It wasn't really a pool. It was more of a huge wet sheet level with the matted grass, but it was so dark that you couldn't really tell the ground from the water. Then, I heard a scream in the distance, so I rushed to see who it was, and that's when I fell in. It felt like I had made a few steps on the glossy surface before I was noiselessly swallowed.
I woke up drenched in sweat. My flimsy nightie was soaked, and the bedsheets were darkened with moisture. I struggled to find my arms and sat up, chest heaving and eyes bulging.
The next morning, I sat on the tube, eyes half closed, holding my breath against the stench of sweat and stuffiness while listening to a modern dating podcast. If I understood the two ladies right, you had to be your genuine self when dating, but you also had to be your best self. Like constantly. All the time. Well, if I'm my best self, then I'm not really myself. Go figure! Also, what if my best self was still a horrible self? Or what if my perfect best self slipped while I wasn't looking? When I got comfortable? Then what?
I pulled my shoulders back, put on my sweet smile and walked into the office.
Before I even logged into my laptop, Maria slid by my desk and said in her singsong voice, "Remember, those excel sheets are due in ..." she checked her watch, "... one hour and thirty minutes." She smiled and left. I looked around to see if anyone saw what had just happened. What the hell was that? Marjorie gave me her "calm down" smile from across the room.
That evening, I made myself a salad with goat cheese, walnuts and watermelon. Trying eat more healthily. I ate it while watching a news report on the current drought that was taking the UK by storm. The situation was becoming more and more dire. We were advised to wash our cars with a sponge and damp cloth, turn off our sprinklers and stop using garden hoses until things got better.
After brushing my teeth, flossing, and massaging my night serum into my skin, I went to bed. It felt good to watch more serious things than Bridgerton. I mean, Bridgerton will always be there.
I went into bed hoping for a better night's sleep. I practised my breathing techniques: eight counts in, pause, eight out. Within minutes, I was gone. But then, there I was again at the edge of the water sheet. It was a moonless, starless night. The air was still and you couldn't tell the concrete from the unmoving water. I was frozen in my place, barefoot and naked, all alone but felt like the entire world was watching me. Judging me. What? I submitted those excel sheets right on time, didn't I? Were there mistakes? Well, there's nothing that can't be fixed. I was addressing everyone and no one, but no words came out. It felt like there was a mop stuck in my throat.
Then Maria materialised behind me. And, while still smiling, tapped me on the back with one bejewelled finger. Like a petrified figure, I tipped forward and fell into the darkness. No splash, no whoosh. Just wet darkness. I flailed with all my might, kicking my feet trying to push myself up, trying to scream. Nothing. Nothing until I woke covered in sweat. I wasn't sure if that which covered my face and pillow was just sweat or a mixture of salty sweat and terrified tears.
The next day was a Saturday and mum would not let me cancel our lunch plans. I was exhausted but thought that lying in bed, even if just scrolling through social media, might help relax my aching body and mind.
Mum and I met outside the new cafe that promised healthy smoothies and low-carb bagels. The few minutes I waited in the sun turned me into a perspiring mess; what a waste of a new sundress!
"Geez, what's happening to the prices!" I gulped, looking at the menu.
"Inflation, baby!" said my less concerned mother, without looking up from her menu.
"Look at you, bougie lady!" I joked, still dreading the dent in my wallet this would cause. It was my turn to pay for our meal.
"You know," she paused and looked at me sheepishly, "you can always come home and I'll make you better food than this!"
"Mum!" I put the menu down in irritation, "do we have to talk about this every time we meet?"
"No, we don't," she said quietly, "but I think it's time to let bygones be bygones."
After the mediocre, shamelessly expensive lunch, I pondered for a minute whether it was better to walk in the scorching sun or sit on the stifling tube. I opted for the walk hoping to finally please my watch that never seemed to reach its ten thousand steps and tiring myself enough to fall asleep and stay asleep. Perhaps even be too tired to dream.
When I got home, I put the kettle on and briefly thought about whether I should clean the flat or watch some Netflix. Who was I kidding? Netflix would've probably won even if I wasn't drained and depleted like the world around me.
