Jamie Logue – O

Jamie Logue was born in Carlisle and was raised in a small village in Cumbria. He graduated from Newcastle University with a first class honours degree in English Literature and is currently studying for an MLitt in Postcolonial and World Literatures at the University of St Andrews. In 2017 he taught English in a language school in Taiwan for an academic year. He spent the summer of 2018 in Krakow, reading, writing and teaching.


O

O sat on the concrete edge of the pool, toes feet shins sweeping through icy water. She glanced around for a familiar face and, recognising no-one, plunged silently into the blue. Her soles kissed the sandpaper floor. She held herself there for a moment before allowing her body to be lifted gently back to the surface.
She lay on her back and drifted, as was her habit, to the centre point of the circular pool. With outstretched toes she reached for the floor, but the pool was at its deepest here and she’d never managed to touch the bottom.
O tread water and looked at the people around her; a young family with a deflated plastic crocodile, men with tight goggles and loose shorts. All Westerners, she observed, without feeling.
The place was falling to pieces. White paint flaked from the walls and was scuffed into the water by running children. These soggy flakes bobbed around at the edges, unheeded by the lifeguards and caretakers who had long since disappeared. The old tin roof had been removed for safety reasons. The failure of a fundraiser in aid of its replacement meant that the pool was now unused most of the year. A sun-faded slide stood with a rusted metal chain barring its steps. The clock above the empty lifeguard’s chair was stuck at eight minutes past eight, and had been for as long as O could remember. She had first visited this pool as a child, over 20 years ago.
O dipped her head into the water and opened her eyes, trying to focus through the blur of light on the small black X that marked the very centre point of the basin. It flickered from side to side. A wave of nausea rose and was swallowed. She checked around her see if anybody was watching. A flailing leg glanced off her left shoulder. A mother apologised. As O opened her mouth to respond, it was filled with a spray of water from another rogue limb. She swallowed this too. The mother gave an absent smile and drifted away.
O looked at the peeling walls; chunks of red brick had displaced the weathered surface. She tried to find patterns in the cracks and flakes, as though searching for animals in fluffy clouds. She found none. She floated on her back, scouring the sky for dogs and elephants but finding only the wispy white filth of planes.
“Are you okay?” somebody asked her in English.
“Yes” she responded.
“It’s just… you’ve been floating there so long. I thought maybe you were…”
It was a little boy. No older than ten.
“Thank you, but I’m fine.”
The little boy appeared disappointed by the lack of drama. His face wrinkled and, with an odd spasm, he shot like a dolphin into the air, shouting “eeeeee” until his voice and body were submerged.
O resumed floating.
“You’re a good swimmer”, O said when the boy resurfaced. His blonde hair was plastered to his forehead. He held her gaze for a little too long.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
He considered the question carefully, as though afraid of being tricked.
“The SEA!” he shrieked, before disappearing once more. O watched as he glided under the water. It was true, he did swim very well for such a young child.
She held her hands across her chest and allowed her body to sink. The cold water slowed her mind. She tried to conjure childhood memories that had long since dried
eyes close, time slows and nothing seems to matter as clarity fades;
a colourful irreality pulses in her mind, swilling her thoughts in ephemeral shapes, forgotten before realised
. . .
Her head crashed through the wall separating water and air.
She was greeted by silence. The murmuring flailing splashing of swimmers had stopped. Only the light waves caused by her re-emergence rippled across the pool. She turned around. Not a swimmer in sight. How long she had been drifting.
The water was empty. Everything was still. The sun blared down as a plane glided overhead. On the side of the pool, in a low wicker chair, sat a bald white man wearing a black suit and tie. He was staring right through O without expression. She edged towards the opposite wall, incapable of thought. His eyes followed her without menace or curiosity as she felt for the ladder. A distant gurgling told her that the water was being drained from the pool. She tried to heave herself up the steel rungs but found she had no strength in her arms. Looking down at her body, her muscle seemed to have faded, leaving loose skin flapping around a skinny frame. The gurgling intensified, the ladder was no-longer in reach and O was swirled back down towards the poolbed.
She envisioned herself being sucked down a plughole as though up a vacuum, through tubes and pipes, becoming trapped somewhere in the pool’s intestines. The bald man maintained an
impassivity. O span faster and lower. She was screaming 帮帮我 as hard as her thinning body would allow, heart and lungs rattling against her cage of ribs. As though in a dream, her screams took the form of a distant whisper. Her eyes spat tears in spasmodic bursts.
She landed on wet concrete, head tucked and chin pressed into her chest. She was at the bottom of the pool. The water was gone, but she had remained. She felt suddenly ashamed. She tried to stand but her legs wouldn’t.
Above her, the bald man stood up and leaned over the edge to look down on her. He dropped a coarse white towel in her direction. “It’s time to get out of the pool now”, he said.
The man held a bulging folder under his left arm. He looked at his wrist as if checking a watch, though he didn’t wear one. O ignored the towel and sat hunched and shivering.
“It’s time to go back”, the man called down.
O tried to block out the towering figure. Even if she had wanted to get out of the pool, the lowest rung on the ladder was far out of reach now that the water had drained.
“I’m here to help you. I’m here to help you to help yourself”.
He lowered a length of flimsy rope ladder into the basin. O continued to ignore him as best she could.
“Come on now” he insisted.
Eyes following only the floaters that drifted through her vision, O shifted and turned her back on the man. A little rectangular patch of slightly darker concrete lay on the ground in front of her. She shuffled towards it. She prodded it. She pictured it opening like a trap door, revealing a darkness, an oblivion that she could slip into. She gave it a little push. It remained as it was.

 

 

 

 

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