UNDERWATER EYES

By Eliz Avni


Prologue:


Most streets do not usually have fourteen crossroads. Crossroads from which span out ten winding roads and four straight lanes, all submerged in water. This was the reality of Ezra’s existence. Ezra lived by the lanes embedded in water. At twenty-three, Ezra lived in a medium sized house with her father. He was a medium-build man with sea green eyes, grey hair down to his shoulders and a smile which had aged with experience. A funny man, Ezra had always admired his ability to see the brighter side of situations. Every morning, come rain or shine, just after seven, the house would be filled with the sound of Ezra’s father humming the theme tune to his favourite gameshow Have You Got Cash? Never tiring of his whimsy, she had always admired his ability to hold and contain stress.


Her deep hazel eyes were inherited from her late mother; something she cherished about their connection. Sometimes, however, she wondered whether their colour came from the ground, the earthy soil underneath the sea of water outside her window that mimicked her hazel eyes. Whether today was the day to explore the depths of the crossroads was a daily consideration for Ezra. On this very day, however, Ezra knew the answer to this question. Today was not the day, today was the day to observe.


The weather outside was cold and windy with a scorching sun – a usual occurrence in her hometown. Ezra’s life was quiet and slow. At the age of sixteen Ezra began working at the local cinema, and at twenty-three it has remained her fulltime job. For Ezra, the cinema was her escape from the world, and Renga. Her hometown, Renga, was a small offshoot town located next to the bustling city where she was born. Renga had a meagre population, a large shopping centre, and aside from that, not much else. Her late mother had worked at the local primary school in Renga and her father currently owned the town’s only car dealership. The town had been struck badly during the financial crash fifty years ago and had struggled to recover. Renga was an odd town, dear reader, and the best way to understand it is through Ezra’s eyes.


The Mundane:


Ugh for fucksake. SHUT UP!’


This is my usual morning grunt. Me and my alarm clock have a very complicated relationship. Every morning I scream obscenities at it whilst it aggressively calls me into action. This morning, however, as I turn over in bed to hammer my alarm clock to turn off, I notice a small ray of light peeping through a chink in the curtains where I had forgotten to shut them. Usually, a gap in the curtains would have annoyed me to no end, but today it was a pleasing gap to observe. I can see my father rather serendipitously placed just within that gap. He looks quite beautiful in the morning sun.


My alarm clock is ringing again. I forgot to press dismiss, I pressed snooze. Damn.


‘Can you please SHUT UP!’ I shout.


At this point I would usually hurl myself forwards to spring out of bed, but today feels a little different. For some reason I am drawn to staying in bed and watching my dad, as if I have no choice in the matter. My room is on the first floor of the house, so he can’t hear or see me, but I am entranced by him. His back is turned to me, with him hunched over the weeds near the back of the garden. From my room he looks idyllic, resembling a pre-war Gretian era painting.


As my alarm clock blares once again, I prop myself up with a jump out of bed. Normally by this time in the morning I have left a grand total of five minutes to get ready for work; comprised of throwing on my uniform and brushing my teeth. As I grab my clothes from various parts of the bedroom floor, I keep flitting my eyes back to my father and his gardening. He seems to be weeding further and further towards the edge of the garden. I know the water from the crossroad has started to seep through our fence, and I can see my dad trying to protect the flowerbeds by placing small wooden planks around the edge by the pre-existing fence. It seems to be working, I think.


My father, Cem, takes great pride in our house. As a child he grew up with very little, so has made sure we live in abundance. He doesn’t like to live an extravagant life, but a life where our needs and his are consistently met. As I look down at him weeding the garden and caring for his beloved sunflowers, it almost looks like he’s caring for one of his children.


No! Oh god’ I have just noticed the time; I am going to be late for work. I grab my bag, run down the stairs, and shout goodbye into the empty house.


To get to work is a simple ten-minute cycle, across the crossroads to the centre of Renga. As I cycle over the crossroads, the water underneath my feet usually dirties the bottom of my trousers, and so I’ve made a habit of rolling my trousers up before setting off. Not that I really care too much about my appearance, but I want to make sure I look presentable: Jarrick’s at work today.


Jarrick and his family moved into a house on a neighbouring street about ten years ago. In our small town, rumours of new arrivals have always spread like wildfire. I was excited to have someone new in the area, someone my own age. Renga is a small town with only one school, so both Jarrick and I had always ended up in the same classes and now, seem to have stumbled into working together at the cinema. He is a very confident guy, very assured in his actions and seemingly content in his life. Very confident, very cool, and very unapproachable. Make no mistake, my admiration for Jarrick exists in the platonic, he reminds me of my dad in his calm and reassuring presence. We’re not really friends – usually our conversations have just been about borrowing a pen or asking for help at work.


Most of our friendship happens in my head.


