Wednesday, January 17, 2007

How am I like Ron Weasley?

The natatorium in the lowest basement of the Russian hospital was almost incomprehensibly large. Low ceilings hung over multiple pools, one large shallow kidney-shaped pool in the center, several long narrow lap pools around it. In the far rear corner, back in the shadows, the ceiling opened up to accommodate a diving pool, deep and dark blue. My