The Education of Legs McGee

“Swimming’s easy,” Aaron said as he tightened the foam ring beneath her shoulders. “There’s only one rule: keep breathing. If you can’t find a way to breathe, that’s when you’re in trouble.”

Leah nodded as her brother gathered her into his arms, lifted her from the chair, and placed her carefully at the edge of the porch. She didn’t feel her feet dip into the water, but she saw the gray of the ocean swirl across her tan skin. “Mom says not to,” she said, for the fifth time in the last ten minutes.

“Mom doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” he said with a smile.

Leah watched the water, partially opaque with flecks of dust. The setting sun behind them soaked the light from the sky, and on the opposite horizon, the sky and the water seemed to merge into a thick band of black.

Her classmates called her a cripple: Legs McGee, to be precise. Sometimes, she thought of herself that way. Leah watched them swim to the edge of the schoolyard, hanging onto the edge of the net and daring each other to jump past it. She’d long since gotten over envy. In recent years, she simply watched them glide through the water with the ease of a native being. They were like fish, their shimmering skin glazed with saltwater.

“You can’t live on the ocean and never go swimming,” Aaron continued as he lowered her into the nearly opaque mass. Small circles of bubbles moved outwards from her skin and she clung to her brother’s arms as the sudden coldness wrapped around her waist.

“I can’t-”

“Don’t listen to them,” he said. The water was now splashing around the edge of the foam floater, and she felt it dip with her weight. Leah’s throat closed in silent panic. “Calm down,” Aaron told her. “Like I said, the secret is to keep breathing.”

He pried her fingers from his arm and jumped into the water, his black hair disappearing beneath the gray. “Aaron?” she called. There was no response.

The house was a silhouette now, cast against the watercolor sky. The ocean was completely silent. “Aaron!” she yelled. Leah slapped the water with her arms, trying to push herself to the point where her brother had disappeared. A loud sound erupted behind her, and beads of water met her shoulders.

“Boo!” he said, and she screamed. As her voice met her ears, Leah realized it was only partially terrified. She wiped the ocean with her palm, throwing water in his direction.

“You scared me.”

“I don’t know how to drown,” he said as he blocked some of the splash with his arm. Aaron wiped his eyes, then squinted. “Hey, how’d you get all the way over there?”

“I pushed,” she said.

“We call that swimming,” her brother told her with a deep smile. “Welcome to the club.”

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