Things That Did Not Happen in My Childhood

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A day in summer, a weekend, but which day, which month, I can't remember. As we so often did, we go for a walk as a family in the public gardens.

My sister and I, we started at the top of the hill and ran down the terraces, towards the creek, but this time, my little sister just didn't stop. Her small feet taking her over the manicured lawn, across the path, straight into the water. It seemed like such a joke, that she would run right in, arms waving, joy bubbling out.

There's a rock, just under the surface of the water, slippery with algae. As she stumbles into the water, her foot comes down on it.

Or not.

As we ran down the hill, the next moment, that moment is a node of possibility. There are only two possibilities: yes or no.

Yes, her foot landed on the rock and, sliding backwards, her nose and mouth are quickly submerged, perhaps she even hits her head.

No, her foot landed in the silty mud. She went forward and fell onto her knees. Wet, crying, and angry.

But at this moment, at the top of the hill, either has as much potential as the other.


We run down, towards the creek and my sister just doesn't stop, until she hits the water, foot hitting a slippery rock in just the wrong way and she tips backwards, arms flailing then, as she sinks, blue Sunday dress spreading out around her, growing heavy. Water bubbles breaking the surface. The ducks all skittering away.

She is splashing in the water, a poor simulation of a day at the beach. No one is anywhere near her. We are standing back and watching. There is no fear or panic. It is what it is.

We watch and her arms must grow heavy or tired, even though it has only been moments, because they stop moving. Though the creek is not deep, apparently it is deep enough, because she sinks into it.

This is like a snapshot, but it wasn't just us, my mom and dad and I, there that afternoon. There were others, but in this moment, there is no one to help that little girl in the water.

Why aren't I doing something, for that matter? I am the older, big sister, more than capable I'm sure. I can't say I felt rooted in the spot, that I was pinned down, turned to stone or anything like that. I am not. I am watching, seeing her, as if for the first time, small child that she was. Of my parents I have no recollection. It was like we were immersed in honey, our movements stuck. I didn't turn my head.

And then, everything begins again and the syrup or honey or whatever it is, is gone. And all at once I can hear again. I didn't know I couldn't, but now there are sounds, noise, so, so many sounds. People are screaming, more than one, men and women and a high sound that I eventually realize is coming from me. (How cliched is that?)

A woman wades into the creek and she's pulling at my sister's dress and it tears and the look on her face is too much and then, only then, do I feel this wave of panic breaking over me. My dad is running down the hill and he gets there and he grabs my sister and he pulls her out and there is a crowd around him and another woman leans over and she's looking for a pulse, a breath, something, something. Beside me, my mom takes a step, and another, forward, and I look at her and her face is white and, before I can say, are you okay, her eyes roll back and she falls onto the even, green golf-course-worthy sod beneath our feet.

I can't say it was a miracle and that the woman did artificial respiration and my sister sat up, spitting out water and it was all okay, just a scary incident, another might-have-been cluttering our childhoods. She did, but she didn't and she didn't and it wasn't. It was no might-have-been, it just was.


We run down, towards the creek and my sister just doesn't stop. Then she falls to her knees with a huge splash and the water is swirling around her. Our father strides over, leans down and scoops her out at arms length.

Her fancy blue dress dripping, splotches falling onto the grass. A look of hurt and surprise on her face, tears filling her eyes. And our father carries her up the hill, as we trail behind, visit cut short. My mother and I follow, a short ways behind. My mother isn't pleased to be starring in such a public display.

And then we're standing at the trunk of the car. The only thing to dry her with is an old green floral throw. It's soft but acrylic and I know it feels strange and it has foam backing that is peeling off. My mother wraps my sister in it because she is shivering and shaking even in the sun. My parents put her in the car, all wrapped up like that, seat belt holding the throw in place around her. We make our way home and for once I don’t complain about the hot, sticky vinyl seat on the back of my legs.

The story enters the family treasury. How my silly little sister ran into the creek, without even trying to stop. How she was soaking wet and we had to leave. A close call, at most.

Might have been, was. One or the other.

There are only two possibilities: yes or no.

Sun, cloud, July, August, Saturday, Sunday afternoon.

We are poised at the top of the hill. As we begin to run, both outcomes lay in front of us, as yet unobserved.

About the Author: 
Monique Cuillerier has always loved to write. She also enjoys procrastination. These two interests are frequently in conflict. She will read anything, from history books to cereal boxes, but prefers Golden Age mysteries, science fiction, and literary fiction. She lives in Ottawa with her partner, teenagers (!), and animals.