Going for a swim

I wrote this exactly a year ago as I was coming up to the end of the third week of NaNo, The National Novel Writing Month. I had completely forgotten this incident set in a swimming pool. If someone had asked a few moments ago what it was about, I would have had no recollection… although now I’ve re-read it, obviously I do:

19th November 2017: I’m making slow progress with my attempts to write fifty thousand words of a new novel in November – this is part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. It’s my fifth year of doing it and although I think I am doing better in terms of what I’m writing, I’m getting too far behind for comfort. It isn’t that I don’t want to write, or can’t think of what to write – it’s just that, at the moment, time seems filled up with other things!

As usual I’m not sure exactly where my story is going… Milla is the main character and she is a bit of a mystery at the moment. In the episode I’m going to share, she has decided she needs to get fitter… and she isn’t working at the moment so needs something to do… so what better than swimming? Someone she has met has offered to teach her to surf next summer… so it’s in her mind to improve her swimming for that:

The changing room was crowded, there were no private cubicles, so she changed discretely in a corner, put her things in a locker, band and key on her wrist, through the showers and into the pool. When she had come before it had been quite noisy, now there was an absolute din… She refused to be put off – she had paid her money, she didn’t want to waste it, nor waste the time spent actually getting here.

There was a dancercise class in one half of the pool up the shallow end, swimming lessons at the other end which involved a lot of shouting and whistles and screaming from the children, and there was an absolute turmoil of people in the half of the pool where the public were able to swim. There were two lanes, one seemed to have a lot of people walking in the water and standing, and the other, the faster lane was crowded with swimmers trailing up and down. Milla would have to go in this one.

There was music from the dancercise class, and the usual music from the pool’s speakers – wouldn’t you think one would be turned off? As Milla slid into the warm water, dodging out of the way of a man who was doing an ostentatious and actually quite dangerous tumble turn, she was beginning to compose a letter of complaint…

Well, she was here now, twenty lengths and then, unless there was a sudden exit of most of the other pool users, she would get out and grumpily change and leave.

It was not a pleasure; she had to swim too fast, or too slow, people ploughed past her or seemed to grab her heels as they caught up with her and wouldn’t overtake until she stopped and pressed against the lane dividers. When she got near the end, there was such a jam of people that she turned round and swam back without touching the wall. She wasn’t yet fit enough  to keep on swimming without stopping and she felt buffeted and oppressed by the speedy swimmers…

She reached the shallow end and ducked under the divider into the slow lane. Here was a crowd of people all standing, so she stopped for a moment and stood too. This was annoying chaos, and dangerous too.

She would have one more go in the faster lane and then if it was still impossible she would have to make do with the slow lane. All her positive energy from the morning had disappeared… hmmm, getting fit to go surfing? Impossible if she ever came to the pool at this time of day again.

She ducked under the dividers for what she hoped would be the last time, and set off, front crawl up the pool. She almost swam over someone who had stopped dead in the water, and when trying to swim round her, the man with the tumble turn – she recognized him by his neon orange swimming cap – swam right over her so she was submerged and kicked in the shoulder.

Furious she apologised to the woman who was still standing there, complaining as if it was Milla’s fault, and set off in pursuit of neon cap. She reached the end without mishap, able to at least touch and turn on the wall, and swam back without incident…

She remembered swimming when she was young. She couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t been able to swim, at first in the summer at the open air pool, and later when the ‘new pool’ was built, almost every day. Her social life had been the swimming club, she had swum dozens of miles a week training – at that time she wouldn’t have been able to imagine another life when swimming a couple of lengths would wear her out… When she had come last time and swum without interruption, she had tired and had struggled…

She just got to the end and someone, not neon cap swam over her and she came to the surface coughing and choking, and furious – but the woman – it was a woman this time was speeding back up the pool.

Well, sod it, she would go into the slow lane and do a few lengths and then give up. Late Monday morning was not a good time to come, that was for sure.

The slow lane seemed wider, and she got into a train of swimmers slowly chugging up towards the deep end. Someone was perpetually touching her ankles – she was tempted to kick hard, but then breaking an old woman’s nose or giving an old fellow a black eye would not be wise… so she carried on.

There was a mass of people at the wall again, and she swam through them.

She reached the wall, turned and began to make her way through the others and suddenly she was under the water, pushed down… she was among a forest of bodies and legs and hadn’t taken a big enough breath before going under, not expecting to be steam-rollered over…

She tried to fight her way up but it was a nightmare of bodies and legs and feet she was coughing choking and pulling more water into her throat and lungs and… the strength seemed to be going from her limbs, there were black spots in front of her eyes

Then suddenly she was grabbed by the shoulder and heaved to the surface… she was almost fainting, almost unconscious and didn’t even feel pain as she was dragged up over the tiled edge and flung to the floor and… and … and…

© Lois Elsden 2017

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