The Swimming Edge

I skipped over the railroad tracks — unused now, some paved over to make it a smoother drive for cars. It was February and cold. The air didn’t swelter with the summer stink that usually wafted up from the river.

I bought myself a barbecue plate at a greasy dive near the pool. The paper plate got soggy fast so I hustled in through the rear entrance. The lights didn’t work in that end of the building. It had once been the lobby where parents waited on their kids or kids hung out beating on the vending machines when they wouldn’t work while waiting for their parents.

I had done that once or twice when I had no change and was hungry. When I was home, I could raid my sister’s room pilfering coins from her hiding places in her sock drawer, in a shoebox underneath the bed, wherever she kept enough coinage for me to buy a soda and a bag of chips. I was well beyond twenty years of the past and six or seven of being a kid but I was still stuck, even in my thirties, caught somewhere in the yesterdays or what I remembered. My thoughts stayed moored in the tiny gas station near the home where I’d grown up. The place where my parent’s had bought gas, the railroad tracks running behind carrying passengers or freight blowing its whistle it seemed whenever it was near our car. Every trip began at that gas station and the stop light in front. From there, it was one choice or the other. A simple decision making process I missed.

Jacob had grown up in the same town, but out in the country defined by no gas stations, no stoplights at the time. Lacey lived in town. I wasn’t sure how they ever met or if they’d met before the pool, but the pool is where I remembered first seeing them together. We had grown up east of Nashville close to Lebanon, Tennessee and had competitions in the old pool building. Usually they were open invitation meets, open competitions for teams from all over the state.

I ate my barbecue and roll, took a few bites of slaw and sipped my iced tea eyeing the competition pennants dangling from the ceiling. Lacey had been on a couple of the open meet events, we’d swam in a relay team and won at least once but it wasn’t the swimming or the competition that caused her to die.

I slept for awhile trying to quell my stomach after inhaling too much barbecue and thinking about Jacob and how different he looked, his hair darker and his body filled out but heavier.

Jacob had paid me no attention when we were on the swim team opting for a gaze, hug or anything from Lacey. I was invisible to him. I was invisible to almost every one on the team and became visible for a brief time because I’d found Lacey at home. I’d gone to study with her or for a school project.

I dangled my feet in the pool, empty; I’d never bothered to fill it and tried to remember the project I was working on with Lacey. I thought of the swim team elections and how we had a team captain and how I’d won co-captain but lost it.

I graduated high school without the line item of swim team co-captain on my college applications and without a memory of Helen’s Cove and had tried college in Nashville but wound up singing in the hallways, singing myself to sleep at night, singing in the church choir at the catholic church across the street from my dorm and finally dropping out.

I’d met Arthur at a pancake shop downtown sort of near the Parthenon and where the country western singers were known to hang out, the songwriters known to collaborate and he was up and coming like me and I could carry a tune so he’d always stuck by me and together we’d had a few hits.

I didn’t think that Jacob was looking to make his fortune in country music but I didn’t know and seeing his surprise at seeing me I didn’t think it was some sort of revenge thing. There was no given that he and Lacey would’ve stayed together anyway.

 

Why? Why? Why? Did I catch his eye?
How? How? How? Did he know that
I was trying not to cry?
Where? Where? Where? Did he know I
was there?
When? When? When? Did he know that
I needed him to care?
So run, run, run
You don’t need anyone
So hide, hide, hide
You mustn’t let go of your pride
So love, love, love
What are you afraid of?
So die, die, die
You can still see the emotion
in your dark eyes.

Jump! Jump! Jump! You’ll never
get there if you hesitate
Wait! Wait! Wait! Is it better to
watch or to participate?
Look! Look! Look! At the way he
stares at you.

