The first time I peed in a pool, I was at George Murphy’s birthday pool party and Clara had just shown George the hair growing underneath her arms.
Gross! Clara has armpit hair! George shouted. He and Clara had been swimming along the deep end, and once he shouted, Andy joined in and so did Kevin, who went honk-honk-honk with his stupid goose-laugh. They began treading water around her, forming a human Bermuda triangle. Earlier, I’d overheard Mrs. Murphy calling them her Three Musketeers, but she was wrong because they bullied us constantly. For some reason, Clara still had a crush on George. Something about his hair. I didn’t understand it and I don’t think she did either.
The thing was, Clara and I shared everything – from snacks to Spanish homework to lip gloss – and so I kind of felt betrayed that she hadn’t told me about her armpit hair. Maybe she wanted to save it for George. Maybe she just forgot to show me. Either way, I couldn’t stay mad at her for long because the minute Clara saw me staring from across the pool, she mouthed sorry and tried to swim over.
Kevin wouldn’t let her though. He grabbed her ankle and flipped her onto her back so that her arms splayed out, her pits kissing the sky. Look at Clara’s armpit hair! Kevin said over and over again. Clara started crying, her face going salmon-pink, but no one did anything. Mrs. Murphy was busy indoors because it was almost cake time, and so the entire sixth grade class watched Clara as she begged, please-please-please coming out in fat, rolling hiccups. Mrs. Murphy had a soft rock station on and the singer was also going please-please-please. Their voices plastered the air like wet underwear. It made me shiver in the water.
Later, my mom told me that I’d been brave. That I’d been good. Guai, she said, finger-combing my hair, and she said more things in Cantonese but I don’t remember. I don’t think I was brave or good though. Clara is my best friend, my best friend in the entire world, and I wasn’t about to let Kevin or George or Andy make her go please-please-please and cry. It’s why I swam over in my best front crawl – three clean strokes – and elbowed Kevin in the ribs so he’d let go.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t swim away. The boys weren’t done. Instead, they closed in, forming a tight ring around us. Their eyes were mean – dark and flat and fearless.
Does Mei have armpit hair too? George laughed, pointing at me with one wet finger, and that’s when I did it. I screamed the loudest scream I’d ever screamed – a full-bodied ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh – and I thrashed the way I’d once seen a fish thrash on a fishing line, all trembly and gross. I must have thrashed too hard though because before I knew it, pee was shooting out from the folds of my bikini.
At first, I was embarrassed. I could see George trying to piece together why the water was suddenly warm, but by the time he figured it out, Mrs. Murphy was already running outside with the cake. What’s going on, kids? she yelled, but it was too late. Clara looked at me and she reached out to squeeze my palm and I squeezed back, and then together we squeezed our bladders at the same time and we peed and we peed and we peed, turning the water hot with the power of our friendship.
Happy birthday, George, we screamed as we peed. We laughed at the boys as our pee jetted out in strong, muscular streams towards their wiggling toes.
Celeste Chen lives in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in A Velvet Giant, perhappened, The Blood Pudding, Shenandoah Literary, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @celestish_ and online here.
image: Laura Eppinger has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net. She writes fiction, nonfiction, and weird hybrid stuff.
Visit her here: https://lauraeppinger.blog/
The “Have a Petty Party” photo series interrogates what it means to be a host, a guest, a homeowner, and a woman who wants an identity separate from her housekeeping abilities. For this project I embroidered paper napkins, paper plates, party hats, doilies, and more. You’re not “supposed” to stitch on these things. And the messages aren’t celebratory. See more on my site: https://lauraeppinger.blog/have-a-petty-party/