Konch Magazine - Laps: From Defining Moments in the Life
Jack Aslanian
From: Defining Moments in the Life and Acquittals of Hekatombe O'Heay
Jack Aslanian
          She must have her exercise every day. Every morning — almost every morning, for sometimes she puts it off till the afternoon, she goes through the routine. She puts on her bathing suit — the bottoms only. She does not want untanned streaks across her shoulders and back. To keep strands from whipping around in front of her eyes she twists a rubber band around her short hair pulled back into a frayed tail. She puts on goggles — to keep the chlorinated water out of her eyes. She slips on a robe — so the neighbours won't see her walking topless across the back lawn. She winds the clock. She takes a towel — and the telephone on a long extension cord. She sets the clock next to the telephone on the diving board. She will swim at least two hours, but not much more.

          She plunges in. She is not conscious of the momentary chemical taste in her mouth. It is there, but no longer noticeable. She is habituated and expects it. Now, she would notice only its absence.
          She has declared that she could not do without her exercise; she feels most alive when she is swimming. It dissolves her tensions, cleanses her mind; and she becomes more alert. She has wanted him to understand. "It is so beautiful; it makes up for everything else. If only you could know."
          Her exercise time is hers. Friends have told her that they called and she was not in.
          “But I was home," she accuses. And pleads, "You should have rang again."
          Mesmerized by the rhythm of her movements she is insulated in her buoyant aquamarine world.
          He calls out to her: "It is the telephone, J...”
          He follows her glide smoothly through elliptical laps pulsed by an inner metronome, carving curves around the squared ends of the pool. Her torso remains underwater all the time. A patch of wet hair bobs in the surface. He sees her elbows alternately rising skywards out of the water, like dorsal fins of sharks. He has tried to understand what she feels and why she does it. And how he fits in.
          He watches her closely. Before and after her elbows assume their trenchant shapes, her cupped hands quickly, almost silently, slice out then back through the surface film. If he is not distracted, he hears the gentle shushing sound they make over the slapping noise of her feet. Or the telephone…
          "The phone is ringing. Shall I answer it?" More than once he has asked that always unanswered question without thinking, briefly forgetting where she puts the set.
          With every fourth kick, her face comes up for air. Now and then, skipping a stroke to tread water, she steals a quick look at the clock. He is unready for those passing exposures, and there is not enough time to catch her attention. He would like to ask her about the frigid flames she weaves, her gossamer web of light and water decorating the bottom of the pool. He thinks, “We breathe the same chlorine-tinged air; it is my time that’s running out.”
          He sits in his mechanical chair. His eyes wander to the night-blue darkness of the bottom of the pool against which he sees the golden lines drawn by sunshine passing through the ripples. Chose one, and try to find its beginning and end. There are so many, reeling rapidly, twisting past each other, intersecting, and disappearing.
          The kaleidoscopic shimmer makes him want to swim. There, he might forget his dependent and searching self, or perhaps her. But, he cannot. He has checked the box too many times, with furtive glances in which resignation, he expects, will some day begin to replace the despair, which has replaced hope. He knows it is useless to hope that the device has changed. It still is there, attached to the arm of the chair, with two short levers and no more than five choices: On, Off, "Forward," "Right," "Left," and centre for "Stop."
          His gaze becomes locked on one point on the bottom of the pool, waiting for a single bright line to linger there, fixed long enough for him to see it all and understand its secrets. For an instant he fools himself with an impossible notion: “Wouldn't it be nice if the lines became still?”
          The waves she makes keep bumping into each other. The smell of stirred pool organicide gets stronger, and the lapping sound of her drill keeps crashing like the surf over the lingering image of a sparkling face and the time long ago he heard it speak excitedly: saying for the first time, "You are so beautiful, my love, my baby."
          The phone rings again, and remains unanswered again. He tries one last time. He cries out, "J..., I am leaving."
          He lifts the towel she has left him holding for her. He dabs dry his face and the lachrymal beads on his lap. He tastes the salt of his tears. He does not know when, or if, he will become as habituated to them as she is to the chlorinated water, or if they ever will stop. He is not now thinking of the tears but of their reasons, a place and a person at once attractive and exclusive, and near but impossibly far.
          With the steel hooks that have replaced his hands he reaches for the levers. (He may not go forward now; but later.) Before he completes his turn and moves toward a long-needed breath of untinged air he stops. Hanging over the side, her towel has been dragging on a wheel. He fumbles. At last he manages to untangle it, and folds it neatly. And he nearly tips the chair over as he tries to lower the towel to a dry patch close to the edge of the pool, where the dampness of his tears would fade away before her two hours are up. He lets the towel drop. He has reviewed his options, and moves in the way he knows he should. She will think: But that’s all he could do. All he was to do… At last.