Halfway through a series marathon, I fell asleep. Not sure how long I was out for before I was back in the garden of our first home in Sutton. It was so bright that I couldn't really make out the surroundings and who was there with me. I was riding the bike my parents had got me for my fifth birthday. I couldn't see it, but I knew it was my bright red bike with handlebar streamers. I started off slow and wobbly while my family, who I heard but couldn't see, cheered me on. My legs grew steadier, and I biked a little faster with a shaky smile of pride and a sense of achievement forming on my quivering lips. The cheering got louder, urging me to go faster, but the sun was right in my eye and it felt like I was cycling in a bubble of white light, terrified that I might crash into the garden wall or the thorny rose bush I knew must have been there somewhere. Mum, my brother Garry and my grandparents suddenly stopped clapping and cheering and I slowed down to look behind me, but my dad's deep voice kept getting louder and louder, "Go, Kat! Faster, harder, don't stop!"
I felt my legs burning with exhaustion and tears forming in my eyes, but I swallowed them. Dad hated tears. I pressed on. Until I fell into the water.
The bike lost me and drifted away, the colourful streamers reaching for me as if they didn't want to give up on me. But I had no time for that; I had to find my way out of the water before it filled my constricting lungs. I pumped and pumped feeling the helmet strap tightening around my throat. I flailed and kicked and opened and closed my mouth, unable to call for help. Did they not see me go under?
I only heard my dad's muffled voice, "I told you she couldn't do it!" My heart sank.
Suddenly, his mighty hand grabbed my shirt and pulled me up and out and I gasped for air clutching my neck, and opened my eyes.
I sat up on the couch hugging my knees, staring at the shameful question on my TV: Continue watching? I reached for the remote, turned off the TV and stared at the black void it became. A terrified little girl with matted hair and a dripping chin looked back. What was going on? Is it this unbearable heat? The relentless sun invading the room? Is it something I've been eating? What's with all this water, and why can't it leave me alone?
On Sunday, I made a last-minute decision to go to the neighbours' barbecue. I couldn't face being alone. The bed offered intimate torment and the couch promised even more, so I left them both for the foreign comfort of somebody's garden.
I put on a floral dress and flip-flops, so laid back I seemed. I only knew Sarah, the host. She happened to go to my yoga class as well. When she opened the door, she warmly welcomed me and thanked me for my bowl of hummus.
I never had a problem meeting new people; meeting me seemed to be the problem. By the time the sausages arrived, I seemed to have made myself a few friends and one admirer.
He was sitting at the edge of the beer bench nursing a cola, engrossed in a conversation with a bespectacled man about the best internet providers in the UK. But all of a sudden, while I shared a story about an encounter with a monkey in Thailand, he was sitting next to me. He listened intently, laughing and gasping at the right bits. He then praised my hummus and pretended he didn't know I'd got it at the deli down the road.
The conversation went from food to holidays to movies to wine, of which I had quite a bit, and before I knew it, we were among the last few people at the party. So we helped put away chairs and tables and said good night.
When I went home, I couldn't be bothered to brush my teeth, wash my face or even change my clothes. Instead, I climbed into my bathtub, closed the curtain and fell asleep. At some point, I found myself looking over the lake in Finland, where I'd gone with Calvin for Christmas. We'd been watching the Northern Lights, standing in our woolly hats and gloves, his arm around my shoulder, me snuggled into his chest. We watched in awe as the shimmering emerald green swathes of otherworldly fabric twirled, twined by invisible hands. The ghosty cloth gradually but quickly faded into a magical deep purple, like the sweeping skirt of an ecstatic dancer swirling about the boundless black backdrop. We both held our breath as the purple turned into crimson, as if the lustful dancer had playfully turned around, flaunting her other equally enchanting side.
As the show retreated and I found my breath again, I turned to Calvin, but he wasn't there. His arm was still around my shoulder but his face was a featureless, faceless sphere. A scream welled up in my gut and echoed in my head, but my throat wouldn't let it reach my mouth. My vocal cords conspired and collapsed and the scream died as I silently sank into the crumbling ice I didn't know I'd been sitting on. No wonder I was cold. Or was I hot? You know, like that extreme body temperature that is neither searing nor freezing, but somehow both. Like holding on to an icy rod for too long.
