The Fast Lane

A heavy deftness, that can only be felt in autumn, hovered above the ground. Leaves rusted, curled and fell softly onto dew laden grass, paling below. Peter, who had now been up a good hour, watched the beginning of the end of another year from his bedroom window. Autumn had always been his favourite season. In particular, the crisp walks on crunching leaves with Margaret, followed by cosy pub lunches. Three years in January since she passed. He couldn’t tell if the time had gone fast or not. Peter looked at the clock – ten past five. Another fifty minutes until the leisure centre opened. His bag, filled with a pair of swimming trunks, swim cap, verruca sock, towel, and shower gel, had been packed the night before and left by the front door. He walked downstairs and washed up the pan he had cooked porridge in earlier, then made his way into the living room. He sat in his brown, leather, inclining chair, turning on the television using the remote. He briefly channel flicked, before going back to BBC One, settling on the news, although he didn’t really pay much attention; too busy transfixed on the photographs, on the wall to the left, of his swimming achievements over the years. He smiled fondly at a photograph of him and Eric after swimming the Channel, then a photograph of Margaret on their trip to Scarborough in ‘82. ‘Wasn’t bad, was I, old girl?’ He said aloud. ‘Not bad at all.’ Replied the memory.

At five-forty, Peter set off for the leisure centre. It was only a five-minute drive, and he knew he’d be waiting outside until the doors opened, but he couldn’t resist. The next hour or so would be his favourite of the day. At that time of the morning, there was only him and another chap, who’s name he’d never bothered asking, swimming in the fast lane. They never stuck to the rules of swimming clockwise, each splitting the lane in half so they couldn’t disturb the other. Afterwards he would sit in the cafe filling in the sudoku from the previous day’s paper, drinking coffee, eating a slice of flapjack, occasionally looking up and watching the elderly ladies perform water aerobics and the young, pert twenty-two-year-old instructor on the poolside.

At five-fifty-eight, Peter smeared the glass on the front doors with his cupped hands, blocking out the morning light reflections, looking for a member of staff who he hoped would be making their way to the entrance. He pulled the locked door, despite trying twice before. At one minute past six the doors were opened by a tired, uninterested looking member of staff. Peter, who had begun growing anxious by the queue forming behind him, walked through, questioning the nineteen-year-old’s tardiness. There wasn’t an answer. At the reception he swiped his card and said good morning to the woman behind the desk on her phone. There wasn’t an answer. Peter took his shoes and socks off at the entrance of the changing rooms and placed them neatly under a bench, walked through the doors, then back again, picking his shoes up and placing them under a different bench.

Once changed, he studied his verruca and picked at it a little, trying to determine whether it was now just a scar. Undecided, he decided to pull his verruca sock over his foot. At the poolside showers, he placed both hands either side of the push time-flow valve, letting the tepid water flow down his head and into his open mouth before spitting it out onto the blue tile wall. And repeated six times.

