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Men Not Allowed Past This Point

by Molly Pepper Steemson in The Paris Review

The Ladies’ Pond is meant to be taken in pairs, in breaststroke, at a leisurely pace. This is not true of the Men’s Pond, which seems always to be filled with companionless swimming caps darting about in a splashy front crawl. Our pond is slower, a place to chat and to listen:

“It’s eighteen degrees in the pond today … it was twenty last week.”

“Have you got those special swimming shoes for winter?” “No, not yet.”

“Oh yeah, you just pop one in and shove it over.” “I didn’t think it was that easy.”

“And you know what she was about to fucking do! She was about to leave that beautiful Greek island holiday and fly back to Gatwick, at God knows what hour, to cycle on a FUCKING LIME BIKE to that cunt Simon’s house for a FUCKING HOUSE PARTY and he DOESN’T EVEN FUCKING LIKE HER.” The outraged woman’s companion made various sympathetic mewing sounds. We pushed on.

“Have you ever flown somewhere for a man who doesn’t love you?” Janique asked, once we were out of earshot. “Yep,” I replied.

For a while after that, we swam in silence. Two upturned Band-Aids float past. They were followed by an elderly woman swimming quickly. Her hair was kept dry by a plastic bag from Ryman, the popular chain that sells stationery. The bag was rigid, poking high above the water like a pharaoh’s crown. She had fastened it to her scalp with duct tape.


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