Shannon Derby



Imagine a body of water. Bright, blue, swaying back and forth in the night. Or perhaps red and brown; mud and sand kicked up underwater by a thunderstorm. How does it taste against your dry, cracked lips? How does it feel, licking the skin of your ankles in the shallows of a pond? On the top step leading into your swimming pool? If you can’t remember, if you can’t quite describe it, then perhaps you ought to get out of your bed, walk out of your empty house and into your backyard where your blue-and-green-tiled pool sits in the sunlight, calm and ready. Note that your husband and children won’t be home until tomorrow morning. Strip down to your underwear, your small, pale breasts shying away from the morning light, and lie down on the diving board, flat on your back. Let your arms hang down toward the surface, your fingertips dipping in and out of the chlorinated water, creating concentric circles in the smooth surface. Feel droplets of moisture form on your skin as you begin to perspire and wish for something to drink.


Sixty-four ounces a day—that’s eight glasses a day. You with your home water filtration and the comfortable belief that the supply is endless. Do not think of what it is to be thirsty. So desperately thirsty that you haven’t gone to the bathroom in days. So thirsty that you suck your own arm, tasting only salt and skin. So thirsty you wish you could cry so that you could suck the tears from your upper lip. Do not think of your great-great grandmother aboard a ship to America, squeezed into third class with sisters and strangers, her thin fingers clinging to a potato she found on the ground, sucking until her lips grow raw.


You are a child, sitting in the backseat of a car, traveling on a looping highway on the island of Maui, looking out the window at the Pacific. Your grandmother places her spotted hand on your knee and speaks in whispers. She tells you a story about her cousin who swam in the ocean every morning. She tells you what a strong swimmer her cousin was. She tells you that, one day, her cousin did not come home for breakfast.

“Sharks,” she whispers and you vow never to swim again. A vow that is broken in less than two hours.

Close your eyes for the rest of the ride to the hotel and remember a field trip you took in school to the Brig Pilgrim in Dana Point. Think about Richard Henry Dana and wonder what it was like to be at sea in the nineteenth century. Would you be able to keep the rope in your blistered, bleeding hands when winds threatened to destroy the sails? Would you vomit over the side of the ship when waves batted it back and forth? Would you be able to keep perfectly still in the water, after youíd been tossed overboard, so that the sharks circling below donít notice you? Donít bite you?


Walt Disney turned the mermaid into a redheaded sex-symbol. But what many don’t know is that when a mermaid dies, her body turns into sea foam. When you were younger, your grandmother told you this, and the next day you ran out to the shore and waited for the waves to break against the sand. You stared at the white, translucent bubbles floating in the water and swore that you saw a teal scale the size of your thumbnail before the tide went back out to sea.


Roll off the diving board into the deep end of the swimming pool. Stay under water until your lungs hurt and then propel yourself upward by exhaling. Do not inhale before your head breaks the surface. As you rise, amid the chlorine and bubble-froth, open your eyes. Look up through the water at the diving board, the trees, and the roof of your house all waving in the sunlight, and consider opening your mouth and sucking the entire pool into your body. Consider staying right where you are.


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