Heart of Gold by Alison L Fraser

There’s a Blob at the bottom of the deep end. It’s made mostly of human hair, animal fur and seaweed. There’s probably some escaped turds, boogers, and flaked sunburnt skin too. Like trash-island in the Pacific ocean, the Blob is gathered debris from everyone who has used the city’s salt-water pool, one of the last of its kind filtered straight from the harbor, so fresh. I know it’s hair, but the legend of a deep sea creature who found its way to the pool spreads its silky tentacles in my mind, the drains, behind the filters, and lies in wait of lanes four and five for unsuspecting kids to dive in too deep, too fast.

Our team uses the outdoor pool on Wednesdays in the summer. Coach calls in his ‘gang’ after stretches. He shouts for us to jump in and warm up. He taps his clipboard in sync with our flipturns and our finishing touches. He likes working with us because we have experience and we have potential. We aren’t busy and burnt out like the high schoolers, we aren’t timid and floppy like the littles. 

Coach, it’s known, has the golden touch. More swimmers go to Nationals with him than any other. He hasn’t managed to coach a future Olympian, he’s constantly aware of his lack of prowess, but he’s always looking, he says. He tells us stories on the way to meets about the ones who got away, the ones with so much potential. Don’t squander your potential! He says at the end of practice.

The Blob inhales when we do diving drills, our bony feet rigid to the blocks. I arch my spine at the moment of ‘mark’. I watch the Blob under the wind blown surface. It is animated, alive, and exhales on the whistle. I dive anyway, I have to. Coach counts us off two by two and makes notes as we swim. If you mess up on the block, he’ll crouch next to you, place his hand between your feet, or behind to where you should move. He doesn’t touch us. If it’s a stance issue, he’ll look at you upside down and whisper a bad joke to make you laugh, with any luck you’ll fall in. I know to tighten my core before he has a chance. 

The end of summer before heading into the regular season, we are caught up in a fray of fly laps, the whole team pushing up and down the lanes. I keep my body level with the surface of the water, shallow cuts and shallow kicks. Coach admires my new form, a skimming water-bug, he says—you’ve figured out how to waste less energy. He writes a note and brushes the drips from my cap. 

It’s almost time to cool down, but first, medley races! He splits us up into teams. Coach leans on his haunches between our blocks, whistles the backstrokers take-off. I prepare to mount the block after my teammate’s flipturn, adjust my goggles, shake off the shiver hitching a ride from the set before. As I step up, Coach offers his hand to mine to assist. My opponent holds a perturbed smile shadowed in her lips and she doesn’t bend over, even as the backstroker in her lane does a final extension of his arm to the wall—she waits. He reaches for my ankle, I can feel the blood pumping in his fingers through my skin. He twists my foot to point straight. He squeezes my calf, putting me off balance. The others are frozen to the concrete deck behind me as Coach wraps his arms around my thighs, his slick body uncoils and inches up my own, tendrils escape through his pores. His mouth starts to open at my chin, burrowing in the crook of my neck, attaching to me. I am constricted and tangled in a mass of Coach and hair. We topple into the water, both our weights combine like lead, sinking us deeper. I cannot breathe but I do not need to as my own heart has ceased beating. The swarm of hair beneath us—clearer, closer, is that of swimmers past, and it does not want me. There is but a glow narrowed between Coach and my body. The last thing I see for many years is the glint from my own heart, gold and drowning in silt. 

Biography: Alison is a mixed and messy writer existing in Massachusetts. They have some other stories in Rejection Letters, Gone Lawn and Surely. Twitter @catholicked

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