 

When I went back to the studio to drop off my new lyrics, Arthur didn’t mention Jacob. I didn’t mention Jacob either wondering how I had even recognized him in the first place. Sometimes I would run into someone from school but even if they looked, talked exactly the same I had a hard time recognizing them. I couldn’t remember them. I had wiped my slate clean. School wasn’t relevant anymore. Even though I’d been accused, ostracized, ridiculed it didn’t seem to matter. My locker had been moved next to the one guy who got it worse than I did. He was a transfer student from a high school in another county. He was tall, thin with curly hair and a squeaky voice and effeminate mannerisms that today probably wouldn’t get a second look most places but in a very manly southern redneck county high school the poor guy stood out way too much. I would have to stand there and watch the football team or basketball team threaten to kick his ass for just standing there. It was all words. No ass kicking ever took place making me wonder if the football team had any balls at all or how manly could they be picking on a guy who was skinnier than I was. I was so skinny I was mocked for being too thin. I wasn’t anorexic thin; I was just thin from swimming and not eating.

Fourteen years later and I was still eating but not doing much swimming so no one would be calling me thin.

Jacob was not thin anymore either. He got really skinny after Lacey was gone and he did stupid things like breaking into people’s cars or lockers and stealing anything portable. He took CDs, DVDs, anything that wasn’t nailed down and when he got caught and always did he’d say he was sorry, sob over Lacey and the judges would let him off with a warning. He was under sixteen so everything was confidential, so he’d just laugh and go on. His past juvenile crimes couldn’t be held against him but they could be found out and I thought I could mention it to Arthur if necessary.

Lacey’s accident wasn’t Jacob’s doing or mine. She’d been at the swim meet staying even after I was kicked out. She’d finished her event, the IM maybe, and then she’d retreated to the whirlpool. We weren’t supposed to go in the whirlpool without an adult since we were under eighteen but we were at the pool so much that the attendants would let us in and there was not an attendant that day. Every staff member was working at the meet. We were allowed to sit in the whirlpool for fifteen minutes. No one knew how long she stayed, but it was estimated she was in there for at least two hours. She’d gone home. That’s where I found her at first thinking she was asleep on the bed. She wasn’t asleep. The hot water in the whirlpool had raised her body temperature and her blood pressure. She’d been home alone for hours before I found her.

I continued my trudge up the hill towards the old pool. I avoided the pool, swimming and everyone after I found Lacey. I quit the swim team. Hadn’t swum since except every once in awhile in a motel swimming pool. Those were usually small. Not many people and it didn’t feel the same as in a regulation swimming pool. It was starting to get dark outside and the smells of barbecue and Chinese food wafted up the hill. The old pool building was made of brick and plaster. Some of it was real brick, some of it was plaster made to look like brick. It was an off yellow color. The windows were smoky glass — you couldn’t see in but you could see out. The mailbox was white with a red barn. I thought somehow it made the old building look homey.

Inside the building it was quiet. I couldn’t hear traffic noises or anything else much. I was surprised when I kept hearing a knocking sound that sounded like a metal pipe banging on another metal pipe. Noises like that sometimes came from the boiler or filter rooms. I ignored it popping a frozen dinner into the microwave. Even after cooking and the ding of the microwave, I could still hear the sound which had regular rhythm. I figured some kids were parking in the parking lot outside. It wasn’t usable, but there was some space left in the asphalt that wasn’t cracked or overgrown with weeds or trees.

I ate my Salisbury steak patty and glob of mashed potatoes with the knocking still going. I got out some paper and a pen and let lyrics run around in my head when I’d finally had enough and walked to the front entrance.

I didn’t see anything at first. The windows were made to let people inside look outside but they hadn’t been cleaned in years so it was still difficult to see anything.

When I did make out the source of the knocking, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hide or what I should do. Finally, I took a deep breath and opened the door.

“You’re the one who’s been making all that noise?”

“What noise? I’ve been out here for about an hour. I didn’t think you heard me.”

“It’s an old building. An old pool. There are a lot of weird sounds in here. I don’t usually pay them any attention.”

I stared at Jacob. The years had been kinder to him than me, I thought, at least he didn’t have as many wrinkles in his face and skin as I did and I stayed out of the sun. His tan was light, but it was a tan.

“I didn’t follow you here, if that’s what you think.” He shifted from toe to toe and looked back behind his shoulder. He was driving a blue pick up truck, maybe a foreign car model.

“Arthur sent you?”

He shook his head, “no.” “It’s Friday night. He usually cuts out early on Friday nights.”

“What are you doing here?”

