Underwater, I am beautiful
. This is something Oscar never understood. He hates swimming and never accompanies me down to the pool for late night swims. Oscar does not know the other me, the underwater me, as lithe and graceful as a seal
. He has never seen me glide effortlessly across the distance or watched me dive to rest in the depths. He only knows the awkward me, the terrestrial
me, pudgy and slightly clumsy; in suit and tie almost ridiculous. The things I could show him if he dared dive with me. Underwater, I am beautiful.
The dream is always the same. The sea is black under the night sky, except where the waves crest and there the foam is whiter than bleached bone. The moon is a sliver sharp enough to draw blood and the stars burn. The sands are silver under this sickle of moon, and run towards the blackness of ocean.
Tonight it is raining, and I listen to the drops beat against plate glass from the deep end. Water calls to water, someone once said and I imagine a strong wind shattering the glass so the rain can fill the pool to overflowing.
"My cup runneth over," says a voice from behind me and I push lank, wet hair from my eyes and turn towards the source. Dark hair, tanned skin and muscle I notice before being captivated by eyes as green as the Sargasso Sea. Eyes that are much deeper than the nine feet of water I am treading. He dives in with almost no splash.
The stars are burning and under their light I am swimming away from shore. There are cliffs behind me and the sands still shine silver, but now they are far away. I understand without being told that I am not swimming to something, but rather towards someone. I know he waits for me beyond the next crest of wave.
His name is Eric and he lives in this building. He writes copy for a living but dreams of being a painter. He once stood in the snow for hours trying to capture the image of a lonely, leafless beech. He likes Anne Sexton but hates Sylvia Plath. All this and beautiful I think before desperately diving under before he can see the terrestrial me. I find him waiting when I resurface, gasping for air. There is a question on his lips and I know by the burning in those greenest eyes that I must answer; he will not allow me to escape to the bottom of the pool.
I understand without being told that he is not a creature of the land. His hair shines as silver as the sands and beneath the sickle of moon his eyes are golden. The sheen of his skin is reminiscent of scales, but he takes my hand and I know that he is warm and softer than satin. He kisses my cheek and somehow communicates what he does not say; he will take me to a world under the waves where I will always be beautiful.
Eric does lazy strokes as he talks about his dreams of travel. He, too, wants to see the sunken Alexandria. He wants to view the ocean from the ruins of Greece and swim in the Nile beneath crumbling statues. His lips are very full and his teeth very white; he would not protest if I kissed him. His voice is low and rhythmic and I am reminded of summer days at the creek when the men would fish and sing bawdy songs and I would splash about, frightening bluegill and trout. For a moment, he slips his hands out of the water, and I admire the length and strength of his fingers, the broadness of his palms.
His eyes are golden and I stare into them an instant before he closes them and plants another kiss on my cheek. He hints of untold secrets and I am tempted. The chance to be always beautiful burns brighter than the stars, and desire is sharper than the sliver of moon. He is still holding my hand and kisses me again, so hard that I forget to breathe.
Eric admits that he has noticed me, swimming late at night back and forth across the pool. He says with an air of indifference that we were destined to meet; only the burning of his eyes gives lie to his careful facade of nonchalance. He swims towards me and begins to speak in a voice barely above a whisper. I know this voice and I am frightened. It is the dulcet tones new lovers use after their first night of love. Unconsciously, I push away from him, not because of the implicit intimacy, but because my desire is palpable and I fear that he will notice the hastening of my breath.
He is still holding my hand and visions of his kingdom begin to flood my mind. There, though the sun's light is distant, the colors are even more distinct, almost insistent. We would lie on the softest sand, as golden as his eyes, beneath brilliant maroon coral as rainbow shoals swim by. And I would swim with dolphins and reap the wisdom of whales. And I would never be alone, especially not when I am beautiful.
I have dried myself off and climbed up the stairs. I walk quickly and quietly through the halls of the building, not quite humming, but not without song. I slip the key into the lock as I have so many times before. Soft snoring assures me that Oscar is already asleep. I remove my wet trunks and throw on flannel pajamas. I pad over to the bed and pull back the covers on one side. And then, I slide into bed next to this man who has never seen me when I am beautiful, but loves me all the same.
He kisses me one last time, and the visions come again, but it is too late, I am already swimming back to shore. He is no longer holding my hand and instead looks at me forlornly. A little sadness stings my heart, not for the chance to be beautiful, but for the magic my marine friend does not know. The stars are still burning and I am swimming towards shore where Oscar is waiting.