On a Loop
4:30 A.M. is cold wind invading the mound of warm blankets I’d carefully constructed the night before. I’m not at the pool yet but I can already feel the chlorine. I feel it in dry skin, in my eyes as they adjust to the light, in the heaviness of my limbs as I pull back the covers and crawl from bed. The alarm clock next to me on the night stand still plays the radio, assaulting my ears with the droning and cackling of morning talk shows.
I’m tempted to call the number. Not so I can enter whatever contest the nasally voice is so vehemently advertising, but so I can scream. Maybe if I screamed, they would finally understand the radio is for music, not for whatever Kim Kardashian is doing now. Maybe I’ll yell in an ugly chant, “music! music! music!” But I’m not even fully awake yet, and knowing my luck they’d play some stupid slow song. Slow songs should be banned from the radio in the mornings, in my opinion. Lots of things should be banned from the radio. For example, Robin Thicke and Chris Brown’s entire discography.
I don’t have time for this.
The hall is dark as ever when I open my bedroom door. I shut it again so the light doesn’t wake Mom. Dad is already awake and in the shower. The bathroom is colder than the rest of the house, which is dumb because there aren’t even any windows. I hurry through the motions of peeing and washing my hands. I stare briefly at myself in the mirror and take in the new layer that’s been added to the dark circles under my eyes. Soon they’ll rival the dark in the hall outside my bedroom. Then I’m back in my room.
I silence the radio before it has a chance to spout the number again.
It’s in my head. Of course it is.
4:49 A.M. is a cold slap as I strip and change into my swimsuit as fast as I possibly can. My limbs feel like they’re already submerged in the icy water I will soon dive into. Sweatpants that itch and a sweatshirt that has paint stains from whoever owned it before me thrown over my swimsuit and then I’m downstairs deciding whether or not I have enough time to make a cup of coffee.
4:53 A.M. and I hear Dad coming down the stairs.
I settle for a banana. My stomach twists as it goes down, a premonition. I can already feel the sloshing as I flip-turn at the walls. I wonder for a few moments why eating bananas before swimming always gives me a weak sense of nausea. Why can’t it ever be real nausea? Weak nausea isn’t good enough; I’ll get out and feel guilty for it. Real nausea is justified; if I have to get out, I’d better vomit.
Dad comes into the kitchen and grabs the car keys and we’re gone into the black abyss that is our neighborhood. Streetlights are few and far between, and most of them don’t even work properly. There’s one or two, my favorites, that turn off whenever something approaches them. The opposite of a motion sensor light. I love it. The drive is short and familiar as the ads the radio plays over and over and over again. Dad is playing an oldies station. The ads are the same, always the same. At least the music is different.
The clock in his 2010 Camaro is off. My father operates under the impression that he is ten minutes late to everything. In theory, that’s great. He’ll always be on time. But I always think I’m late, and thinking you’re late is just as bad as being late. You get all the same stress but for no good reason.
5:10 A.M. Camaro Time. I hate this.
My heart jumps even though it has no need to. It should be against the law to mess with time like that. I guess it’s all perception.
We sit in the parking lot for a moment, along with the rest of the team. Everyone sits alone in their cars or with a parent or a friend. No one wants to be the first out of their car. It’s become a game. No one wants to be the first to step out into the cold. No one wants to be the first to alert the lifeguards that the front door is still locked. No one wants to leave their warm car with heat blasting out of vents and pooling beneath us from seat warmers. The clock ticks onward.
5:25 A.M. Camaro Time.
Practice is supposed to start soon. Someone will have to break the barrier, and they will be the loser of this game.
5:26 A.M. Camaro Time.
My fingers claw uselessly at the door handle. I will not pull it.
5:27 A.M. Camaro Time.
I will not pull it.
5:28 A.M. Camaro Time.
I will not pull it. 877-995-4681. I will not.
5:29 A.M. Camaro Time.
Across the parking lot, a car door opens slowly. Everyone watches for a moment. We all get out of our cars. Parents drive away.
Practice is going to be brutal today. I can feel it in my bones. Yesterday was exhilarating in how simple it was, how repetitive. Distance freestyle sets are the best because you can lose yourself. Once I spent an entire 500 free just singing Hips Don’t Lie inside my head. Except I couldn’t remember most of the words, so the words I did know just echoed in my head on a loop.
The numbers have stopped bothering me. I know tomorrow something else will be stuck in my head. Maybe that new Adele song that I can’t decide whether or not it’s well written. Maybe I’ll finally come to a conclusion tomorrow.
This is an excerpt from a short story I wrote in my creative writing course last semester.
#writing #prose #shortstory #excerpt