Last week at a restaurant, my father stopped listening to me. I asked him where he had gone—
I just can’t believe this is all there is to life, he said. I had come to meet him
after swimming at the public pool.
At the public pool, I categorize the men based on what they wear.
There are the swimmers in Speedos, and the ones who wear bathing caps
festooned with the flags of Latin American countries;
the men who wear compression shorts and discuss Triathalons
and those who won’t enter the water until their partners emerge from the women’s locker room—
alone they feel as useless as a single shoe.
At the public pool, I count my laps. I count my breaths. I count the minutes it takes to swim a mile.
I clench the muscles of my core. I practice the butterfly, and I flail
and I flail harder, trying to push myself through. I am working very hard
to be better—my primary purpose at the public pool.
I want to swim a mile in twenty-nine minutes, and I want my father
to come swimming with me. If I can show him my commitment to the public pool,
he will dig his goggles out of the boxes piled in his one-bedroom, and he will join me
and we will swim together as we have before.
At the public pool, a tiny child approaches me in the locker room. The child is naked and saturated
with chlorine and speaks in a language I can neither understand nor identify.
The child wags an abandoned bathing cap in my face and I shake my head, smile—
it’s not mine, and the child’s quest continues.
My father would defy categorization if he would come back to the public pool. He swims faster
than the men in Speedos and further than the Triathletes. He never wears a bathing cap and he never
waits for anyone. Each week, at a new restaurant downtown, I ask if he will meet me on the pool deck,
like he did when I was three and seven and eleven and enough.
Maybe, he says, and flags down the waiter. Another beer and the check.
Last week at the public pool, it started to rain as lap swim hours were ending.
The rain was stronger than the stream from the shared showerheads and louder than the clapping of hands hitting the pool surface. Swimmers piled up in the locker room,
watching the rain-patterns on the window-glass. Our skin dried, and our hair dried,
and even our bathing suits hanging on hooks dried, just in time
for the locker-room attendant to push us out, with her mop and her smile, into the storm.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Penelope L. was born and raised in Brooklyn. After four years in beautiful Maine, she is back reading, writing, walking and swimming in New York.