I have often imagined what it would be like to actually be friends with Jarrick. I imagine how we would eat dinner. We’d definitely be at his house; I’ve always wanted to see the inside of his house. From the outside peering in, the large windows and high ceilings have always intrigued and impressed me whenever I pass it. He’d make a spicy prawn pasta, one of my favourite dishes, and we’d sit, chat, and laugh. I know it’s weird, I’m aware, but he’s become an imaginary friend of mine. And to keep him as my imaginary friend, he stays at a distance. A work colleague, a periphery in my life. I prefer it like this.


The cinema where we work is not a very nice building. The paint is peeling in small corners and some seats are ripped and pig-eared in the material like the corners of a well-read book - precisely why I love it. It’s a small three-screen venue above a busy restaurant. I started working here at sixteen and never really felt the need to leave. I would spend every weekend as a teenager coming to work just to sit in the back of a screen and watch the latest ‘Above-Water Classic’ film our absent and eccentric owner had decided to screen. Half the time I wouldn’t understand what was going on, but it was calming to watch a room full of people encapsulated in silence. A rarity when it does happen, it feels as if the world has paused for just a second, and for just a moment I can ‘catch up’ with everyone else and catch my breath. Outside of the cinema screens there are expectations and visibility, but in here I am present, grounded, and invisible, all at the same time.


When I started working here it had just been bought by the current owner, who I have never met but have heard a lot about. Rumour has it, he is an eccentric and rich man who erratically invests in cinemas and then quickly loses interest. It’s a gaudy place, with bright and mismatching colours.


‘God, it does look like a pack of highlighters have exploded in here’. I sigh to myself


‘Huh?’ I hear from beside me.


‘Sorry?’


‘You said something about highlighters?’


‘Oh, did I say that out loud? Oh…no... uh…sorry…I was just saying it looks like a pack of highlighters exploded’


‘Some what exploded?’


‘Sorry?’


‘You just said something exploded’


‘Oh, no, sorry, I said some highlighters exploded’


‘Wait, what, how does that happen, was it in the toilets?’


‘Oh no sorry I meant it looked like it in…here…because of the…paint’. The embarrassment has started to sink in.


Well, that was a great first conversation. I think to myself.


As I’m teetering off the end of my sentence shrouded in embarrassment, Jarrick gives me a disengaged look and walks back to the concession stand, leaving me outside screen three wanting the gaudy carpet on the floor to swallow me up. We both now have to sit through a two-hour film stewing on what just happened. Brilliant.


With us watching the film shot-to-shot, I feel the awkward energy emanating from a not-so-imaginary Jarrick. This lasts for the rest of the film - two hours is a very long time.


The Distorted:


Today is the first day I’ve noticed the water in the kitchen. As I hit my alarm clock to snooze this morning, like every morning, I make my disgruntled moan and slump out of bed half an hour later. Today is my day off work so I have decided to have a slow morning. For me that usually involves a strong coffee and lying in front of the TV. As I slowly make my way downstairs, with the sweet earthy smell of coffee filling my nostrils I hear my dad’s regular morning greeting.


‘Good morning Ezzie, want some breakfast?’ My father is a man usually unphased by life, but today I am struck by the air of reservation in his voice – he seems disconcerted.


‘Oh yeah, an omelette would be great thanks.’ I respond casually.


‘Sure.’


‘What’s happened to the floor’ I ask as I assess the situation, feeling my slippers gradually soak into the puddles below my feet.


‘The dam I built has broken, there was another flood last night’ he says rather sternly.


As I look around the room, I see a smattering of puddles covering the floor, concentrated around the corners of the room. The wooden floors and white and green tiles in the kitchen are glistening with the fresh water that has entered the house overnight.


I’m worried. ‘That’s not great’ I comment.


‘Nope’ he chimes in rather fast, almost snipping at me.


‘Did you try doi-‘


‘Yep’


‘You don’t even know what I was going to say dad’


‘Tried it all’


‘Alright’ I say with a mixture of annoyance against his responses and in a half-hearted attempt to reassure him.


As I survey the floor, I notice the weakened Gretian doors where the water has come in. The wood around the skirting boards and the doors has patches of damp lodged in them. To the right of the Gretian doors there are a collection of pictures of me at various points in my life, with my mum, graduations, birthdays, and the like. Before she died my mum took great pride in framing these photographs, a set of custom-made uniformly coloured frames – ‘navy-blue deep-sea coloured’ I imagine it being said in her voice. I slowly start to notice speckles of water forming in the corners of the frames. The house feels very weak, and for the first time I am starting to feel vulnerable in my own home.


‘If water’s come in, I don’t think we should be cooking in here. I think we should take the microw-‘


‘Yes. My darling. I’ve taken it up. That, and our camping stove.’ My father replies.


‘That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it? Migrating the WHOLE kitchen upstairs...’


‘You can’t be too careful with flooding.’


I start to feel disorientated, ‘where is it even all going?’


‘The study. Anyway, pancakes, ok?’ My father asks as he swiftly changes the subject. I had always admired my father’s ability to hold stress, which made today even more disconcerting. I wanted and needed answers and reassurance, and he was unable to give me that.


‘An omelett-…pancakes are great. I’ll go and eat in my bedroom; I don’t think I can sit in all this water’ I say to my dad as I notice the kitchen begin to feel uncharacteristically uncomfortable.


I can see him assessing my responses. As he does so, I notice him becoming aware of my disconcertion and in his unique way, he attempts to comfort me.


‘I’ll eat with you, we’ll put on Have You Got Cash.’ He adds with a half-hearted attempt at a smile. ‘It’ll be fun.’


The Malleable:


‘Oh my goodness please be QUIET!’ I shout at my alarm as it blares its same offensive sound.


This morning, like every morning, I have planned to leave five minutes to get ready for work and rush out of the house. Whilst I lie in my bed trying to muster up the energy to get up, I can once again see my dad tending to the garden through the window.


‘Hey Ezzie! Better get up and moving for work!’ He says as he bobs past my window in his wooden boat. The water level has risen to the height of my windowsill, so I see him pass my window without altering my eyeline. He starts to paddle away from the window towards what’s left of the sunflower patch at the back of the garden. As he reaches the back of the garden, I see him slowly start to prune the vines which have made their way up the fence. Even though the sunflowers have not survived the flooding, every morning I notice my father make his way to the sunflower patch. There are very few vines which are still present on the fence, it seems almost nonsensical for him to be gardening there. For my father, however, the memory of the beautiful yellow sunflowers still exists there. So, like every morning over the past month, I don’t address it, but shout goodbye through my window as I leave for work.


Like usual, I’m late for work. I jump out of bed to get changed, frantically looking around for my suit. I quickly pick it up from the drying rack, squeeze into it and rush out my room. I begin to panic; I’ve left thirty minutes for my forty-five-minute swim. In a frenzied state, I quickly open the first-floor corridor window, slide out, and set off on my swim.


Once I arrive at the cinema, I quickly dry off and get changed into my uniform before heading to the foyer.


‘You’re late’ I can hear Jarrick say from behind me as I walk down the corridor.


‘Sorry, strong current on my swim-in’.


‘We’re in screen two today for Another One Bites.’ I can hear a sense of anxiety in Jarrick’s voice, acting as another disorientation in my pursuit of stability. It feels as if my dad and Jarrick have planned to simultaneously withdraw their reassurance.

When we reach the end of the corridor, Jarrick and I clutch onto the water-sunken banister to hoist ourselves upstairs. Wiping our feet on the mat at the top of the stairs, we shake off the water from our water-proof trousers and go to welcome customers at the first-floor balcony entrance to screen two.


‘Hello welcome to Renga-plex, please take your seats and put on your binoculars. No photography is allowed, the show is about to begin’, I hear Jarrick tell audience members as he goes to sit on the other side of the balcony.


At this point Jarrick and I take our seats and the audience reach for their binoculars from the left-hand side of the pig-eared seats. Once the flooding had reached the stalls of the cinema screens, we had no choice but to move the audiences to the balcony. The balcony was never intended for anyone other than projectionists, but we’ve had to adapt how we run the cinema. The lights slowly dim, and each cinemagoer begins to adjust their binoculars to settle in for the film, it is a half-hearted attempt to surmount the divide between themselves and the screen. I haven’t been able to get used to the new seating plan with both Jarrick and I sat apart. I feel disjointed in the cinema, a place that was a usual familiar space. Sitting alone, inspecting the dark balcony, I have started to feel like I’ve lost my home.


The Mundane Part Two:


But that was yesterday, I’m not in the cinema now. Right now, I’m on my roof.


I am sitting on the roof of my medium sized house, looking over my familiar hometown and I feel lost. I am currently sitting atop my house looking over my beautiful hometown eating my lunch, spicy prawn pasta. The cold air is very sharp on my skin, with the winds hitting me with a strong force. I don’t really like heights, or the cold, but I’ve started to feel trapped in the house. The water has hit the corners of the skirting board in the ‘study-kitchen’ on the third floor.


Today is a day I would usually go to work, but today I can’t. My usual journey across my fourteen crossroads has been blocked by the high level of water outside our house. So, my work is on pause as I sit and watch the wind bend the trees and rustle the leaves into a frenzy ahead of me.


As I survey my surroundings from the roof, I look to my right and in the distance, in the not too far distance, I see a small figure sitting atop another roof. I see them eating what looks like a bag of crisps. I think it’s Jarrick eating, I hope it’s a familiar face.

I raise my food as if a glass of wine on New Year’s Eve, ‘to the future’ I toast.