By Yvonne Fein
From Earshot on RN:
When students still carried books with actual pages in their schoolbags, and often judged those books’ readability by their thickness and weight, I would say to the fearful ones, “It’s like jumping into a pool. If you can swim, it doesn’t matter how deep the water. If you can read, it doesn’t matter how thick the book.” I was a keen, fleet swimmer myself, and an insatiable reader: the three-metre diving board held no fears for me and Tolstoy’s heftiest tome was a challenge and delight.
I, however, still doing summertime laps at Carnegie Pool, have decelerated. The last time I dared climb the diving board steps was only a week ago. After a long interval, for no fathomable reason, I wanted to see whether I could still do the jump. Although I managed it, it was only by dint of taking tiny, fearful steps towards the end of the board. Somehow I had become a middle-aged individual, afraid of heights. And I realised I was no longer diving into Patrick White, Dostoyevsky, Eliot or James, either. Now it was only crime fiction and I read it to escape, not to make my brain surge with ideas dangerous and exhilarating.
But still I swim. When the sky is blue and the sun fragmented through my goggles (I slip them into my pocket, clutching them on the tram, like a talisman, all the way to the pool), I draw breath deep into my lungs, kicking and thrusting legs and arms through air and water.
At Carnegie Pool, slower swimmers make way for faster. “After you,” we say. “No, after you.” We reprimand children who stray from water-play lanes into ours of serious endeavour. We stop for breath and, endorphin charged, cannot help but smile at one another.
On the grass, parents paint their children in multi-coloured zinc. They scream with delight. Benches and tables are teenage territory. Taking a break from the water, they eat meat pies or sausage rolls slathered in tomato sauce. With the wafting smell, I am suddenly ravenous — a childhood appetite never quite forgotten.
Laps completed, I sit on the steps, watching a woman gingerly enter the pool. She holds one hand to her stomach and uses the other to cling to the rail. I nearly say, “It isn’t cold. Just do it.” But something stops me — perhaps the lines etched hard into her face; or the sliver-grey hair above eyes that look too young for the rest of her. She inhales and plunges. On the tiles, I see she has prepared goggles and flippers. I notice she is putting on those goggles with one hand. The other, which I’d thought was clasped to her stomach because of the cold, is actually paralysed. Then she struggles to don her flippers and, with that same hand, takes up her kickboard and takes off.
Anyone who hadn’t seen her effort would have thought she was just another swimmer, headed for the deep end because she had nothing to fear.
Contact Yvonne at fradl[at]ozemail[dot]com[dot]au