by Aimee Wilkinson
I’ve been staring at him for three whole minutes now. His flawless body silhouetted by the swimming pool clock, which glows with reflected light like the full moon. If I squint my eyes I can see every detail: the faint indentation left by his socks, the soft hairs on his arms and legs, even the frayed embroidery around his gold Life Guard badge. As the second hand rotates through Roman numerals, I’ve been talking to him. Sending secret messages to entice him to look my way, once, just once. Once is all I need.
Suddenly conscious of their coquettish giggles, I push myself back from the other girls; aware they could tarnish me by association. In the water my body feels lithe and elastic, and I kick my legs in the air to exhibit my superior thighs, my supple skin. Here, I possess an elegance that usually eludes me, my bulbous body often blundering; but the water hides vulgarity. Here I am invincible, powerful and strong. Here I am a mermaid.
I flip on my back, hold my breath and let my body float on the surface. Underwater the world sounds different, and the girl’s laughter transmutes into the whispers of forgotten ghosts. The cool line separating the stale air with the pool laps at my cheeks and tickles my skin. The memory of my classmates recent taunts drift away, and in the calm I finally find the resolve to prove them wrong, to show them once and for all. I’ll make him notice me. They’ll see.
I exhale. My legs fall. Then my torso, my arms, my shoulders. I tip my head back as my body falls and push out every last molecule of breath. My neck, my chin, now my whole face is submerged. I flail my hands to the surface. Chlorine stings my eyes and my lungs begin to scream. The pressure of a thousand hands pushes on my chest, strangles my throat. My limbs whirl wildly and create a maelstrom of panic. But I don’t come for air. I cant. I slip and scrape my elbow against the bottom of the pool. A cloud of dirty red mixes with the clear water. I close my eyes.
His hands are on me. I feel his body press against my back, and his arms wrap round me in a hug. I rest my head against the dip in his shoulder and he pulls us up. Sound erupts as we surface, and light flitters through my lids, but I keep my eyes closed. A shock of electricity shoots though my veins and settles in my groin as he moves his hands round, under my armpits and hoists me up onto the side. My head bangs on the tiles but I don’t move. I hear people running, shouts of alarm and concern. But he is next to me, a shadow in the red light of my vision. He leans down, brushes some hair from my face and connects our mouths together.
Once is all I need.
Aimee Wilkinson lives in Derby where she juggles writing short stories, writing novels and working.