She stands at the glass wall looking in. Hand on the surface pearling, watching fog take shape around her fingers. Through the wall she sees a flutter of silhouettes, one of them her son. She knows him by the form of his back, the width of his shoulders, the curl of his spine. Beyond him the pool steams under warm fluorescent lights. Outside, elsewhere, it is Winter. She can feel the cold coming in, lapping at her neck. Perhaps from some adjacent door.
There is a blonde woman beside her cupping her hands to the glass and looking in. She stays that way for minutes at a time, surfaces for a moment, then reassumes. There is another woman behind her, the one with the sad voice, who speaks without reply.
Your son is a good swimmer.
Her voice thins out among the shimmering cries of children.
The woman watches her son plunge from the edge of the pool. She can tell it is him by the way he straightens his back before diving. A good swimmer. Once in the summer she'd taught him the breast stroke in their backyard pool. Split the water like parting seas, breathe out from your mouth. He'd learned many things quick but never the ability to float on his back.
Just drain your chest of air, let your body go limp.
She'd watch him splash restlessly until he was moving enough to dissuade himself of drowning.
Your son is a fast swimmer.
He'd always been that way. Opposite the wall she hears the dull of his bones breaking still water. The perpetual forwardness of his form. It reminds her of sleepless nights, hard coughing, his love of running.
The blonde woman begins to tap her fingers on the glass. She does this each day, at the intersession of every lesson. Hard fast raps. In their rhythm they read like language. Some kind of voiceless speaking. Once perhaps it bothered the woman but now it alerts her, perks her waning gaze. Faceless shapes assume the edge of the pool, poised in synchrony to dive. Among them she can see her son. The one with the rigid spine.
In a moment he will dive, do a few laps to the end of the pool and back. One of breast stroke, one of butterfly, one of free style. He will, of course, emerge first from the water. Wincing lungs, doubled over breathlessly. The other children will follow far after. Then will come the diving test, which he will pass, then the breath test, of which he will be pardoned on account of his heavy lungs.
Then will come the treading. The children will be told to wait in the water for a minute, motionless. The boy dreads this.
Your son has trouble relaxing.
The woman knows. The boy tells her that without deep breathing his lungs feel small, that they stiffen, grown thick on his bones. The children move in unison to the deep end of the pool. They are shadows spreading small rings of disturbance. The one making patternless waves is her son. The one of most unease. Soon the waves fall slowly into whispers and the shadows go still. She can no longer tell which one is him. Maybe today he will pass, let his body sleep and they will both think of things beyond death.
Your son has trouble breathing.
The sad woman's voice is small and cold like Winter coming in. She thinks of summer. Out on the pool deck drinking from fogged glass, watching the boy paddle like dog. She thinks of thin, colorless air, sees him lying there belly up in the water. His eyes are easy. His skin glistens like the cut-edge of galaxies. Whole worlds revolving without break. Perhaps they slow for a moment and she sits in the shade finding unfamiliarity in the quiet.
Jake Deluca is a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis studying architecture and writing. He enjoys psychological, strange fiction with a poetic bent. He hopes to one day write and illustrate books of his own.