by Nancy Tingley

She slid into the water, no splashing, no shriek at the cold, her arms braced behind her, so she couldn’t stop herself, had to release, had to go in all the way, because she was at the deep end.

She wasn’t allowed. No one was. The sign said, swimming only 8 AM to 10 PM and it was 2 in the morning. She wasn’t drunk or stoned, she wasn’t suicidal or depressed, she just wanted her body wet and sleek as a seal’s. Wanted to float, cocooned in fluid. Wanted her body her own, not his.

She did the breaststroke. It was quieter than the others. Not the brash two-armed flap of the butterfly, the slap, slap of the crawl or the backstroke, which made even more noise than the crawl because your feet were kicking higher. That pull through the shoulders, hands cupped as she slid forward, her knees pulled up and that odd little thing she did with her ankles, double-jointed and giving her a little more thrust. It was her stroke, the breaststroke. Or that’s what her college coach had said.

Down she swam, one end and back, cupping her hands, flipping her feet.

In the morning, when she woke, he was gone. From the bed, she looked out the crack in the curtain, the sun already bright, the sound of other travelers loading their suitcases into their cars, getting drinks from the vending machine, filling their coolers with ice.

He was gone and she could catch a bus. The receptionist would know the schedule. Or she could go to the airport in the next town. Catch a flight home, or somewhere else, a new town, a new life. Before she could spin the fantasy further, she heard the card slide into the slot in the door, shut her eyes to the flood of light as the door swung in, opened them as the door slammed shut.

“A double mocha,” he said. “And lemon pound cake.”

She watched him, all the things she liked and feared, the powerful body, the permanent scowl, the eyes, hooded.

“You went for a swim.”

She raised up on her elbow, “How did you know?”

“The towel smelled like chlorine. You’re a regular little fish, aren’t you?”

She didn’t like his saying that. The insightful truth of it, and she pictured herself bright blue and yellow and glistening, darting in and out of grasses that waved with the currents, hiding.

He put the pound cake and mocha on the bedside table and sat in the single armchair. Stood up and opened the curtain, the light slanting through the blinds and striping everything, the bedspread that was floral, the carpet that was herringbone, the veneered table next to the armchair. The blades of light didn’t reach the bed.

“If I’m a fish, what are you?” she asked, touching the paper cup, letting the heat seep into her fingers, burning them.

“A shark,” he said. Two words spoken mindlessly as he pulled the paper from his muffin. A joke. But she felt the swish of his tail fin, felt his large shadow as he passed over her, saw his bared teeth gleaming above the grasses.

“I’m pregnant,” she blurted.

His muffin broke, a portion falling to the floor. “What?”

“I’m pregnant,” she repeated, hiking herself up on her pillow, finally picking up the mocha, which she shouldn’t drink, wouldn’t have drunk ten minutes ago. But now that she’d told him, she wanted it, wanted the beer she’d turned down the night before, the joint he’d pushed into her hand that she’d only pretended to smoke.

His normally bland expression skewed from shock to something she’d never seen. “I.”

“Do you think we would have a fish or a shark?”

“Wait a minute. You’re joking, right?” He’d forgotten the muffin he’d dropped, and when he leaned forward, shifted his feet, he ground it into the carpet.

“No.” She looked at the side of the cup. “This mocha is good. Some local coffee shop, huh. No Starbuck’s?”

He shook his head and she wasn’t sure if he was answering her or if he was trying to shake this new problem from his consciousness.

“I better get up.”

“We don’t have to hurry,” he said, clearly having trouble gathering in her words, finding his response.

“You okay?”

She nodded even though the coffee had landed in her stomach and sent it churning.
He seemed to sense the nausea that swept over her and grabbed the wastebasket, put it next to the bed, and as she bent over it, his hand gentle on her shoulder, she thought of a dolphin, casting its shadow over her, gliding through the water.

Nancy Tingley is new to writing short fiction, but in 2018 published flash fiction in Panoply, Moon Park Review, New Flash Fiction Review, and 3Elements. The crime short story, “If, If, If” is forthcoming in the anthology Fault Lines. Her Jenna Murphy Mystery series is published by Swallow Press, an imprint of Ohio University Press.