I am in the swimming pool, burning red lines around my eyes where my goggles sit too tight, watching the light shatter across my skin as I push through the blue tile water. In my lane there is a girl who I hate on principle, because she is in my space, my lane, intruding on my medium pace flailing and gasping and water-swallowing. She is swimming without goggles, in a bikini, with her hair out, and every time she gets to the end of the pool, she dives down deeper than is necessary and languidly arcs towards the surface with this beatific grin on her face. She looks like an advertisement for a surf brand targeted at teenage girls, and I am mistrustful of her. Every now and then, I swim a super fast freestyle lap just so I can hit the wall at the same time as her and overtake her, saying with my wobbly body wrapped in a $10 Big W one-piece swimsuit that I am a serious swimmer who is here to fight the water for forty laps and then waddle home, not some fancy Ocean Girl wannabe who is having altogether too good a time. (Exercise makes me disagreeable. It has always been this way).
I have been ploughing up and back for twenty-seven laps now, and have done a few of my customary 25 metre sprints to see whether I can make my heart explode. I have also done several of my even more customary attempts at tumble-turns, which the portly man in the fast lane makes look beautiful and sensible and graceful, but which I make look like a baby giraffe that has just fallen into a lake. Ocean Girl is up the other end of the pool, so I am breaststroking down the black line, thinking ‘make the pizza, cut the pizza’, which my brother taught me as a way to remedy my hopeless arm technique, and wondering whether I am breathing more air out of my nose or my mouth and repeating the lap number in my head over and over: twenty-seven twenty-seven twenty-seven twenty-seven, and as I cut the pizza and count the laps and push out bubbles, the round old lady in the slow lane with the turquoise swimming cap sails by in the opposite direction, and we both make the pizza at the same time, and as we reach out under the lane ropes, our fingers meet and just for a second, we hold hands.
And I keep on swimming like it’s nothing, because I’m a professional, not some crystal-gazing idiot like Ocean Girl behind me, not like the sort of person who suddenly feels like they want to swim over to the round old lady and stop her halfway across the pool and have her gather me up on her round old chest and hold me tight in the Aqua Play lane (so as not to disrupt anyone else’s lap trajectory).
I push my legs out like a frog, like I’m meant to, and I feel my muscles tense and release. I fuck up the tumble turn and I switch over to freestyle, and I turn to breathe and I look up and see the blue and white flags stretched over the pool. And I can’t remember what lap I’m up to. Can’t remember at all.