The first day of summer did not set off the release valve of sputtering joy in Jharna in the way that it appeared to do for other people. She picked up her backpack and walked toward the parking lot, waiting for her mother to pick her up while a tidal wave of high schoolers peeled away in teetering, maniacal vehicles. A group of tall Mormon girls took off their jeans in front of the gym to reveal tiny black volleyball shorts from which their powerful legs emerged, stallion-like. Smaller barnacle boys jumped on their backs, making the pack of wild Mormon girls squeal in laughter and protest. Jharna turned away from them and squinted at the horizon for signs of an approaching minivan.
The sun had burnt her nose slightly and she felt glum. Regardless of the newness of the season or the endness of the week, Jharna still had to practice an hour of piano when she got home from school. After that, she had to do an hour of math problems. Whenever she complained about this, her mother would say something to the effect of “Don’t you want to grow up and marry a nice boy and have a nice family and be able to buy a nice house with a nice pool?” to which Jharna would respond, “No.” She would then practice the piano imagining that a certain boy whose face materialized in crowds, libraries, and detention like a portent for a future filled with desire sat by himself in audience of her scales.
Jharna slunk into the front seat of the minivan. Her mother looked at her sideways. “Biriyani’s mom wants you to come over for a pool party,” she said. Jharna’s eyebrows shot up with interest but quickly returned to neutral. “Cool,” she said. “Can we stop by the house so I can grab my bathing suit?”
“Why don’t you just borrow one of Biryiani’s?”
“Uh because it wouldn’t fit me obviously,” Jharna rolled her eyes. Her mother was acting like she was unaware that Biriyani was a cosmically gorgeous sylph dropped by the gods of beauty into the world that Jharna stupidly had to share with her.
When Jharna arrived Biriyani was sunbathing in the backyard. She glittered black under the sun like a long graphite drawing. “Omg hi!” she leapt up from the deck chair and whipped a long sheet of black hair over her shoulders. Jharna envied her friend’s new red velvet bikini. Jharna’s own bathing suit bottom was a pair of dinosaur boxers that her younger brother had outgrown. “Omg hi!” she said back.
“Dude you’re never gonna guess what. You’re gonna freak.”
“Ugh tell me already.”
“I like invited that guy over. That guy Philip from school who’s like super into you or whatever. You’re welcome lol.”
Jharna felt her stomach bob up and down. “Omg,” she said. “That’s…ugh, lol, why didn’t you text me? I wouldn’t have worn this stupid thing.” She pointed at the velociraptor biting her crotch.
“Lol,” Biriyani laughed. “You look cute! Do you want to borrow one of my suits?”
Jharna looked at her friend’s impossible body and sneezed three times in a row.
“Nah it’s fine,” she said, sniffling. “Who else is coming?”
“No one,” Biriyani said, smiling slyly.
“Omg,” Jharna said. “You fucking suck. This is going to be so awkward.”
“No it won’t. Don’t be so like, whatever that word is. Pessimistic. Let’s swim though, it’s so hot out.”
Biriyani jumped off the diving board and broke the surface of the swimming pool in a clean arc. Pale pink fluff rippled over the pool. Her legs kicked a trillion tiny dark blue jewels into the air that melted back into water.
“Mmmmmmm,” said Biriyani. “I’ve been in this pool every day since Archana got her manufacturing Ph.D., it’s like a completely different experience. So much more refreshing than just the law and computer science words.”
Jharna laughed but felt insulted. Both of her parents had terminal law degrees and didn’t seem particularly interested in getting any new ones. Their pool at home was boring and warm and soft with very little textural variety. She sat by the side of the pool and gingerly stuck her feet in. The liquid glowed lavender, and she felt her feet become enveloped in a rich, creamy pudding substance. “What’s this pudding stuff over here?” she asked loudly.
“Those are the art words,” said Biriyani. “Begum finally got her MFA this week remember?”
“Oh yeah,” said Jharna. She felt herself think of the word divisionism as she watched the sunlight reflect off the surface of the pool, yellow and red and pink.
“It feels really good if you start swimming near the art pudding and then backstroke your way to this area.” Biriyani was in the middle of the pool with pearlescent white globs sparkling in her black hair. “There’s a bunch of protein names or whatever in here.” Biriyani caressed the water with her fingertips.
“You know I can’t swim that far,” Jharna said, annoyed. She had missed out on a lot of things having immigrated to the United States as a child, and one of those was learning how to swim in jargon. Though she knew more or less how to make her way from one end of a pool filled with water to another, she hadn’t been able to figure out how to make her limbs move gracefully through this new material. She secretly thought it was a stupid invention, even though it was quickly becoming one of the most coveted status symbols in the country.
The glass door of the backyard slid open and Philip walked down the staircase leading down to the pool, taking his t-shirt off. Jharna stared at his sunburnt abs. He looked like a sexy lobster.
“What’s up,” Philip said to Jharna. “Check out this sick guacamole I made.” He handed her a bucket of green goo. It looked bad. Jharna felt conflicted.
“Wow, um, it looks…good.”
“Fuck yeah it does,” Philip said. Biriyani waved to him from a floatie in the middle of the pool.
“Bring me the guac!”
Philip took the open container of guacamole and pretended to throw it into the pool toward Biriyani.
