Swimming has a decorum all of its own.
We undress metres away from strangers and their swinging, exposed flesh – yet are led into believing there is nothing thrilling about it. Perhaps it is the smell of chlorine and its determined physical presence, crawling up the nose and into the mouth so it becomes something to speak through. Perhaps it’s the cell-like structure of each cubicle, mocking with squealing plastic locks and wooden slats. Everything is always damp. Even the sound of the pool has a dampness to it – both that of running water, never the running water, only the jerky shots of splashing bodies.
The pool waits around a corner lined with showers and foot sprays. There is a kind of sequential pantomime to entering the swimming baths – hence the ‘costume’. Mine is black and intentionally shrouding, pushing down the swollen stomach, sitting high above the half-shrunken breasts; yet it is ironic in that its black, its almost mocking embellishment at the back of my neck seems to emphasize my nakedness underneath.
There is a small rebellion as I slip past the showers. I offer the select the dirt of my body. the showers are an open-room structure with strips of metal tubing rusting against the old cracked tiles. It is almost like an intended exhibition in self-control, half successful, in that the bodies braced under the running water appear pathetic and grotesque; Those showering beforehand flinching at always the wrong temperature, those showering after - red-eyed with chlorine, hair slicked against bulbous heads and bubbling mouths. They half-attempt to revel in that we evidently are not aquatic but attempt to be anyway. Children screw their eye up and scream as various hair treatments slither into their eye. The sound cuts through me.
I pass through hurriedly to the edge of the pool, goosebumps breaking out along my sinewy arms like a kind of braille. I may well read ‘I am cold and exposed and everyone is staring at me’. Yet this is something ‘meant’ to be liberating. In the artificiality of filtered sunlight intensified by greenhouse like windows I watch bodies clinging awkwardly to the metal bar running along the edge of the water.
Approaching the shallow-end of the pool, I notice the signs, attempting at first, to causally emphasize in comic sans ‘No jumping’. The apparent outlawing of a whole human action, expressed so casually. Laughable almost, as my knees twinge with temptation to plunge into the shallow end, to feel my feet thud and buckle under pressure as they hit the floor, for the flesh to wobble in the sudden passage through water. But I don’t. I watch in vague interest as I see a child, of perhaps ten or eleven, carry their mother in a cradling position shilling ‘look how light you are mummy!’
I feel the artificial light of the room, and eyes and CCTV, slowly scudding against me. Even I convince myself the water will often some kind of disguise. I descend the ‘sensible’ steps into the shallow end, attempting to ignore the slight thrill of being able to sweep over them four at a time in the natural buoyancy of fat and limbs. There is the typical dissection the water provides – the clench at the knees, the sudden grip of the stomach, and its final split over the shoulders. I become a watering head, eyes stinging with chlorine, and a flickering body beneath.
Let me become a flicker.
But not at the swimming baths, no. We do not ‘bath’ or ‘bathe’ either. Limbs thrash, there is something slightly dangerous, masked over with a momentary hilarity; what is meant to be energy, full grown adults marvel secretly of how in the deep end they can throw themselves into a pit which would typically kill them. The adolescent’s stinging, creaking limbs are caught in a kind of dance, thrillingly aware that drowning is always a possibility. The proximity of difficulty, of death, seems to set a kind of order. occasional glances are aimed towards the single individual, lacquered in red and yellow and slapped on top of a podium.
If someone could capture the moment, that would be like I view God. Positioned with a kind of conditioned arrogance, expected to be compassionate, yet in reality on a structure assembled by other human hands. We even call him a ‘life guard’. And yet how absurd life looks like this.
Everybody in a state of the best of their worst behaviour. Half-naked, lumbering. People seethe in jealousy or bend their bodies into shapes to disguise the lust. Children kick out with an a aggression which they would be scolded for otherwise.
It cannot be helped almost feeling like this is a site of shame. The chance for cool, crisp water evaded by my body and sweat and dirt and pump after pump of choking chlorine. I watch the eczema wrap around the neck of the man to my left, apparently losing trust in his own legs as he flails close to the side, swallowed by the angst of his own skin. His partner appears to yell at him ‘You’re doing really well.’
Welcome to what is healthy.