Tipping Point

vincent-anderson-543743-unsplashA strand of hair stretches out across the tiles. A toe has caught it; tugged it into a soft arrowhead that points towards the changing rooms, where the others have gone. Olivia looks at the chips in the grout. They make her think of broken teeth; black voids in a beige smile. Sour blood, from the hole she has chewed in her cheek, washes through her mouth.

Arms in front, chin tucked. Toes over the edge, bend the knees. And tip forwards.

Olivia holds herself this way until her thighs burn and the teacher says, it’s okay, you can do this.

The words are warm and close on her cheek but Olivia has learned that nothing is given freely, like a teacher’s lunch hour, so she watches for signs of anger in the woman’s face, a ripple under the pale fur of her make-up. Olivia waits for her to say, you are wasting my time, and wills her to know that she is trying, really trying.

Arms in front, chin tucked. Toes over the edge, bend the knees. And tip forwards.

Olivia stands like this until her arms sag and the teacher whispers, you can do it, I know you can.

The arrow of the outsize clock spins out the minutes as Olivia thinks of the girls in the changing room, laughing as they slick sticky deodorants under their arms. Libby Turner who is shit at everything but could do this. Hannah, who said she was scared too, but actually wasn’t. She stands there and wishes she was any one of them.

Arms in front, chin tucked. Toes over the edge, bend the knees. And tip forwards.

The overhead fluorescents flicker on the water which looms like possibility, and Olivia imagines slipping from herself, shedding her layers by the side of the pool, and surfacing after the dive, unremarkably remade and the same as the rest. Free from herself is free to get it wrong and she thinks about wrong answers, wrong boys, wrong decisions. She will emerge and live uncertainly; without hesitancy.

She will emerge.

But Olivia stays locked in the crouch until the teacher says, okay, that’s enough for today. You’re okay.

And Olivia thinks, I’m not, as she crumples towards the changing rooms and remembers the unsugared ending of a fairy tale, the one where the mermaid melts into foam on the waves.

Published by Storgy, May 2018

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