Reedsy writing prompt: You pass by a person sitting with their face to the sun, the most content smile you've ever seen on their face.
The Duck Pond
My favorite place on campus is the Duck Pond. It's really just a smelly, man-made hole infilled with greenish water, but living in the desert, where there are few ponds and even fewer ducks, you take what you can get. I wasn't the only one who loved the Duck Pond. Some days it was near impossible to find a square foot to sit down, but even on the days when there was plenty of room, it was rarely a secluded or quiet place. The only times I've ever seen the pond quiet was Christmas Day and New Year's Day. I guess because everyone is busy with their families on Christmas and they're too busy nursing hangovers on New Year's to care about throwing bread crusts to the scraggly ducks.
I like to go there, original English major that I am, with a book and my journal. It's a great spot to just sit and observe. It fills this need I have to be part of a group without actually having to participate. With my back resting against a tall pine and my leather journal balanced in my lap, I can sit and watch the couples lying side by side, sometimes kissing, sometimes dozing, always content. I can watch the mothers who bring their toddlers to campus to feed the ducks. The kids have no concept of how big a duck's mouth is, so they often throw whole slices of bread into the water where they get soggy and float around like mushy, white lily pads until the stinking koi tear them apart. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit I like looking at the other introverts with sketchpads or journals. I like to study their faces like tea leaves, trying to divine what they're writing. That guy over there, with the greasy ponytail and tattered Dave Matthews shirt, is writing a fantasy novel. I'm willing to bet it has both dragons and Xena-inspired warrior women with tits the size of literal melons. That mousy girl over there? She looks like she'd be writing a romance. You know, wish-fulfillment and all that, but she's not. Not in my mind, anyway. She's writing a horror novel. She might look sweet and innocent, but I bet she could dream up at least one hundred and fifty ways to kill you in thirty seconds. I recognize some of these people, others, I've never seen before.
Like the girl sitting on the rock across the pond. I walked past her as I made my way around the water, looking for a good spot. She was different from all the others. She didn't have a backpack or a book or journal. No sketch pad, no pencil, no food, or cup of coffee. She was just sitting there, hugging her knees to her chest, her face raised to the sun. Her eyes were closed, and her face was completely relaxed. She gave no impression that she was aware anyone else existed, even when a Frisbee whizzed dangerously close to her head. She had the most beatific smile on her face that I've ever seen. It was weird, and borderline creepy. She didn't have that look people get when they're meditating. That look is almost a strained kind of peaceful, as if it takes a ton of effort to look so relaxed. And it wasn't a happy kind of look; the kind when you're remembering something warm and good. It was an expression I've never seen before. If I were an artist instead of a writer, I would have plopped down across from her and started sketching her right then and there.
I sort of felt bad for staring at her. She seemed so completely unaware of her surroundings that shame burned my cheeks. As if I were some creeper peeking in through her bedroom window instead of just another person enjoying the crappy little pond. But the shame wasn't enough to keep me from staring and wondering. I tried to journal, but I kept glancing up to see if she was still there, if she'd shifted at all, if she'd opened her eyes. I wanted to wait and see if her expression would change. If someone would join her, or if maybe she'd get bored and wander away. Every couple of minutes, no matter how hard I tried to ignore her, I found myself searching her face for some clue about who she was and what was going on in her life.
My mind created and discarded theory after theory about the girl: She was a music major trying to hear the song in her head to the end. Her slob roommate moved out. She finally found the strength to tell her asshole boyfriend of two years to fuck off. She got news that her rapist was shot and killed in a hunting accident. She's an orphan and just found out a long-lost relative died and left her enough money to keep her flush for the rest of her life.
Somehow, though, none of the random theories I came up with seemed right. None of them hit the core of that expression. That look on her face was more than financial or emotional relief. It was more than being one hundred seventy-five pounds and an asshole lighter. Clean dishes and a vacuumed floor didn't account for her look of pure, uncomplicated peace.
I'm not an angry kind of person. I don't usually feel jealousy or irritation. Human experience is rich and diverse, and there's no point in being jealous or angry most of the time, because things always circle around. Life might be going along perfectly for a time, but eventually, there will be heartache, pain, and trouble. I figure everyone deserves to feel whatever happiness and peace they can while they can. So, it surprised me that the more I tried to figure out the reason for her contentedness, the angrier I got at her. Anger that stabbed like an icicle through my heart, freezing my blood and stealing my breath. Anger that gripped my stomach and clenched my fists.
Who the hell did this girl think she was, sitting there on her rock like the queen of the universe? Like some transcendent Buddha come to life. Sitting there with her eyes closed, silently judging everyone around her. Feeling superior and smug because she's clearly more evolved and elevated than the rest of us plebeians.
The urge to run over to her and shove her into the water forced a shocked, chittery laugh out of me. I had to fight hard not to follow through with that completely mean and out-of-character impulse. This sudden hostility toward a stranger scared me. I closed my journal and shoved it and my pen into my backpack. Whatever was going on with me had nothing to do with her, and I damn well knew it. The best course of action was to walk away and leave her to her serenity. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't bring myself to stand. I couldn't bring myself to turn my back and make my way to Astronomy.
Without realizing what I was doing, I opened my mouth and screamed. I screamed louder and longer than I've ever screamed before. I screamed until my throat was hot and raw. Until I ran out of breath and tears streamed down my face. All around me, people stopped what they were doing and stared at the crazy girl screaming under the pine tree at the edge of the duck pond, and I didn't care. All I cared about was bursting the bubble of calm that surrounded the girl.
Another deep breath and another piercing scream. The dude-bro with the Frisbee ran toward me, concern and fear crisscrossing his face like river lines on a map. The napping couple got up and walked away, throwing dirty looks at me for disturbing their afternoon in the sun. A mother picked up her little boy and hurried away. All around me, people reacted to my screams. Except the girl. She just sat there, that same damned look on her face, as if she were alone in the world. My vision blacked out everything but the girl on the rock. We were the only people in the world, and I was going to scream until she opened her eyes and assured me I wasn't alone.