At midday the pools are mostly empty: it’s just old people doing laps, lilac caps and bald heads hauling themselves through the water. The smell of chlorine and hot chips. My thongs slap back against my heels with each step. I spot her stretched out on her tummy, lying on the grass, set back from the pool’s edge. She stays covered but the breeze lifts her long cotton dress away from the slope of her back. She looks uncomfortable, crooked, lying as though she were crawling through a claustrophobic underground cave system.
Hey, I say, sitting down. The grass is thirsty, scratchy. She looks up at me through her big tortoiseshell sunglasses and then back at her magazine, flipping the page with all five fingers. A packet of Burger Rings is open at her elbow. Her hair is still damp, tendrilous and crunchy-looking. I use my arm as a visor. We sit for a while and then she turns over, heavily. Her face still crushes a bit with the effort. The bunting wafts in the breeze. The big Speedo clock on the wall near the deep end measures minutes without numbers, counting the same minute over and over.
She looks up at me.
Do you think animals know they’re going to die, she says. Like, one day.
I dunno, I say. Maybe dolphins?
I watch the swimmers looping over the same territory with only their breath for company. A pair of plovers high-step around us, protecting their nest, keeping their distance. I hear others, hidden in the shade. Ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki.
I hope they don’t, she says.
She does this every day after Kerri-Anne now, bundles her magazines into her string bag and flees. She left her job before the baby came anyway, and now she’s inert, volatile. Still.
You should come home.
Mum send you? She plunges her hand into the chip packet. Artificial orange dust on her fingers, like ochre mixed with spit.
She shakes her head, crunches.
Don’t you have anything better to do?
No uni today.
Her head recedes into her neck for a second: a lying-down shrug.
You can’t sit here forever. You should come home.
And do what?
I watch her face. The sadness is pulpy in her cheeks, in the Rorschach spread of brown pigmentation the doctor said should disappear a few months after the birth.
She looks away. I imagine her lying here on the grass all afternoon, until sunset, all through the night and forever. I want to dive into the water and be still, watch the sunlight shiver on the tiles and hold my breath until my lungs atrophy into nothing.