I’m not afraid of The Swimmer. I just do not like him. I think this is allowed. Art is fine, probably, but art should not exist in the bathroom. I am firm on this. Being firm on things is my interpretation of adulthood. I am thirteen in a month, and I need to start deciding what I think. There is a long list, but near the top: art does not belong in bathrooms.
At this age, people use the following words to describe me: spirited, driven, excitable. A decade of strain will eventually swell and split these words at the seams, spilling out intense, bossy and manic. But I am getting ahead of myself. At present, I am merely a child with a vivid imagination, and everyone has decided to ignore the worrisome parts.
Worrisome brings me back to The Swimmer. I asked if he had a name because I thought that might help me negotiate him. But I was given a firm, adult no.
May I give him a name?
No. That would ruin it.
I have an idea that The Swimmer might be further drawn to me if I continue my questions, so I give up. The carpet outside the bathroom is coarse and hard. If you rub the heels of your palms up and down fast enough, they start to burn. This is an important discovery for me, and a dangerous one. You can interact with the world without it interacting with you. You can throw yourself at walls and rely on their indifference.
I do wonder if The Swimmer is indifferent. I step onto the cool, blue floor of the bathroom, but only after I have made my feet burn on the carpet first. The shock of the cold tiles makes the buzzing in my brain lessen, though I am not yet aware of the connection. The Swimmer is in his usual position, a few inches to the right of the sink.
I am not afraid of The Swimmer, but I take a deep breath before facing him. I puff out my cheeks in mockery of him and wonder if my face will turn as blue as his.
On the subject—this is one of the reasons I distrust The Swimmer. He is blue everywhere. At least, everywhere I can see. He is only a metal bust—this word alarmed me, as it is also the measurement taken around my chest. His cheeks are swollen with one final, eternal breath. His skin is mottled blue, but so is his swimming cap. So are his goggles. Because of this, you cannot see his eyes.
Here I come to my issue with art in the bathroom: it is not a place you want to be aware of being seen. As soon as I watch The Swimmer, the possibility of him watching me—in any direction, as his blue-washed goggles disguise his gaze from me—crawls into my manic (sorry, excitable) brain. If I turn my back to shower, I have the odd feeling that my skin is creeping up on me. If I face him, my mind makes the connection between his bust and mine, and I want very much not to have a body at all.
The Swimmer does not have a body. I wonder if I envy him. Enough comments have been made by this point; I am aware of the gulf between how I see my body, and the meanings others can impose on it.
But The Swimmer. I am not afraid of him. Is he blue from holding his breath too long? Does he need someone to shove him beneath the bathroom counter, back into the dimension where his body must be hiding? The tiles have warmed beneath my feet, and I shuffle forward to find cool ground. The Swimmer is still holding his breath. I am still holding mine. A glance at my watch—waterproof—tells me it has been an hour. I become aware that puffing out my cheeks is not necessary; it is, in fact, a hindrance. So why does the swimmer? Is it for my benefit, to be certain I know he is on the verge of asphyxiation?
I want to tell The Swimmer that I am the best at holding my breath through tunnels, across bridges, and even the length of the swimming pool. But if I open my mouth I will lose. That is unthinkable. This has become a task of vital importance; like clenching your fists the exact same number of times when you enter the classroom; like making sure you go up the stairs left-foot-first as many times as right; like praying even though no one ever told you to and your mother is a Buddhist.
Apparently, I can’t pass out from holding my breath by choice. My body won’t allow it. Just like it won’t allow me to bite off my finger, even though it shouldn’t be any harder than chewing a carrot. I want to prove my body wrong. I want to prove to The Swimmer that I am more real than he is. He can hold his breath forever and remain frozen at that moment. I am real enough to die, and this thrills me in a way that should have warned people. But again: I am just imaginative. Creative. Precocious. Dramatic.
I stare at The Swimmer. I am unsure if he stares back. I am still holding my breath. I’ve missed lunch and dinner. Several adults have poked their noses into the bathroom and found nothing amiss. When I look down, the tips of my fingers are blue-gray. Another word for this colour is livid. I am not afraid of The Swimmer, but I do not like looking away from him. I quickly return my gaze to his livid lips. Even pursed and mashed together, they look like they are smirking. He will win. And then I will have to face him each time I want to wash. I sneak forward another step. I try to think of a way to outlast him. My pulse is pounding violently inside my cheeks. A high, thin, wailing sounds at the back of my skull. I take another step. I don’t remember turning the tap on, but the sink is overflowing. No one is coming to check.
I lean over The Swimmer, plant my hands on the edge of the counter. The warm wood is painful against my frozen fingers. The screaming in my skull goes up an octave. I am not afraid of The Swimmer, and his lips are not as cold as I expect when my mouth presses down. I hear a deafening swirl, like water draining from a bath. I push his rounded cheeks with my palms, surprised to feel them give. His lips shift, and water surges into my mouth, brackish and warm. I try to pull away, pull back, but my hands are welded to his face, his metal blue sliding up my arms too fast to fight.
My scream is silenced by the water taking over my lungs, and it feels as though my entire body has been rubbed up and down on that carpet. I lose sight of my limbs. I lose sight of everything. I am dragged through black silence.
Then stillness. An angry, blue tint shades my eyes. I cannot blink, but I can see.
The Swimmer stares down at me, pink-fleshed and dripping. The Swimmer has a body, after all. I reach out my hand—but no, I do not. I do not have one. The Swimmer releases his breath in a long sigh. It dries out my eyes, but I cannot move. His cheeks are slightly baggy, and his goggles are fogged so that his gaze still eludes me.
My lips prickle, my eyes smart, my lungs are full of water. It is fine. I am imaginative and excitable. I do not need to breathe.
I am not afraid of The Swimmer. I am livid.