by Mandy Fishburn
She dreams of Greece and bleached white houses with orange-tiled roofs. Donkeys ambling down alleys and the blue sea twinkling at the end of a curving road. Pink sunsets and golden boys diving into the water one last time. In Hydra her skin is wet, her hair salty, and her eyes half-closed with pleasure or the sun.
Here it is winter and the gray blanket covers the state from lake to lake. It is dark by five o’clock and the air is so dry the skin on her hands cracks and bleeds. When she lies in bed next to her husband, their limbs sandpaper against one another, bone on bone. They rarely make love. Everything is too cold. Too hectic. Too scheduled. There are chores, tasks, errands, appointments and children to attend to. Everything and everyone clamors for their attention like a many-headed snake, its fangs snapping at their heels.
"Let's go to Greece," she says. "In February."
"We'll see," he says.
Four times a week she swims with her triathlon club. Twice at the museum and twice at the community college. Why the museum has an ancient pool puzzles her, but she likes the antiquity of it. The women's locker room, a dilapidated collection of rusty lockers and well-worn wooden benches, stays warm with the steamy heat coughed out by a radiator.
She undresses alone under Edison-style bulbs that yield a rustic yellow glow. Nothing more. While she pulls the swimsuit fabric over her hips, her skin casting flakes into the air, she bends over and peeps through the window to look at the snow-covered parking lot. Snowflakes float under each beam of street light and land gently on the two cars that are parked there. The only sound is the hiss of the radiator and a wooden door clanking shut somewhere in the building.
She pads barefoot through the dusty locker room, down a tiled hall, and through a pair of heavy wooden doors that lead to the pool. A high, arching glass and metal ceiling covers a three-lane pool, the walls decorated in intricate mosaic patterns, some of the tiles missing or lying on the floor in moldy corners.
A man is swimming in the center lane, his wet shoulders slide across the water under the pale light. She stands and watches him before slipping into the water, her flesh pimpling from the cold. In the shallow end the water barely reaches her knees. She crouches, does a shallow dive and begins to swim.
She likes swimming. The rhythm of it. The stretching and pulling. She can watch the green glow of her long, pale limbs passing through the water like murky ghosts. She likes the silence of it. No one to complain to her about what had gone wrong that day. What was missing, what had been forgotten. No small voices asking her to care for them. Nothing but the plunge of water and the rhythmic pull of her flesh through space.
The patterns on the bottom of the pool change beneath her. The mosaics are geometric, art deco in style. They pass beneath her hands, rather than the numbers that tick off meters in modern pools. The tiles recede farther and farther away from her fingertips as she reaches the deep end.
She flips and turns to begin the next lap. The heat of her body warms the water around her, microscopically. She no longer shudders from it, the temperature of both water and body merging together. She begins to push herself harder, chasing after some imaginary goal. The man in the lane next to her passes by her, she glimpses him in her periphery vision.
The triathlon club is made up of mostly men. She’s often alone in the women’s locker room when she stands naked under the showers. She can barely keep up when she has to share a lane with the men. But it’s good for her. If left to her own devices, she would laze and skim across the water, daydreaming about what her blue limbs resemble underwater. Perhaps a fish? An eel? An athletic mermaid? Or Esther Williams with flowers in her hair?
She flips and turns again, this time trying to catch up with her neighbor. She pushes hard, channeling whatever frustrations or energies she hasn’t spent during the day into the wet. As soon as she catches up with him, he launches forward as though she were standing still.
By the time she’s finished, she can barely float to the end of the lane. She rests her knees on the bottom of the shallow end and curls her fingertips over the lip of the pool where the water overflows into the filters. She breathes hard and hears it echo on the tiles, across the pool and under the glass roof. She looks across the lane and sees her swim partner resting on the edge too. His head is down and his shoulders gleam in the light. As he breathes, the play of shadows in his back reveals deep crevices where he is sculpted by years of swimming.
She licks water off her wrist.
Reaching for the pool’s edge, she tries to pull herself up but can’t. She tries again and slips back under water, exhausted. Limp. Noodled and spent. Suddenly, two hands reach down, clasp hers and pull her up, out of the water, over the hard edge of the pool, and splash her out onto the tiles like the day’s catch.
She lies there gasping.
He is standing above her, dripping. She watches the rivulets run down his calves, drop down to his foot, and spill onto the floor. The same floor she’s flopped out on now, like some white-bellied fish, gasping for air, wanting to be thrown back in or eaten. Raw and salty, like an oyster, like the sea, like the pebbled beaches that beckon.
Mandy Fishburn is an advertising writer in Detroit, Michigan. She was nominated as a BlogHer Voice of the Year and has also been a featured writer for The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog and other online sites. This is her first published fiction piece.