by Peter Jordan
Winner of the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2016
Following an argument with my wife I’ve booked myself into this hotel. The room is booked for two nights; I may stay longer, I have yet to decide.
At the swimming pool, as I sit on the recliner, this man takes little baby steps out of the changing area. He’s no taller than me but he must weigh over three-hundred pounds, and all of his weight is in his belly. Also, he has some sort of a skin problem, nothing major, just a redness and a dryness around his knees and elbows and down his shins.
He’s bald on top with hair at the sides, and I think to myself, ‘He doesn’t have a cap’. But, when he gets in the water, he puts on his cap. It must have been rolled up in his hand. The cap is the same as mine; you can choose black or blue, he’s chosen blue. One size fits all, it says on the inside of the cap.
He walks to the far end of the pool and does some aerobics: right knee to left elbow, left knee to right elbow.
There are two women in the pool. One of the women — who’s doing a slow breaststroke in a red cap — nods and he nods back without breaking his rhythm.
When he gets to the far end he turns immediately and continues. The other woman gives him a thumb’s up. This woman, in a black cap, is stick thin. She wants to talk, but he’s in the middle of something.
I need to get a closer look. I walk down the steps and into the pool and swim over beside him. He doesn’t seem to notice me. There’s a rope between us. I’m on one side of the rope and he’s on the other.
He begins taking shallow breaths like he’s about to go underwater, only he doesn’t go underwater; he walks through the water toward the other end of the pool, pumping his arms, like he’s power-walking. He walks back and forward from one end of the pool to the other dragging all that water behind him.
When he returns I let him get about a quarter of the way up the pool — a quarter is fair — and then I kick off. It’s quiet under the water. It’s different. The light is different and the sounds are different. The sun makes dappled patterns on the small blue tiles on the bottom of the pool. I can hear my heart beating in my eardrums and I feel calm. For the short time I’m underwater I don’t think of anything.
I overtake him when he’s just over half-way up the pool and I look at him underwater as I pass. I look down at that belly, and his bellybutton sticking out — like with newborn babies.
I think about my wife; she’ll come to her senses, I’m sure she will.