One Day The Crowds Will Return to the Local Swimming Pool
April 9th, 2020
The road that leads to the swimming pool is completely deserted. Usually, it’s so full of cars that you’re lucky not to take out someone’s side mirror when you drive through. Especially during school holidays, which it is now.
Under normal circumstances, this street would be full of cars from the overflowing car park. Harried mums and their gaggle of kids would make a colourful, noisy parade, festooned with floating aids, towels and bright beach bags.
But today nobody’s here. Nobody but the tradies in their hulking, four-wheel drive utes. There are about half a dozen of them in the deserted car park, taking the opportunity to work in peace.
The back door of the swimming pool is propped open and a coiling, silver cylinder snakes out, like the spiralling slinky I used to play with as a kid. This door is for members only, I know because I used to be a member here. I wore a plastic band on my wrist that allowed me entrance through the Members Only door. I would hold it up to the sensor as I approached and the tall glass door would ease open with great reverence, heralding my arrival.
I would ascend the wide staircase that led to the members only change rooms, which would also require a swipe of my plastic bracelet. The change rooms were nicer than the public ones downstairs, small but immaculate with white washed brick walls and blond wood benches. Ladies would hang their business suits on coat hangers while they attended yoga, spin class or did a workout in the gym. The 6am classes were popular for busy professionals, allowing them to keep up with their fitness program and still get to work on time.
As a member, I had a special program designed for me. One that would help me achieve my weight loss goals. I had been required to get a doctor’s certificate before I was allowed to join the gym. I was overweight and had high blood pressure. But with a sensible diet and a proper exercise plan we would soon fix that.
I would get to the gym about three times a week and go through the exercises, as I had been shown. Medicine balls, floor mats, gym equipment. The gym was always packed at the peak times before and after work. Sometimes I was lucky to find a space on the floor. I would get annoyed when there were people lying on their mats, looking at their phones. Didn’t they know that just being in the gym was not enough? Did they think they would just absorb the vibe and let osmosis do the work?
No matter. I preferred the walking machine, anyway. There were lines of them overlooking the swimming pools below. There was the kiddies pool with spurting water fountains, the wave pool were people could enjoy the thrill of the tides without the dangers of open waters and the lap pools, with the designated lanes for beginners, intermediate and fast swimmers alike.
My dad used to take me to this pool when I was a child, and if he could see it now, he would not recognise it. There was no gym back then and a kiosk, not a cafe. The kiosk sold hot chips and ice cream, pies and lollies. The ladies couldn’t even get a salad sandwich, they had to bring one from home. Now there is a café, with spacious, comfortable seating. Smiling, aproned baristas bring you latte and frittata, chai tea and salads. If you want a pie and chips, you have to go to the takeaway at the back.
For reasons of time and money, I gave up my gym membership and reprised the one and only exercise I truly enjoy – walking. I like the freedom of putting on my shoes and taking off whenever I want. And my dog likes it, too.
I live near the pool now, where I used to be a member, where my dad used to take me when I was a kid. I walk past it every day, as part of my isolation fitness routine. I walk past the water fountains that have stopped flowing and the wide glass doors that have stopped opening. I look in through the windows at the empty kiddies pool and the deserted cafe. I follow the path through the native gardens to the back, where the outdoor pool sparkles behind the high cyclone wire.
I remember the days when my dad would bring me here to cool down on hot, summer days. I remember the crowds, the sunburned children laughing in the water, the teenagers doing water bombs and the mums frantically calling their children to stay in the shallow end.
I remember the days before the arching, elegant lines of the sprawling sports complex that’s here now, when the local pool was a boxy, yellow brick building, housing two single pools. I remember the days when we pushed through the stiff, rusted turnstile to a world of fun and adventure, a reprieve for the long, drawn out days of oppressive summer heat.
There was only one entrance then because there weren’t any members. There was only a rusty old turnstile, and everyone pushed through it.
I hope that one day, the people will return to the swimming pool. I hope to walk past and see kids and their parents enjoying the water.
I hope I will come back here on a hot summer day and feel the ice-cold water on my febrile summer skin.
Just like I did with my dad when I was a kid.