surface (400)

she dives into the water, the undisturbed pool barely rippling as she breaks the surface. it's cold, almost icy after the heat of the summer night. above her, the ceiling is tinted glass and she can see through to the stars if she stands in the right spot.

tonight there's a moon rising in the sky and she watches its path, tracks it as it moves into its final place. it's almost hypnotic watching how it moves slowly, and she turns away, dips back under water and sets her goggles firmly in place. the chlorine stings her nose, and she can tell the water is already logging into her ears.

she drifts under water, brushes her fingers along the surface of the floor and then uses that as her impetus to move up. be a phoenix, she tells herself, letting a lungful of air out in tiny increments as she pushes her body up, sends water flying everywhere explosively as she draws in new air. this time the water around her does ripple and she skims her fingers along the surface as it settles, drinks in the peace of it quietly swishing around her.

for a while she just floats along, sometimes rowing her arms to move or kicking her heels up just to see the water disturbed, alternates this with her phoenix-move and jumps from the pool, hurries back and forth a few times to write down new art ideas.

at the end of the night she swims hard, harder than normal just to see the water churn around her and feel the surface of the pool against her bones. this is her favourite part of the evening on a summer night, to block out the rest of the world around her: at this time of night she slips in earplugs to stop more water getting in, and considers the immersion to be a cleansing of sorts.

it's the time of night when she goes without disruption; the time when the world around her sleeps and her own personal bubble of space narrows down to a few square metres. when she leaves the pool she does so with a notepad gingerly wrapped in plastic, washes her hair over the bathroom sink so as to not wake her housemates and begins planning out.

(they never ask what's under her facade and she never tells them)

The Painter (400)

challenge here.

It's become habit, buying new glassware every so often. These days, I can't walk into a department store without drifting over to the cups and glasses, can't shop online without selecting new paint and brushes so thin you'd be afraid to hold them for fear of snapping them.

Each time I come home, unpack and then go straight to the paints. There are so many tubes and half-tubes, partially mixed and lining the shelf with splotches that come from lack of care taken. I've forgotten what colour the palette is underneath.

At my table, I sketch out my newest outline, meld together colours on paper. Flip the newest coffee mug upside down and begin a Sharpie outline on the base. My hand trembles, shaking for reasons that I can't explain - it's nothing to do with the creation, or the permanence of marking something with my own stamp.

These eyes are exaggerated, they always are, and tonight the iris is too big, the pupil a thin line around them. There's no need for eyelashes, because these eyes are not for beauty's sake. They are for superstition, even though I have generally never been superstitious. Somewhere along the way, this concept was one which began to appeal to me, appealing more and more when I learnt to create my own designs, silently invoking my own words as I worked.

In a way these eyes are grotesque, bearing no apparent expression or liveliness. Even so, they compel you to look - these ones are inky dark mixed with something else, the kind that drives you mad trying to figure out the name of the colour and leaves you disappointed when you can't. They are huge, bigger than the average human's, and you might almost think there something monstrous about them. If you'd had a few to drink, you might start imagining them come to life, watching you.

You'd be right, in a way: they are watching you for safety, for protection.

I finish with a slow swoop of a slightly thicker brush, drawing the eyebrows in almost comically. It softens the overall effect a bit, and I leave it to dry as I clean up, invoking the familiar words.

Tonight, I will reperform the words, laying the mug on an altar and offering a gift. Perhaps it works; perhaps it does not.

Either way, it is comforting.

The Mirror (150)

There's a girl in the mirror.

No - that's not quite right. There's a reflection. She... she's not living in my mirror, but she's there.

I try not to look. Once, I covered it with a scarf; the material was thick enough to conceal it. Later, the scarf had fallen away, torn at the hem. Had it been near an open window, I might've thought nothing of it, but the room is windowless. I live alone.

There's never anything to hear - she says nothing, just watches as though waiting.

Seeing is entrancing. Looking to see my reflection to brush my hair lost me an hour once. I have no true memory. My only recollection is that I awoke and found an hour had past.

After I see her, I feel drained. Of blood, or energy, I don't know. I only know the feeling.

I have to go.

She is waiting.

