'The Swimmer' by Rosie Canning
Mother taught me to swim at three years old, called me her water-baby. My bedroom is full of medals, cups and certificates; I was to swim for England. Life was filled with dreams of golden discs and happiness. Those dreams are shattered now, full of dark corners, tears and tattered flags. I haven’t swum for years. This is my first day back at the pool. I’m standing at the top of the steps, splashing the water with my toes. Heat, chlorine, and the echoing of mumbled voices blankets me.
I ease myself into a sitting position on the tiledfloor. Using my bottom, I bumpdown the turquoise steps one at a time. Luke warm water glides over my body, like an old lover covering me with gentle caresses and takes my breath away.
When I came back from Zambia, mother took me to hospital. I think the smell was getting to her. I discharged myself.
‘Accept me as I am,’ I said, ‘rotting leg and all.’ In places the skin was dark, reddish black and shrunken, like mummified flesh.
‘You can’t live like that.’
She was only thinking of herself. I needed two legs to swim.
‘People swim with one leg.’
I was keeping my rotting leg and she could go to hell.
The manager at my local pool stopped me: ‘You can’t go into the water with that, it’s unhygienic.’
I ordered a plastic cover, the type for broken legs. Mother caught me. I’d unzipped it and was about to re-bandage the leg. She dialled 999.
‘It has to go now,’ she whispered.
I passed out from the pain and when I came to, three doctors were staring at me.
‘Sign here,’ they said. ‘Otherwise you’ll die.’
Mother arrived with tears in her eyes. ‘Sign, for me; please’.
My hands were numb, I couldn’t even hold a pen, let alone sign my name.
It was touch and go for a few weeks. I don’t remember much, just pain, and sadness.
I’m ready now, left leg bent, head back, GO! Arms pedal backwards, breathing is laboured, body tips and I end up face down, gasping for air.
Breaststroke, like a frog - reposition myself and the same thing happens, over and over again. I will not cry. This time, I push backwards into the clear blue water and I keep my balance all the way to the end of the pool.
‘Yes!’ I throw my arms in the air as if I’ve won the most important race of my life.
I clamber up the steps; a little boy looks at me and even though he shouldn’t, dive-bombs into the pool.
Emerging from the water, he shouts, ‘That lady’s only got one leg.’
The mother blushes. I stare into hisgreen eyes, the lashes drooping with droplets and shout back, ‘A crocodile ate it,’ and slap my hands together, - ‘Like that!’
His eyes widen and he watches me hop out of the poolside like I’m his hero.
Flash 500 (Longlisted)