Swimmers Club

14th March 2017


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Treading Water

Check which is the shallow end and note the point where you will be out of your depth.


Who: Sarah Murphy
Where: West Midlands, UK
What: Writer

Mad Girl Tears up the Department of Work and Pensions

Unemployment flips you on your back, forces you to stargaze. It makes you dream and plan, plan and dream, helplessly. In those terms, it is like a neverendingness of Saturdays.

At the job centre I spotted my supervisor right away. High on the feeling of certainty, I bounded up to her desk and said ‘HI!!’ She seemed startled and bored at the same time. Told me without looking up from her screen: ‘Yes I’m not quite ready yet. Would you mind sitting back on the couch’.

When I spoke to her at the ordained time my voice came out quietly, which seemed to endear me to her, as her wheezy laugh was back. Before sending me home she said, presumably referring to my interview: ‘If it doesn’t go well, just remember there are positives you can take away from it. But I’m sure it will go well,’ then did her wheezy laugh.


When I go to lunch someone I knew from school, a girl, streams into the lower, hotter level near the kitchen. She has electricity up in her hair like she’d come fresh from a morning diving lesson. I think of stepladders, tiles the colour of brandy cream, surfaces being deeper than they seemed, and the brittles of the sea laid out to dry, shedding their last green sparks into the rock pools.

I pocket the future for myself in maps. The blue ink trails are mine, my plans to walk despite my bad posture, waning into the hills and bracken. Late moon, me.

I’ve started being able to predict a job rejection before I see it. I can tell by how heavy it is, the email. I weigh it with my unusual sensitivity to bites. The rejections are always lighter, full of escape and puff. We regret. That on this occasion. I try to press Delete as quickly and sweet-temperedly as I can, letting it slam shut and shoot down the trapdoor into the place under the trapdoor, which I can’t describe, because with the exception of disappointments and Banquo’s ghost, nobody’s ever seen it.

I know I must sound older than I am.


The next time I come to the job centre I am full of spaghetti. I have forms to fill out – imagine if paper was breakable, if letters had to be marked with a label saying FRAGILE, prone to explode into trillions of hurtful white-blue fragments that could injure people, break hearts. I’ve been told I’m very attractive when I stop pouting.

‘Cherry, cherry? I have a question,’ I tell my job counsellor. She doesn’t have an answer for me. Cherry is the French word for darling. If I tear everything up? What if. And then they are taking me away, security guards whose abandoned pot noodles lie in the staff room, telling me to stop, and that I won’t be allowed back if I abuse public property. I say ‘it was only paper’ and they don’t believe my lie. Neither do I as I open my fists, Marty Desouza’s number of dependants living at home and Drew Something’s allowance for the following month minus proceeds from his car boot sale and Panda Rudd’s birth certificate or the red ink star of it which remains, all drifting in the weak sun like wedding shower.

I slouch like a tender child, I’m thinking of going back in and telling everyone ‘watch out for paper cuts’.

I’m sitting on the wall under the sign saying job centre plus. The colour scheme lost itself somewhere in between lime, chartreuse, and pear. I think of making a poll saying what colour green do you think the job centre sign is: pick one, with the options Lime, Chartreuse, and Pear. But I have no paper. I could write it on my hand, registering everyone’s dream greens with a high five or a handshake with a secret message inside, sent direct to the palm.

I’m so hungry. I’m so hungry. I think of texting Millie who likes my lips and folded my maps in a non-messy way, sharp along the line. We go to the Brigade’s Park, a diner with a bit of grass outside.

Under a spurning of white heathers, the mistress of pressed things asks me to be in love, tells me to point out Canada, then instructs me in case I am in doubt of where the heaviest part of the book is. The folded mountains go in with an 'eeeeezy’.

Millie is saying how important it is to be compassionate, even now, especially now. I say, ‘But what about people who won’t give me answers’. She says, ‘Especially now’. There is grey in her young face, hanging under her eyelashes, like the shadow of silver stars after a party. She takes my own forearm, my own. Uses it to turn my face the other way, so I stop staring.

Basically, it’s like there’s a brick hung round my head like a necklace, making me so, so tired and so horribly romantic.


In the tall neck of the diner, its highest point, where the air conditioning is, I take sugared prawns under ice. They haven’t said prayers for years here. I smash a bottle under my shoe thinking of HMS Paola.

That night I dream of war and cake.

'Why are your brigadiers in black? Why do they carry tartlets with them?’

'You are asking questions. We are all asking. As. King. We are all trying not to ash into the water.’

Sarah Murphy lives reluctantly in a small town in the West Midlands. Between the hours of 9-5, she works as an editorial assistant, outside of those hours she can be found either on a bus or under a table. She keeps an inconsistent blog at navelgazzling.wordpress.com, and has previously been published in Litro, ThoughtCatalog, 3 a.m. magazine and Burning House Press.