Jacob shrugged his shoulders motioning to the door. “Can I come in?”

I looked at him, scowled at him, rolled my eyes at him and then stood aside and let him pass. “You have my cell phone number. You could’ve called.”

He nodded. “Arthur says you don’t answer it most of the time and you don’t get good reception inside.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s a good place to hide if there’s anything to hide from.”

Jacob looked around the lobby, what was left of the furniture and the vending machines. He eyed the water fountain.

“It works, but I wouldn’t drink it if I were you.”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“If you’re thirsty, I’ve got stuff in the fridge.”

“Sure.”

I went back to the fridge and brought him a bottle of water. “I don’t keep anything in here any stronger. Sometimes I have coffee or tea but usually it’s just water. Do you want to see the pool?”

Jacob shook his head “yes” following me into the indoor pool. I flipped on the fluorescents. There were built into the ceiling. The ceiling was vaulted with skylights and once the lights warmed up and came on there was a deep glow surrounding the empty pool.

“There’s no water. You don’t swim?”

I shook my head “no.” “The smell of the chlorine would be hard to take when I’m sleeping. I haven’t swum since, well you know. I missed the pool, any pool, being near water so that’s kind of how I ended up here. It’s quiet. No one bothers me.”

“Don’t you miss swimming?”

I climbed up on the lifeguard stand and sat in the chair. It had originally been a bright orange but had faded into light pink. “Yeah. Course I do, but I just don’t. Do you?”

Jacob sat on the edge of the pool dangling his loafer clad feet into empty space banging them against the cement. “Sometimes. I haven’t in a while. The swim team went on a bit after you left, after I left but then it went to one of the high schools and if you lived in the other side of the county you were out of luck.”

“Yeah, I remember when my high school sent out a petition to start a team. It didn’t go anywhere. Some kids made fun of it.”

“Remember when my Mom used to have us hold our breaths and time us and see who could hold our breaths the longest?”

I laughed. “Yeah, she always said you won whether you did or not.”

Jacob laughed and sighed. “I was pretty good at holding my breath.”

“Yeah, you were.”

I leaned back in the chair. Jacob leaned back on his hands resting his legs against the side of the pool. It was quiet again. I relished being engulfed by the silence of the pool and the company of someone else’s breathing besides my own.

 

There is a time to begin,
There is a time to end,
With the sun always comes another day
Tomorrow can always make everything okay
There are always choices to make before the light fades

Chances are we’ll never see each other again
Chances are we would’ve been more than friends
If we’d only spent more time together
Chances are we could’ve made it last forever
If I only had another chance with you
This time I’d know exactly what to do
It could’ve been a beautiful romance
But chances are we’ll never dance.

 

After awhile, Jacob got up and stretched. He looked up at me. “Arthur’s the only one who’s been in here?”

“Except for my real estate agent and the mail carrier but she doesn’t usually come inside, just drops my mail in the box.”

“You know you’re right, I guess you were thinking it anyway. It’s not too much of a coincidence that I’m here. I mean I did get a degree in musical engineering. I do want to work in the music business.”

“You knew I was in Nashville?”

“It kind of was known around town. It took me awhile to get here. I lived in Boston for awhile. Cincinnati. Cullowhee in North Carolina. All around a bit.”

“But you didn’t come here for me. Or did you? Are you still blaming me for—?”

“No!” Jacob shouted.

The echo was loud. I jumped from my chair.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Really.”

I hopped off the lifeguard stand and grabbed his hands. “Then what? I don’t think I can keep this up much longer.”

Jacob sighed looking down at his feet. “I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you that it wasn’t your fault. We shouldn’t have …. I shouldn’t have driven you away from home. Lacey and I had had an argument that day, the day it happened and it was over Mr. Adams. Remember the sign at the cove? Lacey’s Cove?”

“I thought that was strange, but Lacey acted like it was all a big joke, that she was just the teacher’s pet.”

“It was more than that. I found out it was more than that and I told her I was going to tell her parents and the principal.”

“That’s why she took off? That’s why she was in the hot tub all that time?”

“I told her I was going to do it after the swim meet and she needed to decide if she wanted to tell her parents herself or have them hear it from me.”

