Sea Change

By Hannah Allies

The pool is the shape of a bean—the colour of a tropical holiday magazine cover. The sign on the apartments behind me promises a sea view, but you would have to sit on the roof for this to be true.

I told my mother I wanted to swim. I was in her hands as she killed the engine in front of the deserted holiday park. I had hoped for the ocean, an art-deco lido. But the pool is next to the bins, overlooked by empty rooms.

My fingers, blue-white in the cold, poke out from the sleeves of my jumper. I strip down to my underpants, the concrete chill under my toes. The rain begins, fine, barely disturbing the surface of the pool. It drips from my eyebrows to my eyelashes. My nipples stick out above the smooth curve of my belly.

My mother is in the car, scarf and gloves still on, staring straight ahead. I can smell her perfume in my hair. This wasn’t her idea. She had asked me for the hundredth time: “What can I do to make you better?”

The air is thin and salty; it tires the tourists out. I left this place for ten years and barely looked back. To say whisked away is melodramatic. He drove me in his beat-up Nissan. We discussed international plans over roll-up cigarettes and cider in cans. But we never really left his flat, with its yellowing walls and rotting floorboards. When I broke the news it was clear I had overstayed my welcome. I left on the train, queasy as the grey city rushed by and lightheaded by the time I reached the shore.

This place is stiller than I remember. I’ve swapped the glare of flashing billboards for buoys barely fluorescent, waiting patiently for lobster. I want to gulp down the sleepiness around me.

The pool slurps as the water is recycled endlessly. The rain makes me shiver but it is not enough to rouse me. The numbness persists. My brain floating in its juice but failing to engage. My face is heavy on my skull.

I brace myself for the cold water, tensing. I shuffle to the edge. A hunger stirs inside me for the first time in weeks. The feeling blooms—small, but warm and soothing.

I step out into thin air, imagining cliff tops. It is all at once oblivion, every nerve electrified. Submerged, I drift to the bottom, sitting impossibly on the tiles. When I open my eyes, the blue seems limitless. I want to hold myself under but my lungs win. As I surface, I ache with lightness. The baby kicks in protest or with joy.

My mother stands at the edge of the pool with a towel clutched to her chest. I don’t know how long she has been watching. I do not let myself sink again—instead I tread water, my limbs incandescent. My laugh is a gull’s cry. My mother smiles for the first time in weeks, and as I swim, the world comes into focus.

Hannah is a writer who lives in East London, but is originally from the countryside. When she’s not writing stories she writes words for a children’s charity. She particularly likes writing about the sea and nature, and in her spare time eats and drinks her way around London. She likes to read everything from nature and travel writing to fantasy and thrillers.

Twitter: @hannahahahah