Fall 2017 (Volume 21, Issue I)
The fjord city clasped the shiny rim of the pool at night. A troll pool, designed for large flat-footed creatures with curly hair. The hallway from the showers to the pool is empty and dark. Set into the hallway walls are round observation windows, full of blue light: the pool from beneath, tunnels to see the swimmer creatures on their lines, beetles webbing their way across black bars and blue waves.
In the nascent blue sheen of night, the trolls come out. They roll down the hill, over the mountain, dip into oily lakes deep beneath the crust. They shake their matted hair in the fjords, mini tsunamis worrying widows in their coastal huts. They climb into the 50-meter pool of Toyen Badet, Oslo’s public bath, and launch themselves cross-wise against the lengths, jump high and land on their bellies, laugh at the tickle and dunk down.
Astrid remembered her aunt telling her troll stories, when they had sat side by side in the kiddie pool. Her aunt had her legs drawn up under her, kneeling lightly in the warm water. Astrid had jumped up and down, the water still reaching under her armpit. She must have been five, then, or younger. Now, she still sat in the warm pool at the end of her lengths, and let her legs float out under her. The shimmer of the water was cut by the diagonal of the ramped entry way, a collage of angles and lines converging. Its angularity pleased Astrid’s eye.
Her auntie had held her up to the blue holes in the walkway below the pool, and they had stared, together, at the swimmers, at the light, at the magic of observation itself. And later, Astrid had seen televised swim events from this pool, saw again the magic round underwater eyes capturing graceful landings of jumpers, the entry of bubbles and splash. The perspective made her cry, stifle a little sob, and then she remembered her aunt’s stories of trolls and other mountainfolk going for a swim.
She cupped a handful of water, let it run out over her knees, warming the cooling flesh. Today, she had to decide about the operation. Would she give up these hillocks sprouting on her chest? She squeezed her hill country between her upper arms. Familiar, and ticklish: not at all dangerous, riven with deep secrets, probed and biopsied. She could go full hog, radical clear-cutting, or decide to go with the lumpy story, the bits and pieces. Hours before she saw her doctor, and her mind still wasn’t made up.
She launched herself sideways in the kiddie pool, let gravity take over her body’s trajectory in the shallow water. She twirled, twisted, felt the tug of skin where skin’s elastic offered counter-pull. The glory of her treasure, her hoard. Astrid whispered to herself the troll secrets, the jewels under the hills.
Beneath her, the seams of tile fluctuated, small streams of bubbles heating under a dragon’s breath. Astrid kept twirling, shooting sideways, feeling the strength of her leg muscles, thighs powerful like small horses. Each time her feet punched into the tiles, a little bit more gave, a crack of opening, dilation. She still hadn’t noticed the changes on the pool floor. The clock kept ticking.
Her aunt, no longer able to pull her legs beneath her. Unstable. The awkwardness of the bath chair, rolling down the kiddie pool ramp. For a while, they could still go to the public bath together. Then, her aunt’s skin had cracked, continents adrift in dry lost deserts. After that, her mind had leaked, gone fuzzy at the edges, in ways that a teenager could only find frighteningly unclear. Astrid wondered about how she would know her aunt’s story now, with her own feet anchored firmly in the world.
Astrid dolphin-ducked her way across the shallow warm pool, her back’s muscles lifting and arcing her through the waters. Her mind’s eye was still far in the past, so she didn’t notice the buckling of the tiles in rhythm with her own undulation.
Then she turned, and floated on her back, aware of her breasts spreading out over her chest, spilling like warm dough over the sides. The same, and separate: she already was taking so much more note of these skin sensations, the little feedback from gravity and posture, stuff that would have been far in her unconscious even as recently as two weeks ago. Bodies change. She seal-rolled, side, side, side, side, shift, lift, flutter.
The pool floor erupted beneath her. A pressure wave moved her sideways, pitched her into an eskimo-roll. She handled it fine, her body feeling no need to panic, just a duck and weave, then upward. Her head broke through the warm water, and she looked around, alert, her fear catching up with her diaphragm. She hiccupped and stared. In the middle of the shallow kiddie pool at Toyen Badet, a troll had taken up residency. She, for she seemed feminine, was hairy all over, with slightly chlorinated water now dripping clear out of her fur – no mud on this gal. The hair was shiny and looked soft, and it draped her generous body in waves and folds. A giant nose peeked out of a waterfall of locks. She blew through thick rosy lips, and the hair rose upward as if on a giant hairdryer, floated, and then blew over her head, cascading downward again. Now the nose was freed and it shone even more rosy in the middle of multiple folds, a face wrinkled and strangely young-old. Astrid found it hard to hold on to any fear or even consternation. The troll looked friendly, cheeky, maybe mischievous, but hardly malevolent. She unglued her booty from the pool floor, and duck-eeled her way over to the giant.
The giant responded, elegantly swishing a large hand through the water, as if tracing Astrid’s outline. Astrid, in turn, ducked under and planed like an arrow through the blue. The water was a bit higher now, as the troll had displaced quite a bit, and seemed to be blocking with her ass any outflow. This was more fun! Astrid banked, breathed, and went under again, slingshooting off the troll’s back pelt. The troll leaned back, into the wave created by Astrid’s cresting form. The troll opened her mouth, and laughed. The far distant concrete ceiling shook in response vibration, but held safe and firm. The troll let herself fall back, so the water created a rim all around her. Astrid swam this ring, darting in and out of the fjords of the troll’s dark brown soft and undulating body.
So they played, water mediating between them, large and small, mountain and salmon. Eventually, Astrid tired, and the troll held out a large lined hand. Astrid crawled inside, rolled up, and the troll blew on her, drying her, breath strangely sweet and smelling of salmiak licorice. Then the troll deloused her. At least that is how it felt to Astrid, lying still. As the procedure unfolded, she began to hold herself in a ball a bit more stiffly, for some inkling of danger made its way through the layers of curled child pleasures that engulfed her. Large horny nails shifted Astrid’s folds and valleys, plucked her bathing suit right off her, tearing and discarding the bits. Astrid looked over the hand’s rim, saw the purple flakes of suit rain down a long way to the pool’s surface. Then the horned pincers returned.
Night fell over the pool. Far down, on Oslo Fjord, a large cruise-ship cast off its lines, and headed out into the darkening sound, a lowing ship’s horn blast echoing across the harbor. Astrid awoke, stiff and cold on hard tile. What had happened? She was shivering, and found herself naked underneath her sheltering hands. Her skin felt raw in places, scabby even, as if she had been dragged behind a truck over a country road. She welled those fears: she was still in the pool building, safe, and breathing. She was also alone. The troll had gone. In front of her, the kiddie pool lay placid and still. She stood up, stacked her vertebrae one on top of the other, found all muscles responding and willing, if creaking. She walked to the main pool, and looked down into the clear water. The round observation globes in the depth glowed gently back at her, shimmering. She tested the main pool with her toes: colder than the kiddie pool, but acceptable to her achy chill self. She looked around once more. No one was here. None of it made sense. Astrid laughed, head thrown back, with the moon high above Toyen Pool, shining on fjord, city, and mountain.
She jumped in, and cold blue water engulfed her, swirled around her, entered each pore and probed each entry into her form. She twirled in the water, swam down to the light globe, and glided like an elf through the silver blue lights. She opened and closed her eyes in the water, silver membranes shielding her pupils. She flexed her hands, felt the webbing between the finger joints, and felt the speed. Cartwheel, duck weave, eel ride.