We swim through the living room toward the television while our mother watches reruns of Friends.
She yells, “For shit’s sake, stop that, go outside!” But we don’t go outside. It’s the middle of the day, it’s 103 under the pines, and we’ve outgrown—by years—the small plastic pool Mom bought us with her egg money.
Egg money buys everything we have but not enough of it. The TV was free from Gramma when she died, though the nursing home claimed it was theirs, rented to her for $5.00 a week, a real bargain, but Mom made them cry because she’s good at using our skinny bodies as her evidence, though Rachel is better at looking starved-to-death than I am. We eat almost exactly the same dinner, but I look chubby, while she’s all bones poking through flesh. Rachel asks me how I can gain weight on what Mom feeds us and doesn’t believe me when I tell her it’s the Mac-and-Cheese, her Mac-and-Cheese. Rachel doesn’t like it, so she drops it under the table scrunched in a napkin. Later, when I’m doing dishes, I scoop up napkins and gobble down cold macaroni in bed after Mom sends us upstairs.
I like having a little meat on my bones. I also like giving Mom a hard time. Once she called me “the devil’s spawn.” I’m not really sure what that means, but it can’t be good with the word “devil” in it.
She’s getting mad now because I’m doing the backstroke around the rug. Although we didn’t watch the Olympics in this house, Rachel and I still know about the backstroke, all the strokes, actually. Becky’s mom has swimming on their TV even when there’s no Olympics because she’s addicted to guys who swim in those tiny little speedos, not quite hiding their junk. Sometimes she’s watching boys wearing plain white ones, dancing with their thumbs in their waistbands, and there’s no swimming pool anywhere around.
I first heard the word “junk” from Mom when she kicked Bruce out, telling him to “take his junk outta here and never come back.” I only know what it means because Rachel told me. She’s in the fifth grade and the boys are always talking about their junk. I thought “junk” meant their pens and pencils and U.S. history folders. Now I know. And wish I didn’t.
I do the breaststroke from the kitchen door to the TV and back. Mom yells at me to stop, but I don’t. Something is in me, maybe it is a devil or his spawn, but I can’t help myself. I hate that show about friends. It’s so phony. No one I’ve ever known is anything like that, all sweet and lovey-dovey, and even when they get mad and slam doors, they don’t punch their fists through walls. They don’t wail at the top of their lungs, “I can’t take this anymore. Where is the bleach, the antifreeze, a cyanide pill?” I don’t know what cyanide is, exactly, but it can’t be good.
I’ve done two or three more laps around the living area before Mom leaps off the sofa and gives me the back of her hand. It hurts like hell, and I stumble but keep my feet. Rachel, who stopped swimming toward the TV at least fifteen minutes ago, has been sitting on the sofa, leaning into Mom. Now she looks up at me and shakes her head, like she always does, like I should fucking know better. Of course, she doesn’t say this out loud. Her eyes widen and her lips thin, as she shakes her head ‘no,’ like she’s wise and I’m stupid.
I glare at her, then storm out into 103 degrees, slamming the door behind me.
There was a time when Rachel and I were a team. We worked together, and we took our punishment as one. But things have changed, and she’s no longer mine, we are no longer a team, and I’m not sure how that happened.