze, felt God in the cold of autumn. We stood on boulders and called to imaginary wolves. Those woods were ours alone.

There was a small clearing within them where an old well was buried deep in the ground. After a heavy rainfall, it would fill with sweet water, and we’d drop stones down into it, counting the seconds until we heard a plop. It was there that she told me about the abuse. She showed me the bruises hidden beneath her long-sleeved plaid shirt. Some were faded in shades of yellow and greenish gray, others were fresh like plumbs.

Her mother would lock her in a closet when she misbehaved. She would curl up in a ball with her back against the wall and brush her fingers against the bottoms of the coats hanging above her as the sun faded to dusk and then darkness in the crack beneath the door. When footsteps pounded towards her and the door was thrust open, her mother would demand, “Have you thought about what you’ve done?” A humble response was rewarded with supper.

Claire was very thin, deceptively frail. She had the most profound imagination that we could escape into together. And then one day, she was gone. Shortly after, I opened up to my mother about what Claire had told me that day by the well. My mother listened intently, stroking my hair as I cried. When I calmed down, she went into the next room to make a phone call, her voice hushed inaudibly. I never found out what came of it. Thinking back, I tell myself that child services intervened, that they saved my friend. But the truth is, I don’t really know. Sometimes I think I dreamt the whole thing – the well, her story. Or maybe it’s just easier to think of it that way.

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