The water on the cement is cool between her toes. She tries not to think about the temperature of the water in the pool as she pulls her goggles down over her eyes. The suction on these goggles isn’t great, and the last few mornings water has seeped through; when she gets out out of the water her eyes feel as though she is still mostly submerged, peering along the water line. In at attempt to avoid this today, she pushes the goggles firmly into her eye sockets, then steps up onto number six.
This moment, before she dives in, is her favourite part of the day. Looking around at the world she’s about to forget for an hour, anticipating the shock of the cold water.
She stands up tall, her spine long, chin tucked in slightly. Her arms come up over her head, palms touching. She chuckles at her own drama, drops her arms and dives in casually. Her arms and legs feel it first — the tingle. Then her scalp, as her limbs grow numb to it. Even with her tied back the cold manages to find its way in and around every hair folicle. Some days she can still feel the scalp-tingle several hours later, post-shower, post-breakfast.
The first few laps she swims quickly, more quickly than usual. With each new stroke comes a new thought. There is barely room for pause, and she realises she is forgetting to let herself breathe. A breath. A snippet of sound from the world outside, then back to the muted heaviness of underwater.
After lap five, she slows down, allows herself to feel the frustration rather than swimming away from it. She doesn’t know where it’s coming from, and that somehow makes it worse. With her next inhale — a big one — she realises her lungs feel trapped by her ribs, like she could breathe deeper if only her skeleton would get out of the way.
Another breath. Later, she will recognise the sound as a scream, but now it only registers as something harsh; she notices the relief when her ears are blocked with water again.
I cruelly forced my writers’ group to respond to the theme on Sunday, when we all got together. I’m hoping some of them will send me what they wrote. We did share with each other on the day, but it might take a little more prodding to get some of their words here.