Swimming Pool

Gabriele Korn
Swimming Pool
Margret dips her toe into the water. She jerks it out, as though a fish had bitten it. Damn cold.
What is wrong with you, she says to herself. Simply get in and move, then it will be alright.
She feels her way backwards down the three metal steps that lead into the pool. Letting go of the ladder, she falls and splashes into the water. Elegant is something else entirely, she sighs, but it’s not like someone is looking.
She lies on her back and lets herself float, looking up at the ceiling of the hall which has been painted a light shade of grey with golden stars. As if one were looking up into the sky.
She turns over onto her belly and begins to swim. Not really a fast-paced crawl, which she had never been able to do in spite of that course she had taken. It was more of an energetic breaststroke, like a huge frog with its head above water, she thinks.
She enjoys sliding through the water. It feels cool, like hands caressing the full length of her body, gently and without intention.
Floating, without the weight that normally accompanies her throughout the day. Without the heavy worries. And without feeling those insidious pounds that comfort eating, whine-wine and anti-depressants had turned into.
She loves coming here at this time best, late in the evening, an hour before the swimming pool closes. The large pool is nearly always empty by then. Only a few visitors move around in the neighbouring sauna area. That place is not for her, not for a long time now.
Back then, sure. Ten years ago and three dress sizes smaller, she laughed at the women who were too scared to go into the mixed sauna because they feared the critical looks from the men. Not Margret. It was as sweet as chocolate to see how they looked at her when she took off her bathrobe in her tiny red bikini, taking a few steps across the tiles to dive elegantly into the water.
Now, she is not only older, she is a completely different person. No Woman anymore, rather a Neuter. If she could just turn back time, only once. To spend one day as Margret at 30. Or even 40.
Awful, that ruined hip. First it was no more jogging, then no more hiking, then increasingly slower walking. Even riding a bicycle was laborious and manageable at all only with a bike with a low cross bar. Swimming is nearly the only movement that did not hurt. So stop your whining and swim, she nags to herself.
Margret completes four long lengths, looking out through the large panorama window. It is already dark outside. In the swimming pool, the dimmed lights have fashioned a world of its own in turquoise, blue and gold, for her alone. All that is missing is some music from Richard Strauss to float through the room and then her short bliss would be perfect. “One need only be light, with a light hand hold and take, hold and let go ...” she hums to herself. Her favourite aria. Even though the text no longer quite fits her. Or perhaps because of that: the longing for lightness.
The scrawny guy is here again. It seems he also prefers the evening hours here. She sees him here and there, but always looks away when he passes her.
He occupies a lounge chair. Wears Bermuda shorts, a white t-shirt and earplugs. He looks into his book. Out of the water, he always carries a book. Today he has a reading light clamped to it.
His face is in the shadows, only every now and then light reflects off of his glasses when he moves his head.
He doesn’t bother her. He is also old.
She swims to the center of the pool, breathes in deeply and lets herself sink down. With closed eyes, she feels how the water passes her on all sides, how the waves comb the strands of her hair upward. She can hold her breath for a long time. She used to be a passionate diver.
Something grabs her shoulder, and pulls her up by the arms. Startled, she tries to breathe and promptly gets a mouth full of water. She spits it out as soon as her head is above the surface. Spits right into the face of the man who earlier was so calmly sitting on his lounge chair.
“What are you doing?” she exclaims. “Have you gone mad?”
He stares at her, without glasses, white hair plastered to his head, his shirt drenched. He treads water. She does so, too.
“I … I thought you felt sick or something. All of a sudden you dropped like a stone. So I jumped in.”
Margret laughed and swallowed more water. “I am a good swimmer. Thank you for the rescue. Wasn’t necessary.”
She paddled to the edge and climbed out. She is embarrassed that he can see her thick thighs now. The black bathing suit tries its best to hold everything together: breasts, rear and belly rolls. Just don’t stand still in front of the window; her reflection could throw her into a new depression. Quickly she wraps herself up in her terrycloth bathrobe.
He shakes his head, gathers his glasses and book that he had tossed near the pool edge.
“Now I feel really silly,” he grumbles. “I’m sorry.”
Margret flip-flops her way to the changing room, showers and dries her hair with the hairdryer. Like she always does, sitting on the bench with her head forward. That way she did not need to look into the mirror. She laughs again out loud. It was after all a grotesque situation.
And now quickly home and comfortably watch TV.
Beside the exit door, her rescuer is sitting on a bench.
“Please forgive me,” he stammers. “I was an idiot. I have often watched you swim. It looks beautiful. It always makes me think about music.”
She can hardly believe it. He was crazy. “Of course, opera, right?” she mocks him.
“Why not?” he says, earnestly. “You sing melodies from Strauss every now and then, when you think that no one is listening.” Margret looks at her feet.
He takes a deep breath. “I have a wonderful recording of ‘The Knight of the Rose’ at home. If you are here tomorrow, I could bring the CD with me.”
Without waiting for an answer, he rises and leaves. Then turns around once more. “If you want,” he calls out.
Margret gets into her car and shakes her head.
“One need only be light,” she croons and grins. She doesn’t have anything planned for tomorrow.

Translated from German by Shan Wardell

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