We love The Plunge. The promise of swimming on a hot summer day is the only reason we get up early and clean breakfast dishes without being told. We hurry-brush our teeth, wash our lagañas, and slip on our new swimsuits. Tia bought them at Mervyns. All the same size but each a different color. Joanna’s green one, of course, fits perfect. Elisa complains that the purple shoulder straps dig into her skin. The back of Delia’s blue one goes up her crack a little, so she puts on a pair of jean shorts to cover her nalgas. Maribel’s orange one is stretched so thin it looks almost see-through and goes low in the front so it’s good she doesn’t have chi-chis yet. She throws on a long T-shirt. Larissa’s is loose all over, the red fabric bunched on the sides and her straps slide off her shoulders. We get a big safety pin from Junior’s diapers and fasten the straps together in the back.
We help each other with hair. French braid for Delia that only Joanna can do tight enough. Larissa uses a lot of gel and slicks her curls back tight against her head, makes the hair ballies wrap twice. It’s so tight her puff ball in the back looks like a second tiny head. But we don’t tell her that. Maribel gets two braids that capture all the feathered hair around her face. Elisa’s hair is short enough to leave loose and Joanna likes hers in one skinny ponytail.
We pack our bag with five towels, our new sunglasses that match our suits, baby oil, and five oranges for snack later. Delia stuffs her book in the bag too.
“Why’d you do that?” Maribel asks.
“So I can read while I dry off.”
“Think that’ll make you look smarter?” Elisa always gets straight As.
“I think if I read ten of these this summer, I get a free personal pan pizza.”
The rest of us scramble back to the room for our own books.
At half past nine, we slip on our new yellow flip flops—Tia found them on clearance, all size 6—and pile into Tio’s blue Chevy Astro van. It’s brand new, doesn’t smell like baby butt or big brother feet like the old van did. We name her Bettina and tell Tio the boys should have to walk everywhere so they don’t mess her up. Maribel and Larissa get in the way back seat. Joanna and Delia sit on the middle bench, and Elisa, because she’s the oldest—12 in September—gets to sit in front. We each get a window so everything is fair.
On our way, Tio stops at the Circle K for cigarettes. He buys us each our own slushie and lets us pick our favorite candy. “Shhh,” he says, “don’t tell Tia.”
We can’t get chocolate because it’ll melt in five seconds. Larissa gets Now and Laters, which will pull a filling out of her molar the next day. Joanna gets Jolly Ranchers, “Because we have the same initials.” Elisa picks Nerds proudly and Delia gets Everlasting Gobstoppers. Maribel takes forever to decide, wanders up and down the candy aisle so long Tio yells that he’s gonna be late for work.
The rest of us groan. “You did that so you don’t have to share,” we say.
“I’ll share.” She smirks, knows the rest of us don’t like it.
So later, when a few small bits are stuck in her teeth and she smiles at the boys walking by, we don’t tell her. Just let them laugh. Until her eyes fill with tears. Then we surround her. Delia gets a napkin from the bag to clean Maribel’s teeth. We make her eat an orange to chase away the gross licorice smell. Joanna throws the rest of the licorice away.
But we don’t share our candy with Maribel. “Next time,” we say, “make a better choice.”
Larissa makes a different bad choice. One we pray Tias and Tios don’t find out about or we’ll never get to go back to The Plunge. Maybe because Larissa is the youngest—just turned 11 in May—she doesn’t understand why Joanna’s classmates, the ones who think they’re all that and dissed Joanna because she lives on the east side of town, sit in the spot near the deep end where all the boys jackknife off the high dive and cannon ball from the side.
Lifeguards yell, “Hey!” and “Stop that!” but no one listens. Those girly girls squeal and twist their bodies to avoid splashed water on their faces. We think some of them are wearing makeup. At the pool? How dumb! None of them have hair that’s ready for the water either. We know better.
Maybe Larissa wants them to see how it feels to not be all perfect. She slips away while the rest of us are reading, runs the length of the pool on the slippery cement to the corner closest to those giggly girls. The rest of us look up when the lifeguard’s whistle blows and he yells, “Walk!”
Larissa combos a jackknife cannonball at this crazy angle and a wave of water the girls can’t twist away from arcs over them, drenches their whole pretty selves. Joanna is horrified, so the rest of us stifle our laughs. The wet girls sputter and screech. The guys clap and hoot at Larissa’s performance. She swims to the opposite side and boosts herself out.
The noises change to cackles and oohs. Only then do the rest of us see that Junior’s diaper pin didn’t hold and the straps of Larissa’s too-loose suit have failed, the top half folds down at her waist. She smiles over at us until she feels her nakedness. Her barely budding chi-chis chill in the air. She freezes and embarrassment creeps up her cheeks. The hoots and laughs get louder. The pointing and staring keep Larissa super still.
Maribel grabs a towel and sprints toward Larissa, jumps over two toddlers and twirls by the lifeguard who yells “Walk!” again and reaches out to grab her. The rest of us follow behind with the bag and Larissa’s flip flops.
We surround her and head to the baño. Maribel gives Larissa her long t-shirt. Delia gives Larissa her jean shorts. Joanna undoes Larissa’s hair bally. It whacks Joanna’s fingers but she holds in her ouch and uses some baby oil to calm Larissa’s frizz.
When Larissa finally speaks, she says, “You see how I splashed those sangronas?”
Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen, Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera (she/her) writes so the desert landscape of her childhood can be heard as loudly as the urban chaos of her adulthood. She is obsessed with food. A former high school teacher, she earned an MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles and is an Annenberg Fellow at University of Southern California. She is a Macondista and works for literary equity through Women Who Submit. You can read her other stories and essays at http://tishareichle.com/
Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson