by Zinnia Smith
Zinnia Smith's (she/her) work has been published in The Southampton Review, Slab, and East, amongst others. She won Fugue's 2018 writing contest in prose for her essay "American Girl," and has her MFA in creative writing from Stony Brook University. She works at Boston College Law School, and likes tequila and protest art.
At first, I was only curious. I went down to the bottom of the pool to see what it was like. It was like—it was like the first cry of a baby, a shattering. The blue was wonderful.
They sent my brother down first. What are you doing? he asked. I told him, I’m sitting at the bottom of the pool. But why? If you stayed a minute, you’d know, I said. My father came down next. He sat with me. Okay, he said after a couple of minutes. But come up now. Not yet. My brother swam back down. Zinnia, come up now. No, not yet. He swam off. I looked upwards to see the bubbles leave my nose, and watched them rise towards the ceiling lights above.
Up there, the water was like a shimmying mirror and in it the black lane tiles rocked side to side. The far end of the pool was bright, and everything was blue, even the white tiles at the bottom. They didn’t necessarily look like a brilliant blue, maybe even a cream color. It was like looking through blue glasses for the near-sighted—everything further away was bluer. With all the density at the bottom of the pool, it doesn’t feel like liquid at all. My ears popped.
My father sent down a tuna sandwich. I ate it while I watched the water, unmoving. Of course, it had to be moving somewhat, but it’s how things look down there—still. The lifeguards never bothered me. Eventually, they had to open the pool to the public again. I watched the swimmers move up and down the lanes. The lifeguards instructed them not to dive above me. They still used my lane, I wouldn’t have expected otherwise, that would have been asking too much. One day a lifeguard came down with a newspaper and showed it to me: POOL BUDDHA LIVES LIFE UNDERWATER. I wagged my finger. Terrible headline, I said.
Every ten minutes, a thing that looked like a subway grate erupted a geyser of tiny bubbles. I always hated the backstroke, and I disliked it even more from down there. Butts wiggling back and forth without stride. I counted the swimmers’ pulls. Breaststroke was my favorite: six if the swimmer was strong, upwards fifty if they were not. (Yes, I could tell when somebody peed, a detail you learn from living down there—there’s a small rush of liquid that’s just not the same.) Above me I could hear the water knocking about in the gutter. When I was bored I counted the chipped tiles.
I enjoyed most when the divers practiced, the teal diving board off to the right of my head. Their bodies looked like canon fire. Wow! Brilliant! I cheered. I gave them the thumbs up from where I sat. Children on the local swim team would clumsily kick their legs down to see me and wave, and I’d wave back. They swam up again for air and then came back down to make funny faces until their coach yelled at them to get going, and they would like they were supposed to. One time after a terrible race, a small boy without a bathing cap and black hair, came down and sat with me. I know, I said. I saw the whole thing. His mother came down to get him, and we all agreed it would get better with time.
The nights were quiet. The gutters went silent. Dark, but not black. I lost track of the minutes. Or the days. The geyser told me when things began and ended, but this is not the same thing as time.
My goggles started fogging up. The ceiling became that other ceiling—the mysterious ceiling above my ceiling of water. I started forgetting things. In my memories I could still see the objects: a tall and thin gold pole, standing vertical and blooming with a sloping luminescent flower. Then it was the people. Not the people whom I held dear, but the others. Their names vanished, but sometimes I felt that old achiness in my chest. If I blinked my eyelids, facing towards that glaucomic mist growing near the shallow end, eventually the hurt lessened, too. Everything was beautiful. I watched how the light floated in. The corners, the bluest. My peripherals saturated. My brother visited again. I get it, he admitted. He no longer asked if I would come home.
I shriveled. My fingers pruned so much they were like the mountainous ranges I once climbed above me in the hard world. The chlorine crystalized on my swimsuit. Even the color became confused. If I could only ever see one color, how could I recognize what it is from what it isn’t?
It would be nice to say the water saved me. To say the water healed me, but this is not how bodies work. This is not how my body works. So much of my writing is made up of nice and dishonest words. Words that deny I live in a disabled body.
It is not any more unrealistic or untrue to write about my life spent at the bottom of a pool. I wish I could tell you more, but none of it ever happens the way I say.