She walked through the glass doors into the empty pool room and hung her towel on one of the hooks. Sitting on the edge of the pool, she dipped her legs into the water. It was the temperature of blood. She wondered if she was beginning to regret her decision to come here, but slipped off the pavers and into the shallow end before she had a chance to complete the thought in her head.
Standing on the tiled floor, she rinsed the goggles in her hand below the surface of the water and stretched them around her head. Now she was completely sealed. She had bought the ear plugs a week or so ago when picking up her prescription at the chemist. Ear putty, the label had said: reusable. Prising apart the box later that evening, she had taken one of the clear plugs and softened it in her hand, rolling it into a thin strip, which she could insert into her ear.
DO NOT, she read on the package, roll the plug lengthways and insert into the ear canal. Roll it into a ball, lift the ear tip up with one hand and press the ball around the ear shell with the other. This she had done in the change rooms, not really believing it would work, but it did. The plug sat snugly, preventing the water from getting in. It also muffled the external sound, so she was more aware of the beating of her heart and the sound of her breathing.
‘Make a list,’ her friend had said.
‘What for?’ she had responded.
‘If you make a list, it gives you some things to aim for – some goals to help you get out.’
‘What if I don’t want to get out?’
She had ignored the advice for a while, and then one day sat with a pencil and a blank sheet. She could make a list. A list did not mean she had to follow it. It was just a list. Maybe five things she might be able to do.
1. Read a book
She had not read for a long time. She had picked up a book from time to time, but could not settle into anything. What was that famous quote? That there are only two stories: A man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. If that was the case she had already read all the stories there were to read.
2. Enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sun go down.
That was two things, technically and should have been easy enough except that wine was giving her heartburn right now. She wasn’t sure why, but the last thing she needed was more pain in her heart.
3. Swim again
Sometimes lethargy ends up being the means to get something done. She had not been to the gym in over a year, but had not cancelled her membership, either. The membership fee had continued to come out of her account every month. Every now and again she would think about cancelling it, then leave it for another month. So here she was 18 months later, still a member, standing at one end of an empty pool with putty in her ears.
She bent her knees and pushed off. She half expected the water to resist her, but it peeled away before her as she moved forward. Looking down, she could see the one dark line of tiles against the light blue floor like a strip of runway lights, guiding her straight down the lane. Her arms felt clumsy at first, as if they were dragging buckets of water up with them each time she brought them over her head, but she kept on, feeling that sooner or later the rhythm of the stroke would kick in and her shoulders would begin to move more freely.
Up and down she went, with only the sound of the water as she turned her head to breathe. Her legs kicking behind her and she completed one length and then another.
After a while she flipped on to her back, and kicked up the lane with her legs. The ceiling offered different landmarks. First bunting, hung across the pool, which she had not noticed before getting in, then slats of ceiling panels, another string of bunting and finally an enormous skylight, which cast a strong band of light and heat at the end of the pool.
Forty minutes later, she swam across the pool, under the lane ropes to get out. She climbed the ladder and sat for a while wrapped in a towel on one of the benches, watching the light from the window cast reflections of the clear blue water onto the ceiling.
There was a snap and a creak. The door to the pool room swung open and another swimmer came in. It was time to go, but she had done it, she had completed an item on her list and she could now think about adding a fifth.
A man goes on a journey might be one of the only two stories, but she was a woman. This was her journey and she had begun. She would swim again.