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Swimming

Rachel Kleinsman

 

I wake on the beach and think it’s therapeutic, though I’ve been here for hours and am burnt, sand under my nails. The afternoon is gone. This was the best of it, this was summer, this is, not was, the best of times. Right now. Enjoy it.

 

Where is he? Gone back. He could have woken me up, but he chose to go and it doesn’t matter. Self-preservation; I can live alone on a beach.

 

Phone, keys, sunglasses – they’re all here and I’m reassured. But actually what I say to myself is, they were all there. This obsession with the past tense. I hadn’t been robbed, I haven’t been robbed, I’m not robbed. I’m in the process of not being robbed, I won’t be robbed. I roll over my arm, which is numb, and turn to the sea.

 

Earlier today, I put my bikini, towel and undies in the broken washing machine of our Airbnb after discovering that it springs open to the poke of a screwdriver. They’re both rusty, the screwdriver and the machine, and their meeting point is in a diagonal thrust of forceful contact, janky and satisfying. As I hung my clothes out to dry on the line, I prayed to the feeling of being away from home. I knew it was meaningful because I was far away, and longing is imperative to my sense of purpose.

 

Lying in the fustiness of damp sand, that new washing powder smell is with me still, my body not yet adjusted to it. I am indifferent to the moment – immediacy is boring and irrelevant as ever. One day, years down the track, I might catch a whiff of this foreign detergent and it will take me back to this beach. I live for nostalgia.

 

The sea. I should be appreciating it. It’s not possible to enjoy the beauty of a horizon every day. Whenever I’m too much in my head, I catch myself and the mere thought of mindful resistance sets the song Zombie by The Cranberries on autoplay. Pavlovian, almost. Their tanks, and their bombs, and their gongs – it’s guns, but I always thought it was gongs until someone corrected me. I like my own lyric better – the idea of striking a gong in the presence of tanks and bombs gives a pacifistic sonority to one’s fury. And your head (my head). If it had been, as Dolores said, 1916, she wouldn’t have been in this situation. She. I meant to say I. I wouldn’t have been in this situation. I wouldn’t, because misery is a luxury.

 

I’m looking at the sea, thinking about never being able to meet the horizon and how, when I was 11 years old, I went for swimming lessons once a week. I’ve always hated physical exertion. I willed myself to the end of each lap by narrating it, reverting to the third person. Her hand slammed against the edge of the pool, I would think just before I reached each concrete limit. Years later, a teacher talked about the impracticalities of the first person and the idea hit me like a known revelation. I articulated it just once, this inability to exist within myself. A girl swimming laps at the aquatic centre and narrating her own strokes as if it was ever possible to exist externally from one’s self, forever.

 

Two books I read at that swimming age became the tools to my wishful self-definition. The first was about a boy who discovered a portal through his bellybutton. He could make his spirit escape his own body through some light navel fingering. Looking down on my body now, my hair arranged around me in a sun-dried bird’s nest, the idea resonates still. Because I know I’ll never be able to see me as anyone does, and even if I could, it could only be the aggregation of the majority. Which is equally meaningless when you live by virtue of separation. But imagine seeing yourself, (myself), objectively ­– as God, or my ghosts do …

 

My second book of revelation was about a kid who had a special watch. He could pull out the timer and yell ‘Stop the world, I want to get off’! which gave him precisely two minutes to rearrange himself, to change things, to think, and get ahead of any predicament or situation. ‘Stop the world, I want to get off’. I googled it recently and it’s also a musical and a song by Arctic Monkeys. I’ve often returned to the thought of this story – musing on the ability to command time to a stop, to rearrange everyone else around myself, or rather, myself around everyone else.

 

I’m so far away from this moment now that I’m almost back here, like flying so far around the world that you start getting closer to home. Stagnant and immobilised with the sun setting over the sea and new coldness setting in. Everyone’s picked up their umbrellas and tote bags and left.

 

I need to leave too. So go there, I say, to self-narration.

 

She sat up, and I sit up. She rubbed her calves, which were raw with stubble and sunburn. She gathered the plastic wrappers and lunch leftovers, and even some rubbish that didn’t belong to her. She wrapped it all up, made it small into a bag which she tied with a knot. Put it into a larger bag and thought about how much more exciting it is to observe one’s self than to exist. She contemplated­ – I contemplate, what it would be to finger her (my) own bellybutton and have an out of body experience.

 

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