By Emily Costa
During free swim, Claudia says she’s going to play “Macarena” on the boombox. The girls lose their minds.
“The next stroke will have directions,” Claudia says. “An order you have to follow, just like the dance does.” She squeezes pool water out of her hair, twists her ponytail into a bun.
Meredith watches her, wipes strands of her own hair from her eyes. She tries to ignore the younger girls –her cousin and her fourth-grade friends –splashing, pushing half-submerged palms to make mini-waves. She also tries to ignore how awkward it is being the oldest person in class. At twelve, she’s closer in age to Claudia, who’ll be a sophomore in the fall, who told Meredith she liked her mood ring, whose one-piece is cut low on her tanned back, perfectly framing her shoulder blades.
It was Meredith’s aunt who invited her to take the lessons, said it was a necessary life skill. Her mom agreed, even though Meredith did not. But she wasn’t the type to make a fuss, to make herself known at all. Lessons were cheaper to do it like this, too, to hire a teenager to teach a group in someone’s pool, no membership contracts at the Y or anything. Her aunt had an above-ground. Meredith’s fate was sealed.
Claudia dries her hands and presses play, then returns to the water’s edge. She dangles her feet in as the little girls form a line, the sky-blue polish on her toes the same color as the pool’s floor. Meredith grips the wall. She watches Claudia slide the charm of her braided hemp choker back and forth. She lets go, lets the Fimo-clay flower, its bright yellows and pinks, fall in the hollow of her throat.
“C’mon, Mere,” she says. “You know the dance, right?”
Meredith feels her face go hot. Of course she knows it. The song is a virus, impossible to avoid. But she can’t let go of the wall, can’t bring herself to dance in front of Claudia. The little girls splash and sing. Meredith would kill for that kind of un-selfconsciousness, that simplicity. “Yeah,” she says. “I know it.”
It’s not that she hates the song. Despite its omnipresence, she feels her chest get lighter when she hears it. She’s never done the dance anywhere other than alone in her bedroom, but she loves the music video, the brightness of it, the girls in neon, bared bellies against a white background, all singing along together with the same voice. She taped it off of MTV when her parents were out to dinner.
“I promise you won’t look stupid,” Claudia says. “Look, I’ll do it, too.” She lifts herself off the deck and slides into the water.
“Okay.” Meredith holds on tighter, treading water, her forearm over the top of the wall. Her fingers brush the outside of the pool, the smooth aluminum. She thinks about how thin the material is keeping everything inside. “Line up, everyone!” The girls giggle into formation, following single-file during the verses. Meredith feels Claudia’s hands on her shoulders. They’re warmer than she thought they’d be.
The girls perform; they mumble through broken Spanish, they jump and clap. When the song ends, Claudia explains the stroke they’ll learn.
She asks Meredith: “Can I use you?” She asks: “Can you be my helper?”
Once, when she was young, Meredith almost drowned. She drifted too far out during a beach trip. The ocean slapped at her face, grabbed her and pulled her under. Everything was gray and muted for a long time.
Claudia guides Meredith’s shoulder and thigh as she surrenders to a back float. She tells the girls to form their arms like a soldier, flat by their sides, then a bird, folded in half with elbows out, then an airplane, arms outstretched, pulling water in. She moves Meredith into these poses. Over and over they are to do this, until it becomes one fluid motion. Until it becomes easier. And then Claudia lets go. Meredith struggles briefly, her stomach pulled tight, but then she keeps moving. The water fills her ears. The sky looks neon blue. Electric.
Emily Costa teaches freshmen at Southern Connecticut State University, where she received her MFA. Her writing can be found in Hobart, Barrelhouse, The RS 500, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Memoir Mixtapes, and elsewhere. You can follow her on twitter @emilylauracosta.