“There’s this old Italian guy at the pool where I swim.”
“Started a couple of months ago. Tuesdays after work and Saturday afternoons. Gets me out of the house. A little exercise. Keeps me away from the beer.”
A pause, something floating there, between them. A flash, and it was gone.
“Anyway, I’d seen him for a while now. Hello, how you doing, that kind of thing, you know. Nothing serious. Seemed like a nice enough guy, but I didn’t know his name.”
“How did you know he was Italian then?”
“He just looks that way. Like in the movies. The mobster ones.”
She pulled a cigarette loose and looked over, waiting. He finds a books of matches in his jacket pocket, ripped one loose, lit it and leaned across the table. They both sat back.
“Anyway, one time I’m just about done changing, and I hear these slow, heavy steps from the showers. Slap slap slap. He walks in, towel wrapped high around his waist. I’m trying to button my shirt and get out of there because I’d managed to get that far, four and a half laps, but now there was no denying it, I was going to have a drink.”
The waitress filled their cups and waited just a breath too long, then went on to her next table. He pulled his in close.
“Hello, there, the guy says to me. I nod as I’m rolling my trunks in my towel and stuffing it in my bag. Looks like we have the same schedule, he says. I laugh a little and agree. Tuesdays and Saturdays, I say. Then he asks if I’m doing anything, and all I can think of is, well you know, so I say no. And he says, great, let me get dressed, we’ll go have dinner.”
“So this was a Tuesday?”
“He said dinner.”
“Yeah, Tuesday. Not this one, but the one before that. Does that matter?”
She left her cigarette burning in the ashtray, tore open two sugar packets, poured them in her coffee and stirred. He reached over and put it out.
“I decide to go. Figure this is a good distraction. Might make for a good story. Something to tell people.”
“That makes me people?”
“So, I wait outside the change room. And I wait and wait, and now I start thinking this is a bad idea. Real stupid. Or maybe it’s some kind of joke. He’s making fun of me. I start getting angry, because I realize I could be halfway home, or already there if I could’ve caught a bus maybe. And now that little voice inside me is screaming for a drink.”
“How long were you waiting?”
“I don’t know, ten, fifteen minutes. Why?”
“I was just wondering.”
He pushed back against the boot and spread his hands out. He drummed his fingers against the table.
“I wasn’t in the best place, I guess.”
“Never mind, finish your story.”
He looks to his right, out the window. Watches a car drive away. Sees the rear lights get smaller and smaller.
“So I go back into the change room. To see what the hell is going on. And he’s naked, laying on the ground, in front of his locker.”
“I run over and I don’t know what to do. There’s no one else in the change room. I don’t know if I should leave him.”
“Was he on his back or his stomach?”
“His side kind of, it almost looked like he was swimming. Can I get one of those?”
She tossed the cigarettes at him, and he fumbled one of the pack.
“I’m still standing there,” he said, exhaling. “It wasn’t quite panic and it wasn’t quite fear. It wasn’t anything, but, like, the absence of something.”
“I just stood there. Watching. Wondering if anyone else was going to come in. Wondering what they would do, what they might say, or think. Or accuse me of, even. Then I noticed he moved. Just a little. And even then, I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t just imagining it.”
The waitress came and left the check tented on the table. Neither of them looked at it. They stared over the half-full ashtray, and the empty cups, and the brown rings on the table. They stayed like that for a long time.
“Finally, I knelt beside him, on the wet tiles, and put my hand on his back, and he was still warm, still alive.”