Summer made a meter maid of my mother. She clocked kilowatts. She switched off the whole of the house. We walked into rooms and plugged in the lamps.
In the day hours, my father watered the sidewalk. Our small yard held the begonias, the geraniums, the petunias, the zinnias. Every patch wilted and sat back onto itself.
At night, I pressed my small body against the stark white bedroom wall to feel its coolness. No one in the house turned over in their sleep. The air stalled in every room.
On a day as dead as the others, my mother put me in my swimsuit. The purple lycra dug into the creases where my limbs met my body. We’re going to the new neighbors’ house, my mother said, then added, They have a girl your age. I nodded silently but my heart thrummed.
Before I knew it, I was following Shari through her house and into the backyard. Her broad smile showed a mix of baby teeth and adult teeth. We jumped into the pool at the same time and thrashed. Shari splayed her pruned fingers and lurched through the water squealing, Witch, Witch. I plunged into the deep end and felt the shock of chlorine sting in my nose.
Shari said, Do you want to play Don’t Let Her Up? and we took turns trying to drown each other. She sunk down to the pool bottom and I stood on her until she could break away. Underwater, Shari’s hair fluttered but when she breached the surface, it dulled and webbed across her face.
When it was my turn, Shari stood on me and I wrestled free. As I rose, so did the air bubbles I made while laughing at the bottom. We went back and forth until it lost its charm. Shari went down a last time and I held her there. Soon her arms flailed above her head. She couldn’t get above the waterline. I thought how we’d get a big kick out of this later.
And from nowhere, a furor of arms and hands that were not our own pulled us apart. Shari vomited pool water onto the patio stones. Her mother roared. My mother held her hands over her face. I stood alone in the pool watching for sharks.
Lara Longo is an Associate Director at The Atlantic and has an MA in cultural studies from King’s College London. Her writing has been published in Peach Mag, Bodega, detritus, Thrice Fiction, and others. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.