46. The Swimming Pool

Part 2 of the 'Vertigo' series. (Previously.)

SOMETHING ABOUT SWIMMING POOLS - perhaps the smell of chlorine, perhaps the sound of children squealing in delight, maybe the impossible blue of the water, the pale play of the sky on its surface, or the sight of all those bathers slinking by in slow motion - whatever it was, something about swimming pools consoled her. That summer Alice went almost daily to the outdoor pool near her apartment, which she came to prefer to the beach, where there was never any shade and chaffing sand in her shoes and between her legs was inescapable. She quickly decided the best time to visit the pool was late afternoon, once parents had towelled off their children in readiness for home, dinner, bed. She would set up shop in the slanting sunshine at the eastern end and would alternate between laps of the pool swimming breastroke and reading cheap detective fiction with lurid covers she bought by the dozen at second hand book stores. Lying on the warm concrete, smoking white tipped cigarettes, drinking sodas, she felt as if this was the purpose of her existence. Almost every time she lit a cigarette, a pool boy would approach her to tell her she couldn’t smoke, whereupon she would butt out her cigarette and, once the pool boy had retreated, she would light another. She enjoyed smoking, and she enjoyed fucking pool boys too. That summer she fucked Josh (the one with the pimply back who came too soon), Andy (the one with the beard who never came soon enough), and another one whose name she had forgotten who didn't come at all. She relished the ill-disguised looks of astonishment their faces betrayed when she proposed to sleep with them at her apartment. They still lived with their parents, or in decrepit share houses she was certain were infested with fleas and bed bugs. Afterwards she spoke to them as if they were complete strangers and, although she did this involuntarily, it too held a kind of sadder pleasure for her - perhaps it was the pleasure of sadness itself, which has its own undeniable pleasures. Then she'd watch them from afar as she smoked her cigarettes, daring them to approach her to tell her smoking was not allowed. She kept her cigarettes in an old tobacco tin so that she didn’t have to look at the photographs of smoking-related disease. If I make it that far, she thought, I will be grateful. Sometimes someone lying nearby would ask her for a cigarette, and she would refuse them with a flat 'no', delivered with the most withering condescension she could muster. Sometimes someone lying nearby would complain about the cigarette smoke, whereupon she would reply in a low, menacing voice - lowering her sunglasses slowly to make eye contact with them - advising them that they relocate, by which she meant, of course, another part of the swimming pool. She was so icy that there were no arguments: the complainants would simply gather their belongings and move to another area, muttering inaudibly. Although she meticulously avoided displaying any emotion, such encounters, brief as they were, excited and amused her, particularly the inaudible muttering. For a time, other than the pool boys and cursory hellos at the stores where she shopped, they were all she had for human companionship, a fact that was not lost on her, although only when she returned to her apartment at dusk. At such moments, she was no longer so certain of the purpose of her existence. But she was quick to gather herself together, blaming her lapses into melancholy on the twilight, which at times verged on a green aura, and which, standing on her balcony with a white-tipped cigarette in her fingers, she admired.