I push open the door of the changing room and step inside, dragging my bulky holdall with me. The large, humid room smells of chlorine and deodorant, and is crowded with women in various states of undress. Elfin nymphets in matching underwear preen themselves before full-length mirrors, admiring their pert breasts and taut stomachs. They stride around on long legs, tossing their hair and calling to each other (“Chardonaaay! You got my straighteners?”) or sing along to the oozing pop muzak. Others, like me, prefer a discreet corner in which to disrobe. I pass a middle-aged lady trying to remove her wet swimming costume beneath a large bath towel. She grips the top of the towel with one hand while the other struggles unseen. It puts me in mind of a cat fighting it’s way out of a sack. Her face is red and her teeth gritted before the offending garment finally flops to the floor like a deceased salmon, and, sighing with relief, she plops herself down on the bench for a rest.
I continue to the far end of the room, searching for a spare corner. There are private cubicles, but only two, and both are occupied by selfish, inconsiderate bitches. I can see their smug feet in the gap beneath the doors. Plus the best non-cubicle spot, I note with gathering foreboding, is also taken. My panic begins to rise. I’m going to have to change in full view of the giggling sylphs as they dry their hair and spray themselves with Marc Jacobs. I square my shoulders. You can do this. Don’t let them see your fear.
Returning to Struggling Lady, I place my holdall on the bench beside her and smile briefly. I’ve never been sure of changing room etiquette… Should one pass comment on the weather? Just nod? I have, on occasion, had long conversations with chatty women while stark bollock naked (or stark boob naked) but it feels weird, wrong, aberrant. I prefer to be as antisocial as my mother always told me I was, and change into my costume with swift and silent efficiency.
This task accomplished, I snap on my fetching plastic verruca socks, keeping my eyes averted from the Slim Girls, who must surely be laughing at me. That they are laughing is apparent, and now I’m convinced it must be at my eccentric footwear. But I only need to look at a pool floor and I get verrucas, so bugger style and elegance. I stuff my holdall into an upper locker, thinking, “I make my own fashion. Watch me swim, fuckers”.
I push open the door to the pool and stand briefly under an obligatory pre-swim shower before walking into the water. This is my second favourite moment of a swim. As I descend the wide, shallow steps into the liquid blue, I feel the warmth soothe my bones. Carrying my kickboard and water bottle, I bob along the shallow end towards the middle lane, ducking under the divider. A group of middle-aged Asian men with thick beards watch me as I go, lips curled, smirking. Everyone else ignores me, thank goodness. Just a short, middle-aged woman with gigantic udders and gigantic goggles. And verruca socks.
I survey the middle lane situation as I put on my goggles. Today, there are two leg-danglers swimming breaststroke: a woman and a man. They inch along with heads held high, as though straining to deny the whole body-in-the-water thing, their apparently boneless legs dangling beneath them, waving feebly. My breast stroke ain’t fast, but it’s faster than that. Luckily they are close behind one another, so I wait until they’re approaching me, brace my feet against the wall and push off in front of them.
This. This is my favourite moment of a swim. The water welcomes me with warmth, support and near-silence as I enter its soft blur. My arms spread out before me, I feel the silky flow between my relaxed fingers as I pull them round and back, my body surging forward, only my heels breaking the surface. I continue stroking, staying under for as long as I can, savouring the weightless isolation. Finally, my lungs start to protest. “Excuse me, what the actual..? You’re a land creature, fucker. Get real.” Just before the pain gets intense, my head bobs above the water and sounds rush in on me again. People yelling, laughing, coughing, the jacuzzis roaring – every sound echoing round and round the huge, tiled space, magnified. I take a deep breath as my legs propel my head forward and down, back into that other world.
Of course by the time I’ve done ten or twenty fifty metre lengths of this, the novelty palls. The message from my burning lungs and muscles becomes far stronger than any caress of the water, and it says, “STOP, YOU FECKING MASOCHIST.” And that’s the bloody-mindedness of a swim addict. You carry on, even though your body wants to die right there and then, in the water, turning over, belly up, like a rotting goldfish.
I stop, panting and red in the face, to take a slug of water from my bottle. As I drink, I turn around just in time to spot something – someone – emerging from the men’s changing rooms. Tall, golden skinned, wavy haired, toned to perfection, and wearing tight red budgie smugglers which leave nothing to the imagination. My mouth actually drops open and the water bottle slips out of my hand, plops into the pool and begins to sink. God in heaven and all His saints, who is he? He is not a regular; I know all of those: the Wednesday Wanker, Whale Tail, Captain Slap… This is an Adonis. This is perfection.
“‘Scuse me, love? This yours?” I turn, irritated, to see Whale Tale handing me my water bottle.
“Oh yes, thanks” I say, not sounding grateful at all. I whip my head back round to the showers. He’s still there. I lick my lips.
He stands, back to the pool, while he takes his obligatory pre-swim shower. Water cascades over his smooth skin and I see muscles rippling as his hands rub his hair, wet and dark blond now. Several other women have stopped what they were doing and are staring as brazenly as I am, mouths open.
Turning off the shower, he ambles to the pool side and lowers himself gracefully into the fast lane. Puts on a tiny pair of goggles, and pushes off. I watch with baited breath – this I have to see. Does he swim as beautifully as he showers? Oh please, God, let it be so.
He glides a few meters, then a muscular arm rears over his head and – SLAP! – hits the water. His legs begin a furious thrashing movement, whipping up a froth of foam behind him, yet despite all this effort, he is moving slowly. Ah, shame. But on the other hand, it gives me the opportunity to swim right behind him and… observe. For research purposes.