The Light Tree

In the middle of town, there's a tree with a string of lights wrapped around it; Christmas lights, from the looks of it. Years ago, it used to be lit up every evening and the tiny lights would glitter through leaves and branches, making this one small city-centre corner look like it'd dropped in from an unearthly fairy-world. In the middle of winter, the streets would be coated with a thin layer of silver-white ice and the tree would glow gold against it, sparkling and melting the frost off the branches.

Then one night the batteries ran out, and no-one troubled to replace them.

Back then it was quite a short tree, about the same height as an adult of average build. It wasn't difficult for someone to make sure the strings remained untangled, occasionally altering the way they hung.

These days it's tall, highest branches easily skimming the bulb of the lamppost standing a foot away. The lights hang there, forgotten, unfinished.

These days it's lit up in the darkest hours of the night by the streetlight, not dozens of twisty turny lights. Every evening like clockwork, the streetlights come on at 6pm, just as the winter night is getting really dark. Leaves cling to this tree in winter, and the ones at the top glow a strange shade of amber under the light.

I wonder sometimes if it's a fire hazard.

It'd be an impressive sight but for the dozens of similarly identical trees clustering the footpath; tall and spindly, leafy year-round. Only the colour changes.

The way the lamp glows over the leaves isn't as otherworldly as the fairy-world lights; I'm disappointed in how the light is too far away to cast any real glow on the icy path as I go skidding along, hurrying through the street to another meeting or picking up another dinner that won't remain hot in this weather.

I like to eat in the little cafe-restaurant opposite the street corner when I'm working a late shift. From this vantage point I can see people hurrying by the tree, never pausing to notice it or take a photo that manages to contrast dense dark asphalt with the gold above it. They used to, when there was something worth noticing or photographing; now, they all rush by. I almost don't blame them; there's nothing very special about a tree that just stands there. It's not an attraction any longer.

Besides, it's the inner-city. People are too busy with their lives to idle. Sometimes, sitting alone in the cafe with my dinner and a book, I wonder why I do it. Then again, as I pay the bill and bolt back to the chilly darkened office, I'm not one to talk. I stop idling as soon as I notice I'm doing it.

As I sit in my solitary office cubicle and drink lukewarm tea, I look out the window that leads the eye to the street. At this time of night the work isn't challenging, just quiet and calm. From here I can see the occasional halo from the streetlights in the misty rain, punctuated with the odd car drifting past. I can just about make out the headlights glittering, and can conclude the rain is only getting heavier. There's something reassuring about being in the warmth of the office when it's raining like this; my own apartment tends to run to the chill side of things and I've never liked having to drag the lone heater from room to room.

My thoughts drift more at home - here I have a sort of tunnel vision, almost supernaturally able to focus on what I'm doing - unless the night's made up of these components. Nights like these are the ones where I'm wandering through my thoughts, picking and choosing them at will, collecting them all into a heap and pacing through work items that still need to be done.

A colleague speaks to me, but she may as well be speaking from across the room. The open-floor plan lets her voice carry, but the various pieces of equipment and numerous space dividers muffle things a bit.

After the shift finishes I pour myself a last cup of tea, this time in a travel mug, and head out the door to the blazingly bright bus stop. It's far from idyllic, there are people slouched over zombie-eyed and standing around, shoulders stooped as though it'll shield them from the rain. It never does, of course.

The bus is equally as bright, and I find myself counting the trees as the streets pass and lapse into suburbs.

Some of them stand, ruffling lethargically in the breeze. Instinctively, I reach up to tuck my scarf in under my collar, angling it to cover as much of my neck as possible. Few of them are tall enough to reach the bulbs of the lights, and fewer still look solid. These ones look scrawny, as if they'll snap given enough wind or a heavy enough layer of ice. I don't like it.

We're almost at my stop when I see it: a row of trees, tall and spindly, each one reaching to just below the top of the streetlight. Each one is backlit by a glowing bulb, the leaves turning colours and patterns under the light. It occurs to me that I don't know what colour the leaves are: I'm not awake for them in the morning. This is the only time I see them.

Peering into the gloom, I can make out thin black wire strands wrapped around branches, car lights reflecting off littler lights that give no light.

It seems this is a popular way to brighten up the city then.