Published on July 18th, 2013 | by Mallory Nezam0
Home is Home
The fluorescent light bore down but had a way of beating off her skin like daylight. The way her son put it, she could turn anything around.
She built her empire in the water, of the water. She knew her empire was her skin and bones. The extent of her story she carried on her back; it’s what went with her through the water. It was heavy in the air, but light when she was submerged.
In her fuchsia and black swimsuit she held, floating on her back, a post-swim ritual. If you were looking from the sky she would look dead to you, her eyes closed and her palms resting upward.
As he watched her swim, he — the perfect student — found himself forgetting about his math homework.
“Lisette, honey.” Lisette slowly opened her eyes. “It’s time to go home,” the strapping lifeguard said, holding his floatation devices this way and that. Lisette blinked as her vision slowly settled into his face. “Where to?” she joked and reached for his hands.
Home was home. It was where Lisette put up her swim cap, where she slept for a few hours a night, where she got her mail, took her pills. Nothing more.
In her earlier life, Lisette had been an international businesswoman. She sold subsidized supplies to NGOs. Her work took her all over the world, and her children had a hard time tracking her down. When Sherry passed away it was even harder. Sherry had been the messenger, the graspable thing when their mother was like air. If Lisette was like air, Sherry was like earth.
Lisette walked her usual 7 blocks to the swimming pool at 6 am, well before the public hours started. She would go early and watch the swim team practice. “Like music,” Lisette would tell whomever happened to be working that day. Sometimes she’d move her hands as if she were conducting.
Then Lisette would suit up and be the first one in. She began with breaststroke, then a fast freestyle where she sailed through the water like a bullet, 2 laps of butterfly, back to freestyle, and then 5 full minutes of back stroke.
Lisette feels that the water peels away at her, shedding off the layers of her life, its weight, its obscurities. When she gets out of the pool, it’s a clearer picture; she is lighter.
The strapping young lifeguard was explaining this to his young trainee who sat nearby with a confused look on his face. “And when she ends her practice she just floats there..like..like it’s going to go on forever.” He glanced at Lisette who was concluding her backstroke. “So most of the time you have to go over there and let her know the pool’s closing.” The trainee looked at him with his mouth open. “It’s not so hard,” the handsome guard explained and turned back to his empire.
“You’re, like, in love with that old lady?” the trainee exclaimed.
“What? No,” the guard responded, sitting up taller. “I’m just explaining to you what it’s like. You’ve got to understand these things if you’re going to work here.”
“Yeah, right,” said the younger boy. He got up and walked to the locker room.
The lifeguard moved back to Lisette who was turned on her back, looking soft as ever. He crossed his arms and then relaxed into his chair.
“I’m just sort of enjoying things. I don’t know how else to explain it,” she said when the handsome boy asked her age.
Listette wore a braid that cascaded down her back. She let it stay long even when she swam. The kind of woman who was unaware of things like that.
She had put the same concentration of the business of her life prior, into her new, self-proclaimed duty at the pool. Her children still couldn’t get a hold of her, but at least they knew where she was most days.
One day her son’s family had come rushing to the pool at emergent speed to tell her the news that someone had broken into her house – they had gotten a call from the neighbors. Lisette kindly asked them to step off of the pool deck in their tennis shoes, and to lower their voices as she floated.
There were only a few things that Lisette had ever given herself to. That had been Sherry, and now this.
“I guess I don’t really know what you mean. I thought you’d just say you’re 83 or 67 or something. That’s what people usually — That’s just what I was–” He sighed. “I was expecting something different.”
“Okay, well, goodnight dear.” Lisette turned for the door and headed out with her flip-flops squishing into the floor as she walked. As she held the door handle she turned back to him. “I think tomorrow I will show you how to float.”
The pretty boy packed up his gear and mounted his bike. At home he studied as hard as he could and did everything right. He did his extra credit homework, took the dog for a walk, tutored his neighbor. On his bed that night, he lay, pretending to be floating. The boy didn’t know if he was supposed to be thinking of Lisette, or God, or dying.
The next day Lisette arrived with a flower in her hair. A little purple one she had picked from a stranger’s garden. In the water she was faster than all the other swimmers. She glided through the water like a home. Like lap 4 was taking out the garbage, like the turn was changing the linens. She came to her finale and waved the lifeguard over.
“Get on your back, like this.” She showed him and he slipped into the pool, leaving his flotation device behind. He lifted his legs up and let his body relax. “That’s it,” Lisette said from beside him. “Now, close your eyes.”
The guard nervously looked around and then pressed his eyelids together. They floated in silence, the occasional splash of a lap swimmer moving at the wall.
“What do you see?” Lisette asked. The water tapped at the sides of the pool. “I always think of my ex-wife at the beginning. I think of Sherry.” The boy got a splash of water in his mouth and coughed. “You’re all right,” she said. He looked at her. “Sherry with the long hands..”
The boy went back to his practice, repositioning his figure lightly atop the rocking tide. This time he let his eyes drift shut on their own and he reached for Lisette’s hand. After a while the water slowed around them as the swimmers started leaving the pool.
“I get it,” he said, bursting open his eyes. “Time stops. It’s like time and everything stops.”
Peacefully, Lisette responded, still floating. “Oh, no. No, no. Time doesn’t stop. Not like that. Time never stops.”
She imagined her life floating up and the rock of her body sinking to the bottom of the pool. And this is how she stayed in the middle. The boy tried to ration out the physics of time never stopping, and in what dimension Lisette was referring, and then he would tell himself to get back to what he was doing, and he looked at Lisette, and he let his eyes become glossy. He still moved between floating, and sinking.