Swimming, my arms slice through the water, one arm, and then the next. Over and over. My fingers are held firmly together, and pointed, like the head of a spear. My shoulders swivel from side to side, twisting my torso. My muscles are like pulled taffy, pliable, twisting, elastic. A continuous flow of power – an electric current of physical, bodily, energy – courses through my legs. They are scissors cutting the water. My feet are fins, paddles, webbed-like, kicking and churning up the water, leaving a continuous splashed trail of bubbles in my wake. The water is cool. It slides over the smoothness of my flesh. I shed it like ever-changing layers of liquid skin.
At times I stop to play, to frolic. Beneath the surface I do somersaults, spins, twists and turns. I am a dolphin, an otter. I am buoyant; my body at times an inflatable toy suspended and submerged in liquid. I descend like a rock and ascend like a missile. I flap my arms, remaining in place like a jellyfish, like a hummingbird. The sounds of my underwater movements are muffled in my ears, at times the loud echoes of exploding bubbles, splashes and currents, and other times like that of the sound of butterflies landing on cotton balls.
In the absence of fish or other swimmers I swim alone. Being in water is sometimes a lonely place to be. At other times it is an escape into splendor.
I climb out of the pool, carrying the smell of chlorine with me, and stand on the cold tiles and remember Montevideo.
A balmy breeze drifts across the Rambla. A constant flow of pedestrians crowd the longest continuous sidewalk in the world that runs along the beach, the two separated by a low wall. This wall that I sit on. Beyond the brackish water of the Rio De La Plata lies the dark green water of the Atlantic Ocean, the river and sea divided by an act of nature; an estuary. The overhead sun is cooking my skin to caramel brown as rivulets of sweat run down my bare back. That same sunlight makes the water sparkle as if a million shards of floating glass were reflecting the sun’s rays. What is spoken here is Spanish, and the words rise from the throng of passersby with no more meaning than the buzzing of insects. I know only a few words and phrases of that language.
Seagulls circle and swoop above the crowded beach, their screeches penetrating the din of voices from the people laying on towels and sitting under large multicolored umbrellas. I am a stranger among a thousand other strangers.
A cargo ship stacked with rust colored containers crosses the horizon.
A young woman in a striped red and white flowing skirt and wearing a broad rimmed straw hat sits down near me. “Hola,” she says when she catches me staring at her.
“Hello,” I say.
“Are you from Uruguay?” she says in perfect English.
“No, I’m here on business.”
“I’m not from here either,” she says. “I’m here by myself.”
“I wonder what are the statistical odds of two foreigners meeting so randomly on this wall like we have?” she says.
I smile, and turn to see that the cargo ship is no longer in sight.
“My name is Donna,” she says, reaching out her hand.
My wife, Janelle, is sick. The chemotherapy has drained her of energy and she’s nauseous. She lays in bed, a spent version of her former self, like a discarded Barbie doll with a bald head and without one breast. I don’t think it’s her life as it was that she misses, it’s her beauty.
“You smell like the pool,” she says as I lean across the bed and kiss her on her ashen gray forehead. “Did you have a good swim?”
I’m instantly aware that my swimming reminds her that my body works in ways that hers no longer does. I pull back, conscious of the aroma of chlorine that wafts from my flesh.
“I’m sorry. I should have showered at the gym,” I say.
She closes her eyes and for a brief moment I wonder if it’s to shut me out or to hide her despair.
“Do you need the pain medication?” I ask.
Her eyes open and fix on my face. I can feel the tan on my skin.
“No,” she says. “Tell me again about your time in Montevideo.”
I sit on the edge of the bed. “There’s not much more to tell you. I spent most of my free time in my apartment.”
In Montevideo, sitting at the small writing table by the open living room window, the fragrance of sea water is like a subtle perfume. I purchased the table at an antique store nearby, the only piece of furniture that is mine in this furnished apartment. The wood is so polished I can see my reflection in it. The table top has an inlaid design of starfish and sea horses. My laptop is on the table, its screen glowing brightly. There’s an email from Janelle.
It reads, “Urgent you call me as soon as you get this email.”
Probably a hair or makeup emergency, I think.
Donna comes out of the bedroom. She’s wearing beige shorts, a white blouse and sandals and has her straw hat in her hands. Her toenails are painted the same color green as the ocean.
“Let’s take a walk on the Rambla while the sun is still up,” she says.
I close the laptop, get up from the table and cross the room to where Donna is standing. Her perfume reminds me of honeysuckle. I take her in my arms and kiss her, passionately.
Pulling away from me, she says, “If I didn’t know better I’d say you’ve fallen in love with me.”
I’ve always thought some things were better left unsaid.
I take her hand and together we leave the apartment, take the elevator to the first floor and leave the building. Calle Juan Maria Perez is much like many of the other streets in the Pocitos area of Montevideo. It’s lined with tall apartment buildings and leads to the Rambla, less than a block away.
“Do you want me to come home?” I say into the cellphone.
“You don’t have to, not yet,” Janelle says. “They are going to start the chemo right away but I’d like you here when they do the mastectomy.” Her voice catches; she’s holding back from crying.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner about the cancer?” I ask.
“I didn’t want to spoil your time in Montevideo,” she says.
I look out the window, at the white stars splattered across the night sky. I then look at Donna who is stretched out naked on the sofa like the woman in the painting, La maja desnuda by Goya.
“When it starts getting bad I’m not going to be one of those people,” Janelle says.
“The people who bravely fight through their cancer treatment.” she says. “When it comes down to it, I’m not a brave person.”
With the silt stirred up around us in the Rio De La Plata, Donna and I swim around each other like circling sharks. She has her hair pulled back and tied into a pony tail which accentuates her high cheek bones. In the strong sunlight she bears a strong resemblance to Janelle. We’re far out from the beach, further out than anyone else.
“I’ll leave my wife,” I say.
“Don’t be silly,” she says. “If you left your wife while she’s sick I’d despise you for it.”
“I can’t leave you behind,” I say. “I’m in love with you.” It had to be said.
“For now, maybe you are, but some day I’ll just be a woman you had an affair with in Montevideo.”
Today, Janelle was told she would lose her battle with cancer.
My lungs ache, burn, as if stuffed with hot coals. My arms are heavy, weighed down by invisible rocks. My legs feel disjointed, broken. I’ve lost the rhythm of swimming. Unable to correctly coordinate the movement of my body through the water, each lap I swim feels like ten. I climb out of the pool and try to catch my breath.
Something is gone that I fear I’ll never get back. The splendor of a swim.
The locker room is damp and hot. It has the vague scent of decaying plants. It’s like the rain forest. At my locker I remove my trunks and wrap a white towel around my waist and walk to the shower. Under the steaming hot water I try to wash the smell of chlorine from my skin.
I try to scrub from my body the memory of Donna and Montevideo.
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 200 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. He has two collections of short stories that have been published; Sand, published by Clarendon House Publications, and Heat, published by Czykmate Productions. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Twitter @carrsteven960. His website is https//www.stevecarr960.com.