Of Tarts and Children/1
There was something in the water, she was sure of it.
The expanse had a brownish and murky fervor and a single bubble would occasionally break its surface. Amanda inched closer, struggling to see any sign of movement, any definition of shape. Her right hand slowly searched for something to put between her and her fixation, but it returned with only a child's wooden mallet, useful for banging brightly colored round pegs into satisfyingly easy round holes, but not so much for saving lives.
Behind and to her right, a little sister cooed; Amanda snapped her head for a shush, then realized her broken gaze must surely have provided ample opportunity for lunging doom from the water. She snapped back, with no apparent travesty save another bubble.
Her mother had brought her here, to this house in the middle of a city with no friends, no family, and no real reason. When she'd ask why for the hundredth time years later, her mother would say it was to get away from Mr. Samuel, but he had always been nice to her and Christine. Her sister was too young to appreciate the difference, but not Amanda: she was eight years old. Her favorite stores were gone, those nearby didn't stock the foods she enjoyed, and there were no playgrounds within walking distance.
A lilting breeze ruffled her shoulder-length curls, unsure whether to toss them around or merely tickle the skin of her back. It was definitely cooler here, one of the few things Amanda did appreciate but, as if not to give a full inch of satisfaction, the air always seemed slightly tangy, as if someone had left an open bottle of tandoori near wherever wind comes from.
She could hear her mother rustling about in the kitchen, which looked over the lake down the hill. Platter Lake they called it, because it was idle and reflective like a serving tray. In the middle of summer the water was warm enough to swim through but few did, though not for tales of single-bubble spewing monsters. Of late, folks blamed the new water park which had opened three years and a mile away, free for a week of usage if the parents sat through an hour-long timeshare slash advertising slash impossibly wide-smiling actors who really do love this community of "Lowkton". No one had the gall, or interest, to tell them that Lochton was pronounced like “lock”. The question of how much longer it could afford its odd business practice had surfaced a few times in the paper, but the cheshire smiles never faded.
Little sister Christine was moving closer to the water, an innocent smile challenged by the gleam in her one good eye. It was now or never for Amanda but bravery, even knowing she could extort favors for saving Christine's life when she was older, didn't make the colorful peg mallet any more intimidating. She decided to run, but not before grabbing her sister's shirt and attempting awkwardly to drag her along.
Christine started to cry, but there was nothing that could be done: they had to get out of there before another bubble appeared. The wailing alerted their mother and the hasty clattering of dishes signaled the calvary was coming. Amanda dreaded that, cursing her sister for giving her away, and darted into the hallway just as her mother reached the living room.
She knew what was coming next. This was the fourth time she had put chocolate milk in her mother's fish bowl and she had yet to find another outlet. One could imagine others saying it was a "cry for help", some kind of indication that Amanda felt her new home clouded and confusing, as if she was caught in some inner turmoil due to the move. Really, though, Amanda just liked the slow swirl of the chocolate mixing with water. She first realized it only months before, when her mother added creamer to her iced coffee without stirring; her father would do the same with powdered drinks, slowing spooning so as to watch clouds falling from the sky. One couldn’t fault a child for emulating her parents, could they?