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Wait and See

Olympic-sized indoor pools are all the same: A vault echoing with the splash and suck of water, air sharp with chlorine, rubber heads breaking the surface of artificial blue like blind worms threading up and down the lanes.

But it’s past your bedtime. What in the world are you doing here under that cement sky, those electric neon stars? Wait and see. A man approaches. He is fully clothed in cords and a sweater, leather loafers. He is holding a net on a long metal pole. He has the supercilious expression of someone used to giving dictation. He is not smiling.

But this is the outside view, and you’re no fly on the wall. No, you’re the kid in baggy trunks with your skinny arms wrapped around your chest. You’re not omniscient but you know his middle name and that in his trouser pocket he carries fingernail clippers, a handkerchief, and a fat fold of bills clamped with a simple gold clip. You know that he likes his steak medium rare and his martini dirty and that the clothes in his closet hang on identical wooden hangars. He loves his mother, he does sixty pushups every night, and he sleeps like a baby.

But you don’t know why he’s not smiling. “Go on,” he says, and there’s no use arguing, you’re old enough to know better, so just squeeze your shoulders and walk to the top of the steps, lean your bony hip against the twisted metal rung, wait and see.

The skin of the water is elastic, shivering. Along the bottom of the lane, a long blue line of tiles stretches, rippling like a giant snake. But there’s no time left for looking. You can’t read minds but you know what he wants you to do. Just grab the rail and back down the ladder.

The cold swallows whole, calves and thighs; wince as water snakes its icy vice grip into the fabric of your trunks and squeezes. You are a beating heart in an ice box, a tongue skewered on an icicle, a chunk of live bait. If you could see yourself now, you’d probably cry. Instead, you grip the metal rung and turn to face that loafer jutting over the edge.

“Do it,” he says. When you can’t loosen your grip, he pokes your hand with the metal pole. “You’re staying in there until you do.”

The only thing to do is let go. It’s all about the struggle now, it’s all up to you and your skinny arms thrashing against nothing, feeble legs beating, beating against the void. It’s an exercise not in trust but in suspended disbelief, a lesson in blind faith, an empty baptism. The leather toe inches along the edge; the butt of the metal pole prods. It takes a lifetime to reach the other end but you do, drag yourself up onto the ledge and sit there, teeth clacking in code but not crying, you know better than that.

He throws you a towel. When he says he’s proud, you know he’s talking about himself. Finally, he turns away toward the dressing room.


Anna Fonté has written two novels, short stories, magazine reviews, pseudo-poems, and descriptions of her ongoing attempts to make friends with the neighborhood crows, all archived on her blog at


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