Almanac Fiction – Daz Cooper Chapter 3: Swimming sports

“Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you’re in control”
– Gnarls Barkley, Crazy

==

It’s hot. Blue sky. High cloud.

The first month back at school brings that.

The odd day.

When the air is as if straight out of a hair dryer.

– And then she says, she says, “You stink!”
– Hahahahahahahahahaha
– Hahahahahahahahahaha
– Hahahahahahahahahaha

They’re all walking to school. Coming together out of the neighbourhood streets, the train station. Some straight out of car doors.

– Mocka! You stink!
– Hahahahahahahahahaha
– Hahahahahahahahahaha

That group up ahead is untouchable.

Daz will get a nod in his direction if eye contact is made with any of them; an acknowledgement. But that’s all. That’s fine. It’s shit. But it’s fine.

– Yeah Mocka; you’re all charm!
– Hahahahahahahahahaha
– Hahahahahahahahahaha

They’re razzing each other. Embellishing stories of a Saturday night party. That would be Daz’s guess. Something like that.

– Well, Ace, some girls are fussy; that’s true. But then, if she don’t want me, I don’t want her.
– Hahahahahahahahahaha
– Fussy!
– Hahahahahahahahahaha
– Hahahahahahahahahaha

Tess and Rachel draw level with the group; the same year level, but embodiments of maturity, relative sophistication. Walk past.

– Here’s Rachel. Let’s ask Rachel!
– Let’s not, little boy – says Rachel, and glides supremely onward.

 

==

Form assembly. Mr Collins.

– All students are to report for House meetings at the start of lunchtime where you will be allocated your swimming events.

House competitions. Like the school thinks it is Hogwarts.
House competitions. Like there isn’t already enough to do.
House competitions. In athletics, singing, general citizenship. And swimming.

No one really cares about House competitions. It’s a confected nonsense in a world teeming with true competitions for resources, attention, time.

– Cool.  – says Jacko. – House swimming. Just what we need.

 

==

House swimming meeting. Recess. This room is too small for the crowd. Too hot.

– We need to fill the squads, first.

It’s Mr Lucas, with Lou, the house captain.

– You’re right. Let’s fill the teams first. And decide final spots after.

– Alright. Listen up! Can we have all the Under 13s just there, the Under 14s at this table, Under 15s over here, the Under 16s back here, the Under 17s over there, and the geriatrics against that wall. Let’s move.

Daz, Russ and Jacko move with the shuffling indifference of the condemned. They’re over to marshall with the Under 15s. There aren’t many of them. Boys, at least.

– This is like a lucky dip, hey Daz?
– Why’s that?
– Everyone gets a prize. We’re all going to be in the relay; you wait.

Daz wants to climb out the window. He’s not a strong swimmer. Fifty metres, the length of the pool, will test him. He won’t be hoping for a PB. He’ll be hoping to climb out of the pool unassisted.

– Alright, Under 15 boys?! Can I have all the Under 15 boys over here thanks?!
– You’ve got us.
– This can’t be all of you.
– There’s a couple at yard duty.
– Who?
– Joel Wetherall, Al Aboud.
– Alright. You four are it. You’re the relay team.

This is Daz’s time to speak. To say “I can’t swim that far.” To pull out.

But he doesn’t.

He looks to the floor.

– Good men. If you can’t win, just try to finish. We might get some Stephen Bradbury points. They all count.

 

==

 

Swimming sports day. Thursday.

They’re at the pool. Indoor 50 metre pool. The noise is incredible. Girls self-consciously wrapped in sarongs. Girls confidently parading along the pool deck. Boys, too. Tossers. Some of these guys have started taking supplements. Thinking they will create chiselled bodies. Attract the ladies.

Daz carries his school bag; homework, togs, towel, goggles. He carries a second bag; footy training gear; shorts, t-shirt, mouthguard, runners; over the other shoulder.

– See? Balanced.

No good can come of these swimming sports.

– Did you see Rachel Spinks?

It’s Cliffy. Awestruck. Lust-struck.

– Yes, mate. I saw her.

Rachel has won the 50m butterfly. She’s walked past them all now.

– We all saw her mate.

– My word; she is f*ckin brilliant.

– Ahh.

– Can someone get a hose for Cliffy here?

– Outta your league, sunshine.

– Different division.

– Or a bucket of cold water. A bucket should do it.

Cliffy hasn’t heard a word.

 

==

They’re all lined up; starters set to go. Daz is to swim the third leg.

It’s loud in this swimming centre. So loud. Daz feels set to spew. Or piss. Both.

He looks around at the tiered seating. No one is even watching the pool. That’s terrible. No. It’s alright. That’s good.

TAKE YOUR MARKS – SET – BANG!

Jacko is off for Gold House.

He makes a good enough fist of it, too. Gold are not last after 50 metres. Daz feels his heart beating like the tolling of an iron bell.

Russ dives in next. Dives. Hell. Daz has never performed a dive in his life.

As Russ dawdles back through the water, Daz is wracked with anxiety over his imminent date with diving. Ohshitshitshitshit. Daz even forgets about drowning.

Here comes Russ now. Gold are last. Now rank last.

He’s getting closer. A few more strokes. Any second now.

SPLASH!

Daz has belly-whackered at the Swimming Centre and his skin is on fire. Worse, it’s a tumultuous entry. He’s lost his goggles. They’re around his neck.

– Oh jeez.

And Daz loses all concept of himself as a person, as a sentient being of hopes and dreams. Instead he becomes a writhing, twisting, breathing animal of pure desperation. His pulse rate must be through the roof. But he’s afloat. He’s still somehow afloat.

Stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, breathe.

How far has he come?

Daz can’t see a thing.

Without visual queues, Daz is without hope. He struggles on as would a wounded beast. As would any other labouring animal.

– Oh jeez. Come on.

Until, CRASH, breathlessly, finally, he is against the wall.

 

Fifty metres of ignominy. Of shame. Of fight.

Daz looks around, heaving, for the damage to race position.

Gold house remains a comfortable last.

– Good job, Cooper.

It’s Mr Lucas with a pat on the arm.

 

– What do you call that, Cooper?!

It’s Mr Collins. Form teacher. Footy coach. Hands behind his back, wry smirk across his face.

– As a swimmer you make a terrific footballer. Training tonight?

Daz smiles at that one.

– Yep. For sure.

 

==

==

This is the third chapter of a wee series featuring yer man Daz Cooper.
Chapter 1: Summer dreams
Chapter 2: Back to school

Chapter 4: Cricket training, dreaming
Chapter 5: Hip and shoulder
Chapter 6: Rivers of suggestion

 

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About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.

Comments

  1. This all looks vaguely familiar. Great stuff! Keep going.

  2. G’day Doug.
    Hopefully not too familiar.
    Thanks very much.

  3. Yer man.

  4. Dave- enjoying this.

    Of all the cruelty in schooling the swimming carnival is surely the worst. Ignominy for most, glory for hardly any.

    But, I like how yer man is navigating his world.

  5. Ah, callow youth. Daz-ed and confused. The things we do to impress, to belong.

  6. Mick Jeffrey says

    The worst part of the school swimming carnivals for me was filling my houses’ 2nd lane allocation for butterfly even though I knew I was hopeless at it. Well either that or the year I filled in for the backstroke leg in the medley relay….or having to wear a yellow cap……or taking part in one of those stupid novelty events and banging my knee on the edge of the pool trying to quickly get out.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    As a terrible swimmer, can well relate ER. Hated the school swimming sports. As a land mammal much enjoyed and was far better at the athletics sports.
    Very much enjoying this series!

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