“Omg don’t!” she shrieked. “My dad will kill you I swear.”
Philip laughed and set the guacamole on the ground. He jumped into the pool and disappeared into a slorp of deep green tar. His head re-emerged, shimmering with vegetal matter. “Loopy belief propagation!” he said. Jharna watched him swim over to Biriyani in wide, masculine strokes. Fuck, she thought.
Gingerly lowering her body into the pool, Jharna tightly clutched the tiled edge with both hands. The pudding feeling gave way to a luxurious cool silver mink enveloping her thighs. WEEE directive, she felt right away. Assy handle.
“Assy handle!” Jharna yelled. Biriyani and Philip both laughed.
“Omg you’re doing it,” said Biriyani.
“Doing what? Oh swimming? Can’t you swim?” asked Philip.
“Not well,” Jharna said in what she hoped was an offhand and extremely cool voice. “Swimming is a bourgie thing in India,” she lied.
Jharna’s feet paddled the thick jargon. It wasn’t very deep where she was standing. Frottage, she felt. EBOM. She felt as if she were bouncing very slowly in an expensive bouncy house. The surface of the pool looked like perfectly normal clear blue water, but her body was not visible under the surface. Different molecules of jargon were programmed to take on specific material qualities that bent light in strange new ways. Jharna cupped some in her hands and held it up to her face. Pale pink chrome beads sparkled under the sun and melted back into water. Dribbleware, she felt. She saw Philip’s feet sticking out of the pool as he did a handstand at the bottom of the pool.
“Jharna you gotta see this,” he said, re-emerging after ten seconds. His blonde hair was momentarily covered in acid yellow gelatin. “There’s like some sort of sick light at the bottom of the pool here. It felt like Pikachurin, or something like that.”
“I can’t swim well enough to get to the middle of the pool,” Jharna said.
“We’ll help you,” Philip said.
Biriyani looked dubious. “I don’t know if I’m strong enough to hold her up.”
Jharna glared at her internally. “Yeah it’s fine, don’t worry. I can hang out here.”
“No I’m serious,” Philip insisted. “It’s like Atlantis down here. Just trust me, I won’t let you drown.”
Jharna felt her stomach do something weird. She burped silently.
“Okay, fine. I can try to jump into that floaty.”
Jharna took a deep breath and pushed herself off the wall toward the center of the pool. A range of sensations glissandoed across her skin. Cold metal rushed through her chest giving way to a warm smokiness. Res Judicata, she felt. Mandrel, annulus, Mamikon’s theorem.
As she made her way toward Philip’s radiant form through a fog of unfamiliar words, Jharna had a barrage of tiny epiphanies. And yet when she attempted to focus on the content of one, it dissolved like soap in water, leaving an oily film on her skin.
She felt her thighs burning. Snarf, frobnicate. Her legs seemed to be working harder to keep her afloat. Looking back, she wasn’t even halfway to the center of the pool. Kyriarchy, affiant. Jharna could feel a crispy tanbark sensation slowly rise toward her face. She lifted her nose higher above the surface. The thundering of her heart rose toward her mouth. Philip was pretending to tug at Biriyani’s bikini ties while she splashed silver tinsel at him. Neither of them were looking at her.
“Mmmmphhhgmmmhmm!” Jharna’s mouth filled with bright red cotton that tasted of nothing. She waved her arms in what she hoped was a “help me you fucks” motion toward her friends before disappearing under the surface. She felt as if she had plunged into a massive craft supply storage unit. Sensations of wool and wood cradled her panicking body as it plummeted toward the bottom of the pool. The harder she kicked, the deeper she fell. Soon, she felt her feet touch the cement ground. Jharna looked up and saw the sun through the crystal clear water. Though she desperately needed oxygen, she felt calm.
I am dying, Jharna thought. This is how I will die. She also thought pallete knife and propellant and surfactant. She tried to remember some things from her life that would be nice to reflect on while she died. Nothing came to mind except a feeling of irritation that she would die without ever having had sex. The bottom of the pool was lovely and cool, like sitting inside of a breeze.
She heard muffled monster voices yelling above the surface. “Where,” “Jharna,” “where,” “is Jharna.” The voices mingled with words in her head. Gorilla gorilla. Is this really happening gorilla gorilla dystrophin galactose. Her vision dimmed and became pinkish. Like an unruffled jellyfish her black hair clouded in place.
After some time, two arms inserted themselves under Jharna’s armpit and a body began its slow ascent toward the surface with her limp form in tow.
Jharna came to and vomited several liters of water and a pile of soggy red yarn onto the tiles next to the pool. The yarn quickly melted back into water. Biriyani stood beside her, hands on knees, panting like a dog. Biriyani’s knees suddenly buckled and she fell to the ground. Out of the corner of her eye Jharna saw a tearful Philip run toward her with a phone pressed against his face. She again looked at Biriyani sparkling and trembling under the sun next to her, and despite just having ingested an operation manual’s worth of words, Jharna suddenly felt ravenous.
Jayinee Basu is a first year medical student and the author of a book of poems entitled Asuras (Civil Coping Mechanisms 2015). She is also the English translator of Sukumar Ray’s HJBRL (Yapanchitra 2010).