PAPER CUP • by DS Levy

It’s early morning in the natatorium. He watches her swim laps, long fingers cupping handfuls of gorgeous turquoise water, long dark hair trailing in the wake. Illumined by the glow of the underwater lights her pale skin pulls him under. He imagines the two of them swimming, sees her strong arms reaching out to him instead of the other end of the pool. He extends a hand, touches one of her solid thighs. Her flesh is smooth and cool as the underbelly of a fish. They bob up and down in the gentle waves.

It’s break time. He’s drinking coffee, earthy Sumatra. Already he’s checked the pool for contamination, added chlorine, mopped the deck, swabbed down the plastic chairs and loungers — all SOP. On Thursdays, “her day,” he hurries to get his work done so he can sit and watch. Watch and sip. When his paper cup isn’t touching his lips his nostrils detect locker room mold. It’s always there; he carries it home with him in his pores at the end of the day. Emanating from his rough workman’s hands is a musky scent of worn off years, time shed in orifices. When no one’s looking he sniffs like a dog trying to track her. After she leaves the natatorium he’ll put the “Cleaning” sign on the locker room door and go in. He could find anything: a long strand of black hair, a smudge of talc, a tissue besotted with pink lip gloss — any and all of it potentially hers, and he tucks it all away inside his dark pockets.

She’s half way across the pool. The water in her lane, electrified. Her arms cleave the crystal surface, her feet kick without splash like a ballerina’s plait done over and over. In swimmer’s parlance, she’s punishing the water. He would gladly dive to the bottom of the pool, near the hair-infested drain pipe, just to watch her swim above him.

Like the pool, his paper cup is a vessel keeping in what would otherwise spill out. Without an edge, there would be a letting go, coffee everywhere. His hand shakes. He squeezes the cup; it morphs into the shape of an eyeball. For now he’s here watching her there. But someday soon he will find a way to reach out and make her see. Can’t she see? My God, he’s been here in the shadows so long, biding his time. A maintenance man maintaining. Someday her shapely arms will reach out to him. When they do, he will never let her go.

DS Levy has worked as a tennis instructor, magazine editor, copywriter, and college professor. She holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars and is a recipient of two Individual Artist grants from the Indiana Arts Commission. She has had work published in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, Little Fiction, Brevity, The Pinch, The Common, Glimmer Train, and others. In 2016 she received a Pushcart Prize nomination for fiction. Her chapbook, A BINARY HEART, will be published by Finishing Line Press in June 2017. She and her husband, their dog and cats live in Indiana and northern Michigan.

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