I adjust my goggles and push off in pursuit, doing front crawl. Stroke, stroke, stroke…. The tiles on the bottom of the pool slide past… Can’t be long now… I feel it in my fingertips first: a disturbance in the Force, and I know I’m gaining on him. A second later, the bottom of the pool is obscured by clouds of bubbles. Finally, I see the frantically flapping feet in front of me. Good grief, how fit must he be to keep this up? A shame so much of his effort is being wasted on making foam. The thought crosses my mind briefly that I might try to teach him a more efficient stroke, and I spend a while thinking about this as I float along in his wake… Mmmmm….
We finally reach the end of the 50 meter pool, both of us out of breath. Him from exertion, me from… something else. He grabs the side with one hand, the other on his waist, and he’s grimacing. Cramp? Shall I ask him if he’s ok..? “Nooo! You can’t do that! You’ll make an ass out of yourself!” Shrieks my inner 14 year old, covering her red face with her hands. He pushes off at that point, anyway, and I see him windmill away splashily down the lane.
Well, I can’t say that I’m not enjoying myself today, even though it’s obvious I won’t be setting any kind of personal speed record. I smile and set off after him again, and I’m actually humming.
When we reach the shallow end again, he notices that I’m practically on top of his feet.
“After you,” he says, panting and smiling. I feel my insides liquefy. His eyes are sky blue and his teeth are white. Not fluorescent, Tom Cruise white, but pleasing. His lips are… perfect. Sculpted. I feel a bit faint.
“So… do you want to go first…?” He says, frowning slightly.
“Oh, ah, hahaha! No, I’m fine. After you,”
He nods and pushes off powerfully. This time, I just stand – well, hold myself up – and watch. I ignore his terrible technique and concentrate on those strong arms and powerful shoulders… Mmmm… He gets further away towards the deep end, and I suddenly notice less splashing. Oh. Odd. What’s he doing..? He can’t stand up there, the depth is over three metres… I can’t see his arms now, just the top of his head, and it’s sinking under… My heart starts beating faster. What is going on here? But I know already. I know, but I don’t want to believe it. I stand frozen and strain my eyes, willing him to carry on swimming. This is some kind of joke – surely? But then his head sinks completely under the surface. There is no shouting, no waving. All the classic signs.
I look round the pool’s edge for a life guard. There isn’t one, which isn’t unusual for this pool. They skimp on everything. And everyone else seems to be quite happy, ploughing up and down the middle lane, doing handstands in the slow lane, sitting round chatting in the jacuzzi. No one but me has spotted anything.
I strain my eyes down the fast lane again.
Well, if I make a fool of myself, then I do.
I push off, swimming faster and harder than I ever have before, and quickly reach the place where he was. Duck diving, I see him not far underneath me, arms and legs floating limp.
Oh, this doesn’t look good.
I swim downwards, turn onto my back and slip underneath him, tucking his beautiful head into the crook of my left arm, and kick upwards. Time slows. After a few seconds which seem like hours, we bob up onto the surface of the water and I kick as hard as I can back towards the shallow end. His hair tickles my chest and I feel the weight of his head, cradled against me. In between my kicks, his body rests on mine, his back to my front… It’s not an unpleasant feeling, but the novelty doesn’t last as my muscles begin to burn with the effort. I grit my teeth and try harder. WHY do I have to practice in a fifty metre pool?
By the time I get him to the shallow end, I’m exhausted and don’t even notice until my head bangs against the wall. Right. I get him under his arms and pull him towards the wide steps as fast as I can. I just about have enough strength to drag him half way out of the water before he becomes a dead weight, unmoveable.
Now then…. I sit on my heels, panting. Er, now then…. My brain turns to porridge. It’s been over ten years since I did my life saving course… What do I do next? I whimper with frustration. Still no life guard, though a
“Tip the head back,” a thought wades to me through the sludge.
Yes! Right. I lean over him and tip his strong chin upwards.
“Pinch his nose, you klutz!” Patronising Jewish inner voice! Unexpected, but welcome. I pinch his perfect, aquiline nose.
“Place your mouth over his mouth…” Mmmm… alright, here goes.. I bend down, and place my mouth over his, tightly. His lips are full and his skin is very smooth, and wet, and warm. I suddenly and inappropriately feel aroused. Concentrate, woman! What’s next..? Breaths. Yes, the breaths… I blow two short breaths into his mouth and feel his chest rise and fall under my arm. No further movement. I sit up for air, vaguely aware of a crowd now gathering around us, but by this point I’m oblivious to them. I look down at his angelic face, lean over him again and, taking a deep breath, go to place my mouth over his –
He coughs and I start back just in time for him to spurt water all over himself and me. He turns onto his side and groans. Relief floods me and I begin to hear voices in the crowd.
“Is he alright?”
“‘Spect he ate his sarnies too soon before getting in the water. Daft ‘un.”
“Yes, I ‘spect so.”
I hear slapping feet and turn. Here comes the lifeguard, finally, in the pool uniform of red shorts and white t-shirt. In this case, a very snug white t-shirt and no bra. And she’s stunning. She reaches Adonis and leans over him, her chestnut hair brushing his chest.
“Can you hear me?” she says
“Yes… yes…” he wheezes, and tries to sit up.
“Steady,” she helps him to sit on the steps, and puts one arm around him, looking into his face with concern.
Adonis coughs again, painfully, and wipes his mouth with his hand. Then he looks at the life
“Thank you,” he says to her, “Thank you so much for saving me.”
“Someone’s calling an ambulance,” calls an old man, trotting from a door I’d not noticed before.
“Well, they can’t come in here, it’s all slippy,” says a skinny lady in a pink cap.
“They’ll have to move ‘im into the changing rooms, then, won’t they.”
“Yes, I expect.”
They all gather, fussing and clucking, round Adonis and the pretty life guard.
I slip back into the water, duck under the lane dividers, and push off. I have fifty more lengths to do today.