“Oh.” I leaned against the lifeguard stand. “How did you know? How did you find out? I never knew that she was—. I guess I should’ve guessed the way she went on and on about him but he was married with a kid I think and I never thought Mr. Adams would—. I can’t believe I never guessed. How? Where?”

Jacob stood up and faced me. “Remember the bomb shelter in the basement of Lacey’s house? It was behind the furnace, near where they kept their canned food.”

“Yeah. It was dusty. Smelled bad.”

“That didn’t stop them.”

“You mean? There?”

“Yeah.”

We sat at the edge of the pool side by side but not touching and we dangled our feet as if our toes were bare and we could feel water, could smell chlorine and could hear the noise and laughter of other people, fellow swimmers and pool goers.

It was a perfect quiet inside the old indoor pool and it smelled like must, that musty scent that comes from a house that’s been packed up too tight too long with no windows ever cracked little air ever flowing.

I had not flinched at Jacob’s touch. It was me that grabbed his hands and they felt strong and pure and the childish crap that permeates high school and high school kids seemed to have disappeared. I looked at him different now, but he looked away from me.

“I should go. Arthur, if he—. You won’t tell him, will you? He knows we knew each other from before, but he told me I’d better leave you alone. He’s protective, I guess.”

I licked my lips and swallowed. I hadn’t swum a lick but I was thirsty like I’d just been in an all day outdoor swimming competition. “I won’t tell him.”

 

You have loved only to have lost
You have believed in dreams not matter what it cost
And now here you are alone
Can’t think of any reason to go on
You have touched destiny only to let it slip away
You have believed in wishes that might come true another day
And now all your hopes have deserted you
I know you won’t be able to hold on and there’s
nothing I can do.

For you’ve become a silent dancer
dancing all alone
Silent dancer – no place to call home.
So you dance endlessly waiting for fate to set you free.
Silent dancer – dancing on and on.
Silent dancer – can’t understand what went wrong.
The one chance you had to have your life saved
disappeared as the music played.
Silent dancer – I know you believed.
But you’ve only been deceived.

 

According to the Parthenon replica map and brochure, the statue of Athena that stands inside stands forty-two feet high. The Parthenon replica was supposed to be a perfect replica of what the real Parthenon might look like today if it was still standing. The only time I was in Rome to see it, the Parthenon ruins were closed for cleaning. The Coliseum was not but it just seemed like a giant abandoned football stadium much like the one where I’d gone to junior high. The field was sometimes used for pick up soccer games. Half of the stadium seats had caved in and had to be removed.

I stood back about a block from the old pool and hummed soft and low to myself as I watched the bulldozer plow into the building, a crane haul out pieces of the roof. The property wasn’t worth much but Arthur had helped me to unload it and with the cash from the sale plus my residuals I bought a small condo near gigantic Athena and the Parthenon replica.

Sometimes, I would see Jacob and when I did we would nod and smile as if we were the best of acquaintances who knew they could but never would be friends. He let me know when Mr. Adams was killed in a car accident blamed on his drunk driving. He let me know when Arthur was thinking of killing my contract and that I’d better come up with some new material if I wanted to keep working with the studio. I bounced material off Jacob and wrote more hit songs in a year than I had written in my whole career. He let me know when he had enough assistant experience and got offered a better job with another Arthur like boss at another Nashville studio. He met me the day I went back to a swimming pool and went swimming again for the first time. After that, I never saw Jacob again.

 

 

L.B. Sedlacek

L.B. Sedlacek has had poetry, fiction and non-fiction appear in many different journals, zines and newspapers. She is a former Poetry Editor for ESC! Magazine and also co-hosted the podcast for the small press, “Coffee House to Go.” She founded and publishes the free resource for poets, “The Poetry Market Ezine.” Recent poetry books include Happy Little Clouds (Guerrilla Genesis Press) and The Poet Next Door (Cyberwit).  Her first short story collection is Four Thieves of Vinegar & Other Short Stories published by Alien Buddha Press. In her free time, LB enjoys swimming, reading, and playing guitar and ukulele. She recommends the Caldwell Humane Society.

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 21:09