The pool is a wet kimono. As I dive in, its shiveringly intoxicating liquid touch folds around my body. One length and I’m warm. Two lengths, the water fits me like a skin; my feet become flippers, my arms are bent fins. I metamorphosise through eel, frog, and butterfly. Then back again to front-crawl. My arms slice like scissor blades; my legs are needles stitching the water closed behind me.
As I freestyle backwards and forwards, I hear Craig’s voice in my head: “Press your buoy.” “High-elbow!” “Power those legs!!” “All it takes is all you got!!!”
Before things got serious, I used to love his voice. Sixteen then, I wore his words like the water, tingled every time he brushed my skin. We would splash, dive and glide together. More time at the pool meant seeing him more and having fun. I lapped up his admiration and praise. Sleeking my long mermaid curls to a seal’s short flatness sounded aquadynamic and chic. Or so I thought at first.
After an hour now immersed in chlorine and other chemicals, the lights above are haloed by rainbows. Everything is a blur. But I know he will be there on the side, watching and waiting.
I end the session by plunging to the bottom. I remove my googles, open my eyes, stop breathing and start counting. One, two… the initial disorientation of water swilled to cloudy murkiness by the throng of thrashing body parts above me. Nine, ten… on a quiet day, when the pool surface calms, the sun slices through to create small cities of light. Forty-one, forty-two…the deep water is so peaceful, I don’t want to move. Seventy-three, seventy-four…I could almost lose count.
Breaking through, back into the air, is a shock. I feel myself gasp.
I climb out. Craig is there, waiting to wrap me into a towel: soft and fluffy, cold and tight. His scowl says already that I’ve shaved little from my time. He will sigh, weigh my life out in kick sets, weight-training, pilates and protein bars, then make me go again.
He doesn’t know how much my underwater count strengthens each day I sacrifice myself to the pool. Soon I’ll be able to stay under so long that I needn’t rise again. My body will become liquid, breath and light, my stroke strong enough to swim away.
S.A. Leavesley is a fiction writer, poet, journalist and photographer, with flash published by journals including Ellipsis, Jellyfish Review, Litro, Spelk, Fictive Dream and Bending Genres (forthcoming). Her short novellas ‘Always Another Twist’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ are published by Mantle Lane Press.