I sank deeper and deeper into the dark water, only fragments of the fading lights seeping through as if offering a weak, trembling hand. I extended my hand, but I let myself drown. I couldn't flail this time. Too tired.
Bang went my head and elbow on the hard bathtub as I jerked awake, actively working on getting some saliva in my sanding paper of a mouth.
I sat there for a moment, regulating my breath and wondering what to do about this. Was I really going to waste day after day and night after damn night like this? How was that working for me? So, I was an insomniac. Insomniacs can still function in society.
So something stirred in me, and I decided not to stay there in my tub-turned-trench, staring at the ceiling or scrolling on Instagram. Instead, I simply got up, took a shower, changed my bedsheets and cleaned my kitchen until it was time to go to work. That wasn't so hard!
I was surprisingly sharp that day. I gave my phone to Marjorie so I wouldn't be distracted, replied to all of my emails and made all of my phone calls, even the ones that had been buried and forgotten.
At the end of the day, Maria asked if I was OK. I smiled and nodded. No inward eye roll, no tiny hairs stiffening defensively. I collected my phone from Marjorie --unsurprisingly, the world had kept spinning without me-- and went to yoga.
Sarah put her mat next to mine and smiled. I smiled back.
"Someone asked for your phone number, Kat!" she winked.
It took me a moment to realise what she was talking about.
"Barbecue guy?" I frowned.
"Yep!" she was excited to play the matchmaker, "may I give it to him?"
"Erm, I'm not sure I'm ready yet... you know!" I was almost embarrassed to say: since my fiance dumped me.
"I see!" Sarah said quietly, but I knew she didn't see. Even I knew I was wasting my life.
Over the next forty minutes of deep breaths, tree poses and warrior poses, I thought about what it would mean to finally let go of everything and everyone. Start anew. Forgive and forget... REALLY forgive and forget and forge ahead. Open the door for the old feelings, beliefs and people to leave my being, and for novel feelings, beliefs, and people to finally enter. What if it was really that simple? Maybe it was just that, a decision.
So after yoga, I quietly whispered to Sarah that I'd like her to give Barbecue Man my number.
That night, I brushed my teeth, flossed and applied my nighttime serum. Then, I went into my bedroom and opened the windows as far as they could go. A bit of a breezy break from the incessant heat had been forecast.
I took off all my clothes, even my rings and watch, ran my hand over my fresh sheets, and took a few deep breaths; I was ready for the night's battle. Then, I slid into the cool bed, closed my eyes and fell asleep immediately.
A few minutes or maybe a few hours later, I was in my dream house overlooking the ocean. I always imagined my dream house to have its kitchen on the top floor, where many dinner parties would be hosted. But this was after a dinner party had ended. The slick kitchen was a mess. There were half-empty wine glasses and dirty dishes strewn everywhere. The kitchen bathed in darkness and I was looking outside the window at the ravenous ocean. Wave after greedy wave, the ocean swallowed the rocks whole. I climbed up the window sill, holding onto the cold frame. I yearned for the black waters and they yearned for me. I bent my knees and let the window sill give my feet a little push. Whoosh! I was in the ocean. No one had to push me; I did it alone. I plummeted toward the bottom of the briny vastness. So still, so quiet. No sound, no fish, no seaweed.
I pumped my legs and pushed on farther down. Down I went searching for the bottom because I was too far down to turn around and go back up. Slowly but steadily, I slinked lower and lower still until I couldn't see anything. There wasn't any blackness to see. Just nothingness. Until I saw Her, illuminated, floating, beckoning to me seductively.
She was me.
This menacing me grabbed my hand, tugging at it. But I wouldn't move. She looked at me for a moment; no words, just a look of resignation as if to say, are you sure? When we both hit rock bottom, I kicked my feet propelling myself up. She closed her eyes and nodded. And I pulled us up.