She’s not the only one. Girls like her everywhere, smiling up from underneath the water. It only looks like smiling.
We weight ourselves down with rocks, with dares that one of us will reach her.
She’s still got her hair. It swarms round her head like a grist of bees. We have never met anyone like the girl in the water. Our confessions of love to her come bubbling out of our mouths, burst noiseless on the surface.
We dive down and down and down. Our swim trunks swell and bloat, trying to tug us back up to the surface. Above us is the air and the moon-fat sky. Below us is the girl. We are halfway things, belonging neither to the sky nor to the water. Belonging, if we must be possessed by anything, then, to the girl in the water, her grasping twig hands. We hover between, holding our breath as long as we can, gritting our teeth, curling our fists, and then kicking to the surface. The air feels heavy to us, heavier than the rocks we let spill from our hands, tumbling to the bottom to rest near the bony feet of the girl. If she wanted, if she could, she might make a pillar of rocks and climb to the surface, face-up with us. We turn over on our backs, float, and look up at the moon. We try to ignore the ones on the bank, sitting on threadbare towels, popping the tabs on their beer cans.
Did you reach her this time? They say. They have full beards and girlfriends with torn jeans, cars with cracked windshields. They have never touched the girl in the water, have forgotten how to love her.
They loll on their towels and look up at the moon. We all look up at the moon, even the girl in the water. It is only on nights like this that she can be found, reflecting the moon, the moon reflecting her. We ignore the chatter of the ones on the bank, the clinking of their cans. We will have to make it up to them later, or walk home, barefoot, dripping, gravel sticking in our heels.
We ignore them and duck back down into the water.
We swear the girl is reaching for us. We swear we will be the ones to take her hand.
Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Ellipsis Zine, Cold Creek Review, Jellyfish Review and Booth.