Sipping, not thinking, she drifted on a cobalt disk under an aquamarine dome. Birches bent to honor her, tall pines guarded the birches. She looked down the length of her body. She had not worn rubber boat shoes, only sandals, and her ten toenails winked flamingo.
The spring was in the middle of the roughly circular pond. Usually a boat given its freedom headed in that direction. Today, however, the canoe was obeying some private instructions. It had turned eastward; the lowering sun at her back further brightened her toenails. Her craft was headed toward the densely wooded stretch of shore where there were no houses. It was picking up speed. Cornelia considered shaking herself out of her lethargy, lifting the paddle, resuming control; but instead she watched the prow make its confident way toward trees and moist earth. It would never attain the shore, though, because there seemed to be a gulf between pond and land. No one had ever remarked on this cleavage. Perhaps it had only recently appeared, a fault developing in the last week or two; perhaps the land had receded from the pond or the pond recoiled from the land; at any rate, there it was: fissure, cleft…falls.
Falls! And she was headed directly toward them. All at once a sound met her ears…splashing not roaring, inviting not menacing, but still. As the canoe rode the lip of the new waterfall she stood up, never easy to do in a boat, more difficult now with substances swirling in her veins. She grabbed an overhanging bough, and watched in moderate dismay as her vessel tipped and then fell from her, carrying its cargo of towel, paddle, binoculars, sun hat, and almost-empty thermos.
What now? She hung there, hands, arms, shoulders, torso, uneven legs, darling little toenails. She looked down. The rent in the fabric of the water was not, after all, between water and shore: it was between water and water. It was a deep, dark rift, like a mail slot. She dropped into it.
Excerpted from “Self-Reliance” from Binocular Vision: New & Selected StoriesCopyright © 2011 by Edith Pearlman. Used by permission of Lookout Books, an imprint of the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.