The Aquatist At Rest
Robert, a clean-shaven young man of medium height and build, wearing his beige Speedo cap, red briefs and orange goggles, stands at the tiled lip of the indoor pool. He surveys its standard Olympic length and width, the underwater blue stripes, which define its watery lanes. He inhales. Exhales. Bend at the knee, curls his toes to the tiles, arches his arms above his head, dives in.
At impact a momentary cold sting blankets his body, there is an absence of sound; he glides forward, a necklace of bubbles escapes from his mouth, his head breaks the water’s surface, his vigorous legs begin their rapid kick, his arms, with lives of their own, lift, arc, plunge downward, pull back, repeat the cycle. With syncopated regularity, he plows muscular strokes, his long legs pick up speed, churn white water, his capped head rises, his goggled face appears, his lungs grab air, his face vanishes. The ritual of laps has begun.
Robert makes the turns clean and quick. He tucks, rolls, pivots, pushes off, never losing his pace. Ten laps pass without incident. Twenty. But on lap twenty-five he abruptly stops. He has never done that before. Not once in ten years. But at this moment, mid pool, standing waist deep in the clear water, he instinctively feels something is not right.
Off come the goggles. Off comes the snug fitting beige cap. Robert flexes
his manly arms, his powerful thighs, pushes down on his splendid feet, rotates his
athletic neck clockwise, then counter clockwise. And that is when he sees it.
A small raised welt beneath his left pectoral. He touches the bump with his fingertips.
A minor blemish, he thinks, nothing of consequence. Perhaps it’s the chlorine.
Perhaps he scratched himself last night while sleeping. Still, something worries him.
Robert is the only person in the pool, but its quiet. Too quiet. He looks about. Nothing seems out of the ordinary. He places his hands on his hips. Furrows his dripping brows. Listens for the ever present ambient sound. Then grasps at the realization that the central force of his athletic life, the ultimate object of all his exercise, the most significant muscle in his well toned body, is silent. He warily checks his pulse. He has no pulse. He softly presses one finger to his temple, waits for the familiar thumpity-thump. But there is no thump. Robert has fear. He turns pale. His breathing turns shallow. Quickly, he places his hand over the bruise on his chest. No sign of life. He can’t believe it. Is he dreaming? Is this an unruly nightmare from which he will soon wake up? He wets his hands. Slaps his cheeks with the flat of his palms. Rechecks the welt. Staves off panic, the urge to yell, scream, shout for help by clenching his jaw as tight as he can. It’s impossible, he tells himself. Impossible.
Robert scans the pool's artificial horizon, up and down, then side to side.
He repeats the process three times. There, yes there, at the end of Row 12,
serenely bobbing up and down, floating like an unfettered buoy, lay his heart.
The crimson organ is somewhat pear shaped. Somewhat glutinous. Its pulsing
blood vessels expand and contract in perfect cardio-clockwork. Its four chambers,
clearly visible, dimple outwards and inwards, in ventricular harmony. The happy
heart, for that is the impression it makes, suddenly dunks itself underwater.
Moments later bobs up, now sprouting a complete well defined arms and legs.
There is even a tattoo of a heart on its right bicep. Reclining on its back,
the heart spits a stream of water into the air, paddles its legs, lifts its
arms up, slaps them down, performs a credible backstroke, swims underwater a
good ten yards and back before coming up for air.
These sights stagger Robert. His once stalwart knees buckle, he flounders in shallow water, manages to stand up. How long has he been without his heart? Two minutes? Three? A man can live without oxygen for at best ten minutes. Then his brain will shut down and his organs will fail and he will die. Panic sets in. Robert begins to sweat. He trembles. Breathes in sharp irregular gulps. Scenes from life passes before him: a man in a parched cornfield sitting on tractor, blue puffs of diesel smoke, the sound of the engine; his high school girlfriend, brunette hair, dark eyes, the scent of her perfume, the touch of her hand, their first succulent kiss. He shivers awake from the reverie. What of his present livelihood, his home, his marriage? What will his wife and children do without him? All are at stake. Robert must think clearly and act quickly. He has one chance, one only, to save himself. He must be firm. He must be decisive.
So as not frighten his heart, so as not to scare it away, Robert walks calmly forward, the only sound, that of the water lightly splashing against his knees, that of the water kicked by his happy heart. With ten yards between them, Robert takes a measured deep breath, then makes his calculated move.
“Here, kitty, kitty,” he says. “Here, kitty, kitty.”
But the heart declines the invitation to reunite. It flips on its belly, rights itself, does a fine breast stroke for three laps. At pool’s edge it bobs up and down, then unfurls its aorta, wags it back and forth as if to say, “I told you...”
“Please,” begs Robert. “Please come back. What have I ever done to hurt you? Haven’t I always treated you well?”
To signify its disdain the heart plunges underwater. When it re-emerges, there is a slight popping sound; a long lashed eye appears on the left ventricle. Pop! A second long lashed eye appears on the right. A series of thumps and crackles produce an aquiline nose, fine flat ears, a ruby red mouth. The heart with a face begins to talk.
“He loves me. He loves me not,” it says. “He loves me. He...”
Before the next repetition, Robert erupts in ventricular song: “I do love you!” he sings. “I adore you. I need you. Don’t leave me. Please, come back!”
Even before the last words jet from his mouth Robert is multiply slapped by an invisible hand across his buttocks. Slap! Slap! Slap! He is lifted out of the water, some phantom thing tugs at his heels, he is upended, sails across the entire length of the pool, is plunged to the cold, cold bottom, rockets into the air, falls back into the water, passes out, wakes at pool side.
Robert shakes his head, runs his hand through his hair. Takes a deep breath. Checks his pulse. Presses his fingertips to his temple. Places the flat of his palm to his left pectoral. A broad grin washes across his brightening face.
“I LOVE YOU,” he shouts. “I LOVE YOU.”
This happy man, this reborn swimmer, stands up, walks to the locker room, showers, gets dressed, and is seen to be smiling all the way home.
©2007 by Marc Levy