Friday, 3 June 2011

THE SWIMMING LESSON - a short story by GC (part 2)

Adrian seemed genuinely fascinated he had joined the fire service.
“You were brilliant at arithmetic,” he said.
“Fancy you remembering that. I’m a bit of a disappointment to my dad. He wanted me to be an accountant. Somehow it never worked out. I’m happy enough.”
“But burning buildings and all that?”
“All in a day’s work.” Mike was used to people wanting to hear about his job. It would have been easy to impress most listeners with the things he had seen. But he didn’t like to. Unless the eyes widening at his stories of rescued children and bodies fished from canals belonged to an impressionable girl, who thought it witty when he brushed her tights saying, “I’d climb up your ladder any time.”
But it was Adrian leaning across the gap that separated them to grip his knee and say, “You’re too modest, matey.”
Mike needed to change the subject. “What about yourself? Captain of everything. Tops in running, swimming, football. And teaching art?”
“My family moved so I could go to a decent secondary school. It had a really good Art master and I found I loved painting. I left the sport stuff behind. Art school and the rest followed – I’m good enough to teach but not enough to sell. All round I bet I’m a bigger disappointment to my father.”

Mike was to sleep in one of the kid’s rooms when he was finally shown to his bed at around 1am. Until that point Adrian had led their conversation on a ramble over many subjects; from the best place to locate a smoke alarm to infidelity.
“I’ve never been unfaithful to Julia, not with a woman, man or sheep. Not yet anyways.” The remark penetrated Mike’s alcoholic haze as a bit weird.
When Adrian said goodnight and left, Mike started to empty his overnight bag, his fingers made clumsy by the booze. He took off his T-shirt so carefully ironed by Donna. It was too late to call. So he sat on the bed and carefully texted her “Love u sweet dreams.”
Adrian came into the room without knocking. “I forget to leave you a fresh towel. God!”
“What?” said Mike alarmed getting up quickly from the bed feeling giddy as he did so.
“Your chest – that really is a six-pack and a half.”
“I…I like to keep in shape.”
“I’ll say. Do you shave your chest hair?”
“I suppose I do. There’s not much to start.”
“Would you mind? No, I’m pissed.”
“Would you mind if I touched it? Your chest.”
Mike heard himself say, “Sure.”
Barely grazing the surface Adrian’s hand travelled down Mike’s body from his neck to his navel and then back to the space between his nipples where it rested a brief moment.
“Wow, that’s something. Well, goodnight. Again.” He left closing the door quietly behind him.
Mike felt queasy, his knees weak. He sat down heavily on the bed.
In the instant Adrian had touched his skin, memories of childhood penetrated his brain with such sudden ferocity his head ached from a blinding light.
First the only sensation was the smell of chlorine. Then it was almost as though his eyes stung from the water and he could taste its bitterness.
He was 10. In his school’s local swimming pool; he was flapping arms and legs in the cold water. He couldn’t sink because Adrian was standing next to him, a hand supporting his chest, the other his waist.
Puny Mike, the class joke, the only one his age who couldn’t swim. Adrian, both the tallest and the best swimmer, had been told by their teacher to help Mike in the shallow end, while everyone else shrieked and frolicked at the deep end of the pool.
Adrian must have said he was going to join the others, because Mike was crying, taking mouthfuls of water. “Don’t leave me, don’t leave.”
One moment Adrian’s hands were holding his body and he was safe, the next they were gone and he was drowning.
In his struggle to find his feet, Mike turned over on his back and through the water he could see Adrian towering over him, laughing.
Mike flipped over on to his knees and Adrian reached down through the water and grabbed his trunks. The material bit into his groin as Adrian hauled him upright until he was standing.
Adrian turned and was off. It seemed to Mike like a superhero from his comics, moving down the pool to join the rest of the class.
He stood alone shivering, holding the gully at the pool’s edge. He peed filling his trunks with a pleasant warmth. He wished Adrian was still holding him.
The panic passed. He thought again about ringing Donna. She would think the worst and whatever he said his clothes would be waiting for him on his doorstep. He wanted to leave, to write a note saying Chrissy had been taken ill. But he was too drunk to drive.
It was then he saw Adrian must have put a key in the lock on the inside of the bedroom door. He was almost sure it hadn’t been there before. Mike locked the door and went to bed.
He couldn’t sleep. He lay on the single bed beneath the Transformers duvet fearful other ghosts from his lonely childhood might rise up from their graves.
Once during the night he thought he heard the door handle turn. He couldn’t be certain he hadn’t been dreaming. He got up and stood listening by the door. He touched the key erect in the dark. The door must always stay closed.

At 6 the children in the adjoining bedroom started fighting and Mike dressed quickly, had a brief wash in the bathroom, and headed for the kitchen.
By the time Adrian and Julia emerged, Mike had made himself some tea and toast.
“I hope you don’t mind but my daughter Chrissy wasn’t well in the night and I need to get back as soon as I can.”
Adrian walked Mike to his car. “You’re sure you’re OK to drive?”
“I’m fine.” said Mike knowing as soon as he could he would stop on the motorway for a proper breakfast and the chance to clear his head.
They shook hands. “It’s amazing, isn’t it, what we’ve done, getting together after all this time?” said Adrian. “You’re not at all how I imagined you’d be.”
“Nor you me,” said Mike.
“We’ve got to stay in touch.”
“Look out for those fires.”

When Mike arrived home Donna was about to berate him for the heavy drinking session which showed in his weary face but something told her just to be pleased he was back safely.
Chrissy hugged him and begged, “Don’t make me go swimming, dad, please.”
“Go next door and play with Jane until I call you,” said her mother.
When Donna walked into the bathroom Mike had the shower going full blast into his face.
A little later they were lying on top of their bed, he in his bathrobe and she fully dressed.
“Was everything alright?” she asked.
“Of course. Why shouldn’t it? Strange bed that’s all. I didn’t get much sleep and I’m on early shift tomorrow.”
“I’ll let you have a nap then” She got up.
“Donna, there is something.” She held her breath. “Don, I was thinking we ought to get married.” She laughed. “Funny, I was thinking the same thing myself.”

Mike and Adrian e-mailed once every couple of months over the next year. Adrian sent a picture of the two them taken by Julia, which Mike showed Donna.
“I like the garden” was the best she could say and she wasn’t happy when Mike said Adrian had sort of added his wife and himself to the wedding guest list.
“I could hardly say no,” Mike said lamely. But with a fortnight to go, Adrian cried off saying they were moving house because he was unexpectedly changing schools.
That was the last time there was any communication between the men – except for the exchange of a wedding present and a thank-you note.
Adrian sent a coffee-table book of David Hockney paintings. A swimming pool was on the cover. Inside he had written “Wishing you the best splash, Adrian.”
“A bloody strange present and why didn’t he put his wife’s name?” said Donna.
“Don’t ask me,” said Mike.

Soon after the wedding Donna got pregnant and Mike dismantled his gym and turned the garage into a playroom.
The End


  1. An interesting story, GC, with the main character, who although he is not totally trusted by his female partner, is nevertheless subconsciously impelled to visit an old school friend with whom he had never been close. The visit reveals themes of homo-eroticism and role reversal over a lifetime, also indicating how so often people end up in jobs/careers other than might of been expected of them in their youth. The encounter, between the two friends releases in the main character a repressed memory about a 'drowning' incident, before he returns home to marry his partner; and his potential for any other individual acts of escapism changes irrevocably, with the birth of their second child.

  2. Putting old school associates together again--yes "Friends United" has a lot to answer for.


What do you think? GC