We don’t hold hands because we feel we have to, but because I fear if I let go, I will be whisked away in the thrum of wet bodies swarming around us. From down here, these dripping figures appear imposing, like towering wax figures at a museum. I grip my mother’s hand tightly. I’ve never liked the water, though my mother likes to think of me as a fish and throws me into our community swimming pool every Wednesday and Thursday of the week. The water is clear, not blue. I am old enough to realise this illusion. When I cup the water in my palms, I can see the prune-like texture of my skin shrivelling underneath; this amuses me. My mother leaves me to my own amphibious devices in a small area speckled with fountains and bright coloured shapes. I feel joyous in this freedom, and I splash about while she freestyles from end to end of the rectangular lap pool that sits adjacent. When I decide to retire my role as a mermaid for the afternoon, my mother has swum so many laps I worry her feet will turn to flippers. I’m relieved when she steps out of the pool, legs intact. The cool wind is brisk against my skin, and although I dislike the water, I find myself in love with the freedom I feel in my swimsuit. The air it gives me. The flexibility. I begin to untie my top, feeling the desire for complete naked freedom. My mother tells me no. She walks toward me, her fingers tugging at the material where her legs meet her hips, as if she wishes more purple Lycra would appear from thin air. She takes her goggles and cap off, holding them with both hands in front of her private parts, shoulders pulled to the ground. I reach to hold her hand. She swats me away. Not now, she says. Keep your top on, she says. The people around us don’t seem to notice this foreignness that’s taken my mother hostage. I notice a man lounging on a white plastic recliner chair, his hairy legs toppling off the end. I hear my mother mumbling about how she should have bought her coverup to the pool. Her voice gets quieter. The man’s black trunks end where his belly begins, a mountain of thick hair protruding. The trunks don’t cover much, and I can’t look away. He waves. My mother stares downward in hopes of invisibility. She scrambles for her clothes.
I hold his hand. Because I want to, but also for fear that he may run away if I let go. We’ve been dating for four months and have only had sex with the lights on once. I cried in the shower afterwards. Today I stand before him in a purple swimsuit passed down from my sister, and I find myself wishing I could reach for a light switch. He walks ahead, just slightly, far enough to leave me alone with my thoughts. He is turning. I paint a smile. He moves my hair from my face, he kisses my cheek. Last one in’s a rotten egg, he says, racing for the pool. I wish I were a fish, maybe then I wouldn’t feel so out of my depth here; but I keep coming back. Perhaps I’m hoping to get something back that I lost here a long time ago. He hollers at me. I clutch my coverup. A young man bomb dives into the lap pool, his girlfriend cheers him on from her spot on the grass, fully clothed. We lock eyes, her and I. She must feel it too; the static hanging in their air. The fear. It seeps from us like a disease. I want so badly to rip off my coverup, twirl it in the air and beat my chest like a man. I’ve had enough, I would say. I will not feel this any longer, I would say. He beckons me over and I inch closer to the water, dipping my toes in. He rests his bare arms on the edge of the pool. You look beautiful, he says. I want to cry.
I have my daughters’ small hand in my own. We’ve decided to swim at Prince Alfred park today, in Surry Hills. The day reminds me of Christmas and the water is warmed to perfection. I figure this is all that should matter. My daughter has chosen a bright purple two-piece swimsuit to match her eyes. Expensive. There are sweet frills sticking out from the seams and red cherries painted over the front. Maraschino. I am intensely aware of her vulnerable body; of my own worn one. What’s wrong mummy, my daughter asks, and I hope my smile is the mask I need it to be. Nothing sweetheart, is what I say, squeezing her tiny fingers. I’m not so sure, in that moment, I believe myself. But I figure it’s far better to instil false hope rather than not try at all. We swim for hours, like fish searching for a way home. Only when our fingers shrivel, and our lips turn blue do we leave the water to wrap towels around our bodies. Without eyes on us we feel relieved, as though our bodies can unfurl to their natural form. Though, out of the water I feel heavy, lethargic. I wonder if this is how my mother felt. I notice a young man reclined on a plastic pool chair perched on the grass. He’s on his phone, though raises his head to watch us walk by. I want to run for the changerooms. I wish I could chop off my extremities, or tie ribbon around them; make them into anything but a body part. My promise to be brave sends me spiralling into a panic; the wetness of my swimmers has become suddenly too heavy. The man waves. My daughter reaches for my hand, I swat it away. I see the look in her eyes; I’m scrambling for my clothes. What have I done?
Chelsea Ryan is a third year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. She writes to explore the complexities of human nature, whilst focusing on relationship dynamics. She explores her own thoughts and beliefs through creative writing and usually does this through fiction, however is enjoying experimenting with memoir.
Georgia Hennessy is an emerging artist, based in Brisbane. Her art varies in mediums and styles – and whether it’s paintings, handmade cards, jean bags, or pottery – she likes to challenge and confuse the human mind. You can find her @georgiahennessyyy or @moonncrab on Instagram.