POOL • by John L Malone

We walk up and down in the pool. We talk a lot. She in her lane. Me in mine. Other people swim around us. We exchange pleasantries. Progress to intimacies. I’ve had a heart attack. She’s had breast cancer. She’s in a relationship. I’m not. We both have grandkids.

Up and down. Twenty five meters each way. Forty minutes walking. Twenty swimming. She does backstroke. I do freestyle. After three Sundays of this I realize we don’t even know each other’s names. She’s Joanne. I’m John. There’s a certain symmetry in that.

I would like to ask her out. But would she like to be asked out?

The next Sunday she opens up. It’s her third marriage. She’s submissive. He’s domineering. He’s a computer programmer. She’s an artist. A painter and sculptor. There’s no symmetry there. I tell her I’m a poet. She tells me she’s also an illustrator. She has a studio. I have a work room. She likes fish. I like fish. We are both victims of fish restaurants of long standing and prestige which have suddenly closed down. I feel our souls merge a little closer.

Yet all week I do not think of her. I wonder if she thinks of me. I wonder if her husband knows.

The next week she’s not there. I swim a whole lot more. I walk too, much more emphatically bulldozing my way through the water. I even race other swimmers in adjoining lanes — I’m in the Slow Lane — and for a lap or two I hold a thin lead but then I stop and they power on for lap after lap after lap. I wonder where she is.

I wonder should I phone her. I have her number. She has mine.

I go home, grab the slip of paper she gave me and punch in the numbers. But I hang up before anyone answers. What if it’s him? What do I say? I’ll be patient. I can wait.

The next Sunday it’s cold and frosty. I get up anyway and drive to the pool. I open the door and walk into a fog. The pool of course is heated and the condensation thick. It’s eerie, spooky, the perfect place for a ghost story. Have any, I wonder, ever been set in a pool? I can’t see to the other end. I can’t even see more than a few meters in front of me. I allow my eyes to adjust a little and slide into the water. Will she come?

Then the door opens. A woman enters. It looks like Joanne. When she strips down to her full length black bathing costume, I know that it is. She is slow and methodical. She smiles at me. I smile back. She has olive eyes. I have blue. She slides into the pool. We slip easily into conversation. She tells me where she was last week. A bad cold. I fill her in with what I did which isn’t much. My daughter wonders how we find so  much to talk about when we see each other practically every week. It’s funny, I say, but I’ve only spoken to her in the water. When we get out it’s too cold to hang around. She heads off to her change room and I head off to mine. Anyhow, we walk up and down. We talk a lot, she in her lane, me in mine. The mist slowly lifts.

The door to the pool opens and opens again. A train of swimmers come in. Where do they all come from? They fill up the three swimming lanes. I feel swamped. I move in, for the first time, to her lane. I am careful not to touch her.

She tells me about her blind cat. I tell her about my elderly dog, how she has cancer of the stomach and will probably have to be put down. In the meantime I am her nursemaid. Animals are so demanding, she says. Yes, they are. They are like children, I say. Or like elderly parents, she adds. She lost her mother a few years ago. She was eighty-seven. I lost mine a few years before that. She was eighty-seven too. More symmetry. I’m going to have to ask her out.

As we are about to get out, we hesitate and without saying anything we sit like children on the steps, half in and half out of the water. We sure cover a lot of topics, I say. We sure do, she smiles. We chuckle a lot over the littlest things. Once she made a wisecrack and I BURST OUT LAUGHING, my dentures almost popping out of my mouth. It didn’t seem to faze her. You can get away with anything in the water. Still, I’m not sure whether to ask her out or not.

I take the plunge. What are you up to, this afternoon? I ask. Not much, she says. How about we meet up for coffee? I venture. I suggest a café half way between her place and mine.

I tell my daughter. She is hopeful that I may be in a real relationship at last. You’ve been on your own too long, she says.

I drive to the esplanade where the café is. I walk up and down. Then she appears. She looks a little different all dressed up. I’ve only seen her in her bathers. We order a coffee. She sits down. I sit down. We look at each other. We are two fish out of water. Neither of us knows what to say to each other.

John L Malone is recently retired. He has had five textbooks published and over 160 children’s poems, but has only recently turned to short story writing — with four short stories so far published.

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