The wind scrapes ripples into the water’s surface and for an instant it has a pattern of corrugated iron like the roof of a house. Under full sun, the water is acid-blue. When the clouds with heavy bellies shift in front of the sun, the water is pale, still with a tinge of blue, but greyish too. She shivers and wraps her pink towel tightly around her shoulders, leaning back against the bricks of the outside wall of the girls’ change rooms. With the soles of her feet, she feels for warmth in the concrete. On hot days, the kids sprint over the paths, ignoring the No Running signs. The ground’s too hot for walking on. Only a handful of people are at the pool today. She can see the attendant in his glass-fronted kiosk. He’s checking the big round clock on the wall, and then he peers out and up at the sky. She can tell he’s thinking of closing early. One drop of rain and the loudspeakers will crackle and he’ll tell them all to get changed and go home. It won’t rain. But it’s too cold for swimming. Not for her, though. She rarely misses a day of swimming when the pool is open for the summer and is always sad when the season ends and the pool is drained. The colder days are the best, with the whole Olympic-sized pool to swim in and hardly anyone there. She likes to swim alone. It took a long time for her to learn to dive. When she did learn, she was surprised to find she could do it well, as she was not good at other sports. Now that she knows how to dive, she wants to dive often. She drops the towel now, and lines up at the board, climbing the three rungs of the ladder, waiting, her hands on the rails, standing at the base of the board, until it’s her turn. She takes the three last, long, slow steps to the end, and raises her right leg and bends it at the knee as she jumps. In the air, she curves her body over, and reaches out her straight arms, the tips of her fingers extending towards her pointed toes, before she straightens and enters the water with the smallest splash she can make. When the splash is tiny, it’s almost not like a penetration of the surface, but more like she is flying through air one instant and darting through water the next, with only the barest sense of the transition. She wants to hone her dive until it is just right. Mostly she wants to perfect that transition: to enter with no disruption. On this cold day, with the few other swimmers, she can keep diving and then returning to the edge, climbing up the ladder at the side of the deep end, and lining up again for another turn at the board. As she does it again and again, not talking to anyone else, listening to the wind pick up and seeing how the water chops up now into neat peaks, she starts to move faster, trying to make the process smoother, diving harder and faster; entering the water with her soft passing-through; streaming all the way to the bottom and touching it smartly with her fingers; gliding upwards and swimming swiftly to the side; swinging herself up on the ladder, and then going straight back to the diving board, and taking her three steps and her jump again. But after a while, she tires. She gets her towel and loops it around herself again and dries her hair a little with a corner of the towel. The sun comes out and she stands against the red brick wall. Once she’s shivering less, she drops the towel to her waist to let the sun warm the skin of her arms and shoulders. She looks around. Even fewer people are here now, and she’s the only girl. Most of the other swimmers are younger, a few primary-school kids and a boy from a year below her. There’s an older boy, long out of school, a man, really. He’s heavyset in his body and has a thick line of black hair over his belly. He is at the base of the diving board, leaning his backside against the hand rail on one side, and he is looking at her. Before he takes in that she’s seen him, he looks at her body. She crosses her arms across the front of herself, only she forgets about the towel and when she shifts her arms it starts to fall and she has to grab it quickly, leaving only one arm crossed and now the pink lycra triangles of her bikini top seem too small. Her chest is flat like a boy’s and the triangles easily slip sideways, and she yanks the towel up to cover herself. But once she has the towel arranged, pulled tight around her chest, she leans back again against the red bricks and looks up through her eyelashes. He turns away. He talks to the younger boys as they push past him onto the board, but every few minutes his gaze seeks her out again. She smooths her hair with one hand, draws up her knee as she does when she’s about to leave the board for the pike dive. Leaving the pink towel with its soft fringe in a pile beside the wall, she walks towards the pool, warmed up now and ready to start diving again. But this time when she walks around to the diving board, she changes her walk a little. She lets her hips move, like the water. Like how it feels in that moment when air is water and she is both elements at once. When she steps from the top rung onto the board’s cold, green surface and passes the man where he leans on the rail, having to step right over his big feet, that same feeling, the air, the water, shifts to her pants and the heat of it distracts her; when she draws up her right knee at the board’s end, she stumbles and the dive veers sideways, her entry splattering with a thigh-slapping splash. She rubs the sting from her thigh and swims to the side and gets out. She dives again. She almost forgets the heat as she’s absorbed in her diving again, but she can’t forget altogether, since it rises every time she nearly touches him, brushing by him on the board. Then, as she climbs the rungs, she sees that his gaze is on the pink of her bathers, sometimes the top, sometimes the bottom. He catches her seeing him. She doesn’t hear what he says under his breath. He brings up a big slag and spits it over his shoulder onto the concrete below. She walks on; she takes her three steps, and raises her knee, tracing the inside of her left calf with the pointed tips of her toes, and poises herself to bounce. From behind her there’s a heavy movement and when her feet touch the board she’s double-bounced and her left ankle twists onto its side and she falls sideways into the water, whacking the whole side of her body loudly on top of the water. She resurfaces. She glances behind her. He’s bouncing again and again at the end of the board, so hard, and his body so heavy, that the board flexes as though it will snap, its end nearly touching the water. His eyes are on her. She turns and swims fast for the shallow end. When he hits the water, she’s more than halfway down the length of the pool, and she’s even begun to swim under the water, under the surface, where she won’t be seen, but just as she thinks she can slow down now and make her kicking softer, quieter, under here, the water shifts. She feels it, as an underwater explosion. She keeps going. She can, she thinks, hold her breath for a long time. When she’s right at the shallow end, she starts gliding along the bottom, her hands moving along the tiles. The sun is out again, warming her back through the water. She comes up to breathe, floats on her back, looking at her toes poking out of the water and closes her eyes, her face tilted back in the sunshine. By the ankles, then, she’s wrenched upwards, legs flipped over head, her back, her belly, folding with a snap, and her nose full of water, and she’s coughing underwater; she’s drowning; and when she tries to right herself and get her face above water, he punches her down again. He has her by the neck, her hair snarled around his hand, pulled tight. He holds her under like she’s a sack of kittens. Blue turns black. He lets her up. She coughs up water, hair massed over her face, and he comes for her again. He takes one of her legs in his hands and twists it at the thigh, so hard she is sure it will break like the wishbone her father extracts from a roast chicken at the table. Then, he’s gone. She limps up the steps at the shallow end, holding on to her bikini. It’s askew on her torso. The board nearly whacks the water as he heaves himself off it again, far away at the deep end. Arms around herself, she picks up her pink towel but and keeps moving into the girls’ change rooms, and in there she picks up her clothes where they lie alone on the wooden slatted seats; where she’d hastily cast them when she’d been in a hurry to get into the pool a few hours ago. She won’t get dressed out here in the main changing room. She goes into a toilet cubicle in the darkest corner of the rooms and pulls the noisy bolt on the door closed. She gets into her clothes, quickly, pulling them on without taking the time to dry herself, crouched, aware of the gaps, the openings, the wide spaces at the top and bottom of the door. She bunches up the wet bikini in the damp towel and leans out of the doorway to check where he’s standing. He’s in the pool, and the attendant is standing outside the kiosk, sweeping with a hard-bristled broom. She runs out, past the attendant, eyes on the gate. Outside, pulling her bike from the rack she gets on and rides home, checking behind herself all the way, cold hair slicked over her shoulders, wetting her top. The wind blows up and just as she turns to cross the culvert of the deep stormwater gutter in front of her house, the first raindrops fall, cold as nails.
Indigo Perry lives in the Yarra Valley, outside Melbourne. She teaches creative writing in the School of Communication & Creative Arts at Deakin University. Her work has recently been published in Verity La, Australian Poetry Journal Anthology, and US journals Storyscape and Watershed Review. Her book, Midnight Water: A Memoir, was shortlisted for the National Biography Award. Find more from Indigo at her website.