Learning to Swim

Julie Abbott had fallen in. The pool was packed with wet, white bodies like a bucket of angler’s maggots and she’d fallen, slithered on the bottom and choked on the piss-polluted water. Hands soon found her tummy and took advantage of her vulnerability to let fingers rove into the elastic of her yellow shirred cotton costume, tweaking it, fumbling and pulling it aside to invade her in the chlorinated wet. She struggled but was grabbed by a constrictor arm so firmly that the other was free to carry out its rotten work. Her head was thrust clear of the surface but her body was ground hard onto a solid seat of muscled thigh, her first inhalation was of cider tinged breath through teeth that seemed wonky to her stinging eyes. In the midst of the raucous din she heard her friend’s worried voice,

‘Jules, Jules are you okay?’

Julie was released abruptly, her pseudo rescuer vanished into the throng leaving her snorting a mix of pool water and mucous back out of her nose and with a confused sense that something strange had happened.

‘I’m getting out Carol’, she coughed, ‘I feel a bit sick cos I’ve swallowed some water and grazed my knees on the bottom, I’ll see you in a bit’.

That was Julie’s first attempt at swimming in the City baths and several pubertal years passed before she returned. As a fourteen year old she was a pupil at a girl’s grammar school who ordained that everyone should achieve at least a grey swimming certificate. She had a vague unease that she couldn’t quite account for, but it was strong enough for her to plead menstruation for three weeks in a row and get away with it. For those three weeks she had sat on the balcony to watch, but that day for the first time she was alone. She heard the groan of the stair door closing, thought it was another girl skiving off and didn’t even raise her head from her comic when someone sat beside her. When a male voice said,

‘Fancy a kiss?’ her skin prickled like nettles and she turned and looked into the eyes that had appeared in her sleep many times. In a flash she understood, she knew at last what had happened all those years ago, there was no doubt.

He grinned, exposing a furred tongue that flicked downwards towards the folds of his chin, Julie’s belly churned and her vision distorted with images of nearly drowning mixed with a real fear of the man beside her.

‘Go away I’ll tell’, she tried to shout but it came out as a croak that ebbed away under his hog laugh,

‘Ha ha ha, what? I saved you, you would have drowned! Bet you’ve never been kissed, come on you’ll like it, have a try’. He was right, most of her friends had boyfriends, and Mandy Davey had gone all the way. Her memory had been of someone old . . . but . . . he wasn’t really was he . . .?

‘How old are you now then, sixteen? Sweet sixteen and never been kissed? I’m twenty four’, he must have read her mind. ‘I’ll buy you some chips and a cola float at Wimpy after or come back to mine for a gin, my flat mate’s away it’ll be just us’. She decided that maybe he wasn’t so bad. As he reached out to grab her she noticed ginger curls on the side of his hands, she thought it strange that he had soft hands and not the rough arms of her nightmares. And then his mouth was on her, he swallowed her with a gob so wet she felt she was dissolving in his spit. She wriggled but had no strength compared to his toned swimmer’s biceps, she couldn’t breathe and his tongue was deep in her throat. With his hands tugging her blouse, she remembered the same feeling of breathlessness in her nights of fantasy with a pillow, a Jackie mag and her David Essex posters.

Something happened down there inside her, she was aware that she was making a noise but it was muffled with the splashing of normality and the lifeguard’s whistle. He pushed her, fingers probed where they’d never been and weren’t meant to go, it hurt. Panting she pushed back harder.

‘Stop, stop, hold on a minute I’ve got to meet my friend or she’ll come looking, I’ll come back.’

‘What come to my place? Good girl I’ll look after you, you’ll see, be as quick as you can.’