Finally, he made his way to the edge of the fast lane. He looked back toward the changing rooms looking for the man whose name he didn’t know. He couldn’t see him. He pulled on his swimming cap that tugged his old loose skin around his ears, causing him to wince. Once comfortable, he spat into each anti-fog coated lens of his goggles, bent down and rinsed them out before pulling them over his cap. He looked back at the giant clock on the wall with its red and black hand. Fifteen seconds until ten-past. Ten seconds. He felt nervous. He knew a time he wanted to complete these hundred lengths in. He wasn’t going to let his ageing body slow him down just yet. Five seconds. He turned, curling his toes over the side and dived in. Once submerged, he felt water run down one of his ears. He tried to shake it, making it worse. The sound reminded him of placing seashells to his ears whilst holidaying with Margaret. The memory pushed the annoyance of his blocked ear from his mind, as he surged to the deep end of the pool. Despite his early setback, he was soon finding his flow. One length after another quickly followed, thriving, having the whole lane to himself. He would never allow himself to look at the clock until he had completed his first ten lengths. He could hear the sounds of the other members swimming past him in the middle-lane. He knew many of them would be younger than him, and took immense pride knowing he was quicker than them. ‘Is that eight or nine lengths?’ He suddenly thought. ‘No, this must be my tenth. Come on old man, focus.’ As he powered towards the shallow end he looked up at the clock, noticing a young woman in a red swimming costume. He didn’t recognise her. A pang of anxiety hit him, followed by a flash of anger as he feared this woman could slow him down. On his twelfth length he could see the woman swimming clockwise towards him. This is not how it’s done in the fast lane. He and the man whose name he didn’t know had an understanding. This stupid woman had no idea. He decided to swim straight at her with everything he had. The woman, shocked, moved quickly to one side and treaded water, looking back as he torpedoed on. She looked up at the lifeguard sitting high in her tower, but was unsure if she had noticed. So continued gingerly. Peter, hoping the woman would have learnt quickly on how things were operated in the fast lane, continued at his pace. The anger he could feel seemed to spur him on. A few moments later, the woman still sticking to the clockwise route was forced, once more, to move out of the way of Peter, who was beginning to thrash like a Great White smelling blood. The woman stopped swimming and shouted up at the lifeguard, ‘Excuse me, are we not supposed to be swimming clockwise?’ ‘Yes you are’, replied the lifeguard, ‘It’s him that’s doing it wrong.’ The woman who was quickly beginning to feel aggrieved decided to stand her ground, refusing to be bullied by this swimmer. Soon enough, Peter came charging towards her once more. She refused to move; risking being hit. She closed her eyes as Peter came crashing into her. Peter stopped, pulled his goggles off and shouted, ‘Get out of the way you stupid woman. Can’t you see I’m swimming here.’ ‘Don’t you speak to me like that. The sign clearly states we should be swimming clockwise.’ The woman replied, clearly shocked by Peter’s outburst. ‘Well I don’t. I swim permanently up and down this half of the lane.’ ‘Well I’m sorry, but that’s wrong.’ ‘Get out of my way.’ Peter shouted. ‘No. Who do you think you are, speaking to me this way?’ Instead of replying, an incensed Peter pushed the woman out of the way and under the water. As Peter began swimming on, the woman, returning to the surface, caught her breath and shouted up to the lifeguard, ‘Did you just see that?’ The lifeguard immediately blew her whistle, which was ignored by Peter who was now back on course. Frantic whistle blowing commenced bringing the rest of the pool to a standstill as the other swimmers, some in shock, others excited by the drama, watched on. A large man of around six foot five, ducked under the dividers from the middle-lane and grabbed Peter. ‘What are you doing?’ Shouted Peter. ‘What are you doing more like?’ Replied the man, ‘You can’t behave like that, what’s the matter with you?’ What’s the matter with this idiot more like.’ Shouted Peter, pointing at the woman. ‘You, out of the pool.’ Shouted the lifeguard at Peter. ‘For what?’ ‘You pushed that woman over.’ ‘I didn’t touch her.’ Exclaimed Peter.’ ‘I just saw you.’ ‘I’m not getting out, I haven’t done anything wrong.’ ‘Sir, get out or you’ll be removed.’ ‘By who?’ ‘By me.’ Interrupted the man who was now restraining Peter by one of his wrists. ‘Ok, ok, listen,’ Peter said, trying to calm the situation, ‘there may have been a coming together, but let’s just forget it and move on.’ ‘Sir, I will not ask you again.’ Replied the lifeguard. The giant holding Peter’s wrist squeezed ever so slightly. ‘Ok, fine, I’ll get out.’ Replied Peter. The man released Peter’s wrist as Peter made his way to the metallic steps in the shallow end. He didn’t look up but could feel the rest of the pool staring at him. As he walked past the showers, he heard another woman shout out, ‘He’s done that to me before too.’ ‘Eww is that a verruca sock?’ Shouted a man coming from the slow lane.  

Back in the reception area, Peter slipped his shoes on with one hand whilst wiggling his blocked ear with his head tilted, with the other. Standing up, he saw the manager coming towards him. ‘Sir’, he began, ‘could you please come with me.’ ‘I don’t want to go anywhere with you.’ Replied Peter. ‘Fine. Well, you should know there are a lot of people who will shortly be writing complaints about you. There will also be a lot of people, including a member of our staff, writing statements about witnessing you assaulting a woman in the pool. I’m here to tell you that this is in no way acceptable, and that we are revoking your membership and you are no longer welcome here at this leisure centre. Do I make myself clear?’ Peter didn’t answer. He mustered half a nod whilst looking at the ground. The shame from his actions were beginning to build as a hot wave of lava washed over his brain, causing his face to redden.

Back inside his car, trying his best to push the uncomfortable truth of what had just occurred to the back of his thoughts, he wondered how to pass the rest of the day.

Published by Christopher Moore

Poems, short stories and gibberish. In no particular order.

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