Sink or Swim by Angela Rydell

“Why are they having all that awful fun?” Louisa hissed, standing before their hotel window overlooking the pool. Hands over her ears, she could still hear sharp screams of pre-pubescent pleasure, slaps against the surface of the pool, parents yelling, some with slurred voices. She flicked off the light and threw herself down alongside Everett. Unmoved, he sat quietly on the glossy blue quilt. Sinking underneath the covers she squirmed noisily, the material bunching like troubled waves. Did he know she was actually drowning? Today she became a godmother and did not steal the baby, did not run out the back of the church triumphant, a mother at last. She embraced her sister at the proper times, smiled at the proper times, held Everett’s hand tightly all afternoon. Now she twisted, tossed, ducked at each invisible kid’s splash. Took a ragged breath, grabbed at the blankets as if pulling herself out of the water with a life preserver. Still he didn’t move. Each time she kicked, thrashed, opened her eyes to peek, the mattress swayed and he swayed but stayed steady, his back to her.

When she’d exhausted herself to the point of sleep, Everett slid in next to her. He listened to her breath slow until stiffness became slackness and her body finally resigned to floating fitfully upon the hotel bed—a raft, thought Everett, in their restless ocean. The laughter, whooping and flickering light were thunder and lightening cracks of a storm directly overhead, threatening to fill the raft with more than just their quiet lives, drown them both. In water you’re more likely to get hit by lightening. He inched further away from Louisa. That familiar nausea began in his gut, a kind of seasickness, as if they’d been on these waves too many times. He could feel water slopping over the edges, seeping in and through the thin cuffs of his pajama sleeves, his buttoned up collar. He had an urge to leap off and swim away. But he’d never learned how.