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The Pond
That’s pretty, she thinks as the hood of the car tips into the pond and the windshield is covered with green algae and lily pads and little white things that look like flower petals. She sits for a moment, taking in the view. The car is angled downward, as if she were driving down a steep hill. She can’t tell if it’s come to rest or if it’s suspended, sinking or floating. She can’t decide whether she should panic or sit back and relax.

      How did she get here? Not how did the car get here; that’s easy enough. It pulled off the road and drove into the pond. Or swerved off the road and dove into the pond. Something like that. She tries to remember beforehand, driving down the road in the countryside, thinking about how strange it was to be in the city and then just a couple of hours later in the middle of nowhere. Not really nowhere since there were plenty of people who lived here, along with thousands—millions?—of deer and bears. It was just strange how you could be looking at concrete and asphalt and the bumper of the car ahead of you and suddenly you were surrounded by trees and then pond water pressed up against the windshield.

      Had she meant to do this? She couldn’t quite remember. Maybe it was the wine, which had given her a floating feeling, made her wonder if she should drive. But she wasn’t drunk. It wasn’t as if she’d lost control of the wheel. It seemed more likely she’d lost control of something else, whatever it was that made you stay on the road in the first place. Whatever it was that made you decide the road was a better place to be.

      Water covered the driver’s side window, and the passenger’s side too, so that she was surrounded now. It wasn’t unpleasant. In fact, it was cozy, like the caves she’d built as a child out of pillows or snow or cardboard boxes: something that would shut the light out and hold her safe inside. She was surrounded by water and the warmth and comfort of the seat she sat in, buckled in snuggly, held in place. It was quiet here. There were some aquatic sounds. She imagined a fish swimming by her window, like an aquarium, but all she saw was water, green with a few faint streaks of light piercing through. 

      She was still pitched forward and now she could feel the water on her feet. It felt strange to be in her shoes and in water at the same time, like when she went out in a rainstorm and her feet became soaked. It felt unnatural but not unpleasant. The water was cool, perhaps verging on cold, but she wasn’t uncomfortable yet, even as it reached her knees and slid onto her lap like a friendly animal.

      She would have to make a decision soon. She wasn’t looking forward to it. She was sick of making decisions, at work, at home. Should she stay in the city or drive upstate? Should she eat this for lunch or something else? Should she buy groceries or order in? Should she go to the bathroom now or later? She could go to the bathroom now if she wanted, right through her skirt. It would blend right in with the pond water. It would be more natural, less disgusting than the few times she’d made the lazy decision to relieve herself in someone’s pool. But she didn’t have to go right now. Or maybe she already had and hadn’t noticed. The shock of situations could make you instantly incontinent, she’d heard. But she’d never experienced it herself. On the other hand, she’d been more absorbed by the sight of the windshield covered with water and green.

      She put her hand on her seatbelt. One option was to unbuckle herself and struggle with the door or window, although she knew it would be impossible to open the door due to the force of the water outside. The other option was to see if the automatic window still worked. If so, she could undo the seatbelt buckle and open the window and swim away. Or maybe just deeper into the pond. She could head to the bottom and burrow into the mud with the fishes and frogs and wait for winter and then spring.

      The water tickled her stomach and her breasts. It was like sitting in a bathtub with the water running, although this water was much cooler. Now that she was mostly submerged, she noticed its coolness and the way it took away her body’s warmth. She wrapped her arms around herself and felt the warmth but as soon as she unclasped them the cool water felt even colder.

      She needed to make a decision. But she was perplexed. How did she get there in the first place? Was it possible the car had decided all by itself to drive off the road? You read about planes and the decisions they made by themselves—or programmed in advance by humans. But some of the worst accidents had been caused by pilots overriding the system, making bad decisions. What if the car had decided this was what was best? Should she override its decision?

      Although, wait: the accident had already happened. If indeed it was an accident. So if she overrode the car’s intentions, it wouldn’t be the same as in these other instances. And anyway, was it possible for the car to have intentions? Was it possible for the car to know what was best for her when she didn’t even know herself, when she was sitting chest deep in water and couldn’t decide what to do next?

      Her arms floated at her sides, freed from gravity. The airbag hadn’t activated, she realized. Perhaps the impact of hitting the pond wasn’t so great. It hadn’t felt that hard, protected as she was from the water. Less impact than diving into a pool. More like slipping in, without even having to feel the water at first. 

      Although now she felt it. It was near her chin and she could smell the rank pondness of it filtered by the cracks and crevices of her car. She wondered how deep it was here, but she was getting the feeling that perhaps it was deeper than she thought. A pond seemed harmless, yet it could be deep. Maybe there was one of those sink holes in the center, one of those vortexes she’d always feared when she swam in a lake whose bottom she couldn’t see. She imagined being sucked into some orifice in the lake, like a watery black hole, down hundreds of feet into nowhere. 

      It was in her mouth and she could taste it, or begin to taste it until she sealed her lips and cut off the supply. She tipped her head back. She could still breathe as she looked up at the ceiling of her car. She’d never looked up there, at the spot right above her head. She could drown here if she wanted; it was within her power. The only question was whether it was still in her power to save herself. She was curious. But not that curious. She was more curious about other things, like how long it would take to panic; how long it would take to die. Maybe she’d never panic. Maybe she’d never die. Maybe this was all a myth, the kind of thing that kept you on the road, that kept you in your little cage your whole life.

      And then, just when she felt the water filling her ears and tickling the sides of her eye sockets, like tears, except moving in the reverse direction, she heard something tapping at the window. She looked over and saw a face in the water, a young man. He looked like some kind of murky shadow puppet dancing outside. The hero had arrived. The young man had some kind of tool in his hand and he was preparing to do something—break the window or cut her out. She wanted to lean over, as if to a lover in bed, and tell him not to bother. She would be fine. Then she realized when other people got involved it wasn’t a question of choice. There was in this case, as in many others, only one option. 

Martha Schwendener’s fiction has appeared in Fiction and on KGB Bar Lit and her criticism has been published in Artforum, Bookforum, Art in America, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Village Voice, Time Out New York,, and other publications. A cofounder of the electronic rock band Bowery Electric, she lives in Brooklyn.