steam rises like smog in the darkness. i do not know where it is going. my hair is wet at the ends, but my crown is still dry because the water is too hot to dunk my whole head into.
one of the four other girls in the hot tub kicks me underwater. edie. she’s so small her leg feels like a pool noodle, but it is colder than styrofoam. she kicks her way into the middle of the hot tub, where marion sits. marion is thirteen and angry. edie kicks marion. the underwater lights turn her body into a shadow, illuminates her baby teeth as she screams: “move, marion!”– with a lisp.
marion shoves her. edie grunts. camille laughs. camille is lying on the side of the hot tub, above the water. she is almost falling. but not quite. steady for now. the light does not reach her. her hair is stringy from the water. that is a guess. i cannot see her hair, but i know camille.
my sister is sitting quietly next to me. I cannot read her expression; her profile is a silhouette, but her infinitely long eyelashes stick out, flitting up and down once and awhile. she was born with them. or maybe it’s maybelline.
i sense she is vaguely annoyed. she does not like our cousins. they are too loud and mean and hurting.
marion stretches out her legs. she is tall and strong, with a face like her mother’s. dark eyelashes and light eyes. her feet almost reach the edges of the hot tub. they glow. “i’m fat,” she announces, chin pressed into the water.
the hot tub boils over with words. “no, you’re not,” I say the exact same time as my sister. “i’m fat!” edie parrots, jumping out of the water, and pinches her tadpole belly. camille laughs again. “you’re beautiful,” i say to edie and marion.
marion groans. “i’m not. i don’t even have a boyfriend.”
“i have a boyfriend!” edie yells. camille smacks her. “no, you don’t,” she says. edie frowns. “i do!”
marion looks at me. “she’s lying,” she says, loudly matter-of-fact. her chin sinks further into the water. “marion.” i say. “marion. you’re thirteen. it’s normal to not have a boyfriend.”
she doesn’t respond, instead slips underwater completely. “no,” says camille. “there’s girls at our school who have boyfriends. so many. and they wear shirts that are like, up to here.” she touches her ribs. “and tiny tiny shorts. and they do it on purpose. for boys.”
“boyfriends,” edie corrects from the darkness.
marion bursts out from under water, water streaming from her nose and lips and hair all at once. her eyes pop open. they are glassy. maybe it’s the light. maybe she was born with it. maybe it’s maybelline.
edie cannonballs into the middle of the hot tub. marion yelps, eyes closing fast. camille screams. my cousins are loud. they speak like balloons. bright and bloated and empty.
“don’t slut shame,” i say, a little late.
“we’re not,” says marion. “it’s just the truth.” she takes another breath and collapses underwater.
this morning i put on mascara. i don’t know why. i did it in the bathroom, in the big mirror above the porcelain sink, cleaner than anything. i knew i wasn’t going to see anyone i cared about. but i did it anyway. habits are hard to break.
but i can feel it running off my face now. the water gives me racoon tears. i rub my smallest finger along my left eyelid, feel makeup come off. my eye stings from the chlorine. it stings from girlhood and hormones that we ooze. it stings from voices cracks. it stings from boys and my sister’s strawberry shampoo. it stings from jealousy, it stings from everything that seeps out of my cousin’s pores and swirls into the hot tub all at once.
it stings from my mascara.
fire using water like gasoline. we are all stabbing blindly with eyeliner at our faces in darkness.
i am tired.
we are so, so, tired.
maybe we were born that way. maybe it’s maybelline.