The light drew him to the Pool. The surface shone in the sunlight – it seemed more than a reflection of the Sun. It was brilliant, but not blinding. The silvery light seemed to come from a life in the liquid itself. It was easy to look upon, relaxing and pleasing to the eye, inviting. It promised to feel good to the skin and to taste good, to be clean and pure.
He felt an impulse to go into the water. He was alone in one of the squares of green that you could come across unexpectedly in the old city, an urban oasis. Perhaps it was created to provide recreational space in their part of the concrete jungle for the estate dwellers.
This was a rare interlude in a busy life. An unexpected hour to kill in the middle of the Spring day after what had turned out to be a short visit to a colleague – he thought he’d investigate one of the narrow ginnels that he’d passed by many times. He felt drawn into this still, quiet peaceful space, a foil to the clamour of the traffic of the city, the press of people and the anxieties and stress of his mind. It was tortuous and rather overgrown, between elderly people’s flats, not really a good short cut. Once he was on the path the noise died away. Those who use such passages for drug use or other assignations seemed not to have discovered it. The ginnel opened out into this square bordered by con-crete walls so it was not overlooked. Just the grass, a few random per-ennial shrubs and the Pool.
“Am I going mad?” he had asked himself later, driving back to his world of routine and normality. “What did I do? Dived into in an urban pool!” He felt close to the edge of reality. He found his recollection of what had happened was vague. He was not sure how he came to be in the water. It seemed to shimmer hypnotically on the surface, a dazzling mirror. He could not clearly remember what he did. Any unseen onlooker would surely have called the police or a doctor.
What glorious liquid! Deliciously cool, but not cold. An amazing tactile sensation on the surface of the skin like a firm tingling, the sense of touch seemed enhanced. The hint of a pleasing fresh odour. Where the liquid entered the nose and mouth there was a gentle effervescence. The liquid penetrated his skin – this he experienced knowing it was not merely a fantasy, he actually felt it. There was a moment of acute anxiety at being invaded, taken over, but the effect of the liquid itself calmed him immediately and called him to let go and allow this to happen. Now all his senses were enhanced. The light had an extra sheen and clarity, a heightened awareness of the sense of touch, clearer hearing. He was aware of increased clarity of mind, an effortless concentration, more energy.
A sense of exhilaration and joy gave way to calm, a deep, satisfying sense of calm. More refreshed than he had ever felt before he eventually pulled himself out of the Pool, his hands on the grass for leverage. He now felt foolish and confused but knew that something had happened. What was this? Perhaps just his imagination, a peculiar set of circumstances triggering an unusual mental reaction. Or was he going mad, suffering delusions? Could it be some kind of rare natural phenomenon, a kind of healing spring such as ancient Romans and other civilizations used to frequent? He shook himself dry as best he could and used his couple of paper tissues. The attempt was necessarily imperfect, so his clothes were damp from his moist skin. This was still a good feeling, a sort of caress. As people can do when their understanding of the world is threatened, he sought the reassurance of his daily work with its comforting routine and tried not to think about his experience.
“Why is your hair wet, Don?” someone asked.
“Oh, I had a bit of time to kill. I went for a walk after meeting Andy Jacques and got rather hot and sweaty, I used the showers.”
His colleague still looked puzzled.
He talked to his wife as they were preparing the meal, to tell her he had discovered a pool in the city and taken a dip.
She looked at him “What did you say?”
“It was great, really refreshing.”
Then an uncomfortable silence; neither really knowing what to say, an awkwardness between them.
The heightened awareness of the senses stayed with him. He noticed landscapes, shades of green in the fields and copses, quality of light, also the smaller details – wild flowers, insects that he passed. He noticed too the shades of taste and smell and enjoyed their subtleties. Sometimes the increased sensitivity of emotions and clarity of thought could be quite uncomfortable and even a bit distressing. Outwardly, he was still the same as he had always been to his neighbours, family and friends, although if he tried to share these perceptions he ran into the same awkwardness.
After a week or two the effect of the immersion was less pronounced. He wanted to go to the Pool again but felt some anxiety and approached it rather fearfully. He chose the same time, a quiet time in the city’s hustle and bustle. Even so, he felt the same peace, a falling away of the noise, a relaxation of his muscles and of something deeper in his being as he entered the ginnel. He realized how much the city and its demands had made him who he was. He felt embarrassment, curiosity and excitement. The water (was it water?) was the same, held a sense of familiarity and recognition for him. He’d forgotten exactly how it felt.
He visited the Pool about once a month. He felt the human need to communicate his experience with people so that he didn’t feel furtive and secretive.
“There’s this pool you get to by a ginnel in Field’s Cross. It’s com-pletely natural, just made for a dip. I reckon it’ll be fed by an under-ground stream.”
This seemed to be one of those packages of information that are hard to process so barely even register in the listener’s mind, the reaction was a slight momentary lifting of facial muscles: “Oh, really?” However, a few colleagues would question him.
“Are you telling me you swam in a pool in Field’s Cross?”
Or, poking fun: “Have you taken to wandering down ginnels in your spare time?”
Generally, there was a growing feeling he had become a bit strange, maybe a mid-life crisis or something. He seemed to have become rather other-wordly as well.
The effect of the Pool became more pronounced and he noticed a change in his reactions to life’s challenges – a more relaxed, less immed-iate response. He felt a little alarmed. Was this some kind of depend-ence?
The Pool was entering into him. It was under his skin as well as in that grassy square in the city. It was the opposite of something dissolving; it was as if the Pool’s water was reforming in him. He was still Don, but he had a growing awareness of something there that he could draw on, a sense of greater possibilities.
He was growing more distant from people and felt their suspicions and distance from him. He did not feel in control of whatever was happening. Was he going mad?
The last time he visited the Pool it all happened quite quickly, but he was not alarmed, as if he really expected it. He felt the same falling away of the noise and movement of the world outside. In the water, the fluid was penetrating his skin. Then it was as if there was no longer an inside and an outside to his body, as if the liquid and the solid form were no longer separate. He felt like a tiny drop of water slipping into an ocean. He was no more, yet he was so much more.
* * * * * * *
Two hooded youths ventured down the ginnel one evening, killing time. They liked to get around the estate, being loosely associated by friendship and relationship with the local “crew”. The deliberate, rhythmical measured pace of those patrolling territory, verging on a swagger, a sense of ownership of the area. A perceptible clinging odour of stale cannabis shadowed their progress. They took an occasional swig at their beer cans. One jettisoned his crisp packet.
“Are there fish in that?”
Without realizing it, they refrained from going to the edge of the Pool. Perhaps its water seemed unnaturally still and dark, an almost frightening stillness.
* * * * * * *
He had been very late. She had decided to get the ironing done while she was waiting for him and this took on a feverish quality as she tried to distract herself from her growing restless uneasiness as she felt increasingly worried and then fearful. She needed to take action. No answer on his mobile. She called the Police. No record of an accident, so he became a Missing Person. Middle-aged teachers weren’t generally the profile, said the interviewing officer. They could get involved in altercations with youths, but there was no record.
It was a strange bereavement as he had just disappeared. Claire pined for him. She was comforted against the shock, the massive strangeness, disruption and dislocation of loss by her friends and family, by her sister who could share feelings from when her brother in law Jonathan died of cancer and faded away before their eyes. She went to meet her sister in the city. She really did not feel like it, but her sister was insistent. When she changed buses in the Field’s Cross area she felt a pang of intense grief, remembering this was a part of the city he came to for meetings he grumbled about having to attend these days. Unaccountably, she felt for a brief period there that all was well and as it should be.