I spend a lot of time in the coffee shop at the local swimming baths. I sip from a bottle of mineral water since I can’t stomach anything else, not with that chlorine cramming its damp fist into my throat, not with that muggy heat.
I sit at the baths because only here can I be sure not to run into any memories of David. It’s what I do: avoid memories of him, us, what we’d been. The memories encroach, of course, catch me out and I have to pause, force my way past like you would a growling dog, a giant spider. Hurry past, cold heat on my back, waiting for it to catch up. His voice, the way he’d say my name. Pressure of his hand on my back.
The humidity sits on me, heavy and dull, the sounds a swirl. How do people bear it? You always think of swimming as cool and blue and clean, and yes, the first dive is a relief, but there’s still the wall of bodies and breath to fight through first. I can never stay long, not with all of these people, all these voices, not anymore. David was right, of course: without him I am nothing.
You see, that day I had washed my hands until the water ran clear. I’d felt strangely numb, as if it had happened so long ago it no longer mattered, as if somebody else had done it to him.
I’d washed him down the plughole, and resurfaced, my lungs gasping. Then, the weight of it had pushed me back under and I had known, I would always carry him with me, on my skin, in my veins.
Now, even though I know I won’t escape for long, I still head to the pool, each day. I wriggle and worm through the hot fug of the changing rooms to the mercy of the tiled edge. The lengths spread out, endless, before me: stroke after stroke of warm, pristine green, washing my sin away, and David is just an echo, choked by the chlorine.
(Runner up in The Potteries Prize for Flash Fiction, 2017: https://librariesonline.stoke.gov.uk/iguana/www.main.cls?p=7d3d1c0a-3760-11e5-bfe1-03ba06ef7900&v=7518f5d3-ff5a-471d-8974-6943ec4607d5)