Swimmers Club

6th February 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: Lucy K Shaw
Where: Berlin, Germany
What: Writer, Founding-Editor of Shabby Doll House


Waking up hungover at 7:30, whispering '5 more minutes' in a squeaky voice, both laughing, getting out of bed and dressed and grabbing the bag I packed yesterday to go to Croatia. On the subway, Chris tells me that '80 people were killed in Nice' and I say, ‘What!’ When we had gone to bed it was 30. Wait, I say, it wasn't an accident? No. Fuck. We arrive at the airport and pass through security. 10:15 flight. 2 croissants wrapped in plastic and 2 sparkling waters, €11. Scrolling through the news, pictures of bodies covered in bloodstained sheets. 84 people. Fucking hell. 'There's actually going to be a war.' 'Against who?' We both receive email notifications. The flight has been delayed until 6:45pm. What the hell. That's 8 hours. Can we leave the airport? We are packed in like cattle. They announce stuff in German. Someone else asks the question in English. What are we supposed to do? You can do whatever you want! Wow, we all say. A brand new day in Berlin, where we already live. It's annoying but I have in my mind those 84 people who were just killed for no reason so we're going to have a good day anyway. We're going to do whatever we want. What do you want to do? I don't know, have a nice lunch?

We take the bus back to the city without paying because we feel robbed, but we know it's risky if you stay on board for too long so we jump off in Wedding where we lived when we first moved here. Walking around our old neighbourhood I say, Croatia seems nice, nothing like I expected. It's cold for July. I should have worn tights but I'm dressed for the islands. We go to a mall and walk around using the wifi and my mum texts to say, you know you can get compensation if your flight is delayed for more than 3 hours but then she says actually no you can't if it's due to the weather. I check Facebook and Twitter and nobody is really talking about the attack in Nice unless they're French. It's like, nobody has the energy to process the suffering anymore. Paris, Nice, Orlando, Baghdad, Beirut, Istanbul, Brussels. I watch a video of the police shooting the truck driver in the face and vividly remember standing on that street, outside of that casino, 10 years ago with an ex-boyfriend when I was 18. He always wanted to gamble and I always wanted to walk away and I haven't spoken to him since one of our friends died.

Anyway today I'm 28 and we can do whatever we want so I guess we decide to drink an energy drink and a coffee and to walk around our old neighbourhood laughing about our old life and eventually we need to find a restaurant with a 'business lunch' menu because we always laugh about those too but we never get the chance to have them. We talk about walking into a restaurant and asking for the business lunch menu in a high pitched, squeaky voice. ‘I'm here on business, bitch,’ we might say, as we snarf down a €6 menu.

The thing is, you can't prepare yourself for the terrorists, because they just think of a new way to kill you every time.' Do you want crepes? No I think I want Koreanische.

I'm obsessed with terrorism, I think. Like, I'm really scared. I start thinking about what I'd want to say if I was going to die, if I'd be happy with my life. I turn and kiss Chris on the cheek and he says what? And I say, I want Koreanische, and we walk to a restaurant and order 2 bibimbaps and 2 beers. The meals come with two tiny plates of kimchi. It tastes like heaven to my hangover. We take the train home and take showers and we sit around in towels and Chris downloads Pokemon Go and catches a charmander in our bedroom and I read the news and then after a while we put down our phones and start to have sex. We don't have to leave until 5, I say. No we should leave at 4:45. It's 4:20. Slip the panties right to the side, like Drunk in Love. I think that if I was going to die today, I would at least be happy I've gotten fucked by my husband. And kissed. We drink beers on the train and go through security again. Our seats are not next to each other. He is eight rows behind. I am beside a baby who keeps crying but I don’t mind. The sky is turning from blue to bright pink and the clouds are far away below us. I write all this down on my phone but then it dies.

I’m reading The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, finishing it. I started reading a few months ago and then I lost interest and then I lost the book for a while but then I found it again in a backpack I never use but which I brought on this trip. I feel grateful we’re not sitting together so that we can take a break from our ongoing conversation for an hour and I can read. The book ends with simultaneous birth and death narratives in a sort of split screen effect. The baby beside me is crying periodically. She’s really cute. She’s not a baby I guess, but maybe three years old. Her Dad keeps telling her to stop kicking me as she lies down flat across her seat but I don’t mind if she kicks me with her tiny feet. He calls her Laura, pronounced as though the first syllable rhymes with cow. Laura. There is no sign of her mother. Periodically she cries uncontrollably and the people across the aisle pass a Maoam candy to her and then she shuts up for a few minutes. This happens at least four times. They all laugh sympathetically together and make small talk in German. I don’t really understand most of it but I hear Laura’s dad say that this is her first ever flight.

I’m so involved in my book that I don't even notice we've spent extra time in the air until an announcement, first in German, tells us something I don’t understand at all. When they begin repeating it in English, everyone starts talking and I still can't hear but I surmise that he’s saying we're going to circle the airport for ten more minutes and then try to land. The weather is still unsettled. I look at the time and it's already later than when we were supposed to meet our friends in Rijeka. I hate when this happens. I don’t know if I can write this. Okay so by this point it is getting late and the sky has turned from pink to grey. The plane is lowering into the clouds and it starts to feel turbulent. Suddenly the plane drops and everyone screams. It’s like a rollercoaster. I grip the armrest. It’s like we’re wrestling with the wind and the wind is winning. We’re out of control. After a few seconds, things start to feel normal again and we all look around at each other like wow that was a close one. Then it happens again. Worse this time. More screams. Just screaming. I try to turn around to find Chris, to say good bye??? But I can’t see him. The plane rocks and shakes and I realise that plane crashes do happen. We are seconds away from our deaths and the last time I saw my family it felt restrained and awkward. I’m not even sitting next to Chris. At least we spent our last day together. At least I wrote that second book. I try to breathe deeply. There is no respite from whatever we’re stuck in. Laura’s father turns to me and says something in German. ‘Do you speak English?’ I blurt out. ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘Are you okay?’ ‘No! Are you?’ He shakes his head. I look at Laura. She is calm for the first time since we got on the plane, just resting her head on her dad’s lap, looking at nothing. I try to find peace in her calm and to focus on it. I don’t want her to die. It’s too soon. Laura’s dad looks upwards and starts praying. I look across the aisle and see a couple holding hands tightly and repeating, I love you I love you I love you.

I’m alone. I keep trying to turn back to find Chris but I can’t see him. They announce something else and Laura’s dad nods and tells me they’re rerouting the plane to Zagreb, they can’t land. It’s 100km away, he says, across the mountains. The winds won’t be so strong. This will be safer. The flight continues to feel rocky but it’s more controlled now. I can’t let go of the arm rest. I can’t relax until my feet touch the ground. Half an hour later, we land wobbly in Zagreb at 10pm, 11 hours after our expected arrival time in Croatia and as the wheels touch the tarmac it’s like a fucking symphony of applause and relief and second chances. I stand up and turn to see Chris and we just open our eyes so wide and look at one another and it feels like a privilege to be breathing. I love him so so much. But I already knew that.

Laura’s dad touches my shoulder and says, ‘Congratulations.’ I smile and nod in such a way that it’s clear that’s all I can do not to break down in tears. We both look at Laura and she doesn’t seem to know that anything has been wrong. ‘We are going to take the train home,’ he says.

Lucy K Shaw is the author of The Motion (421 Atlanta, 2015) and WAVES (Second Books, 2016). She is the founding editor of Shabby Doll House.

This story first appeared in 2016's Cassette 89 guest-edited by Oscar d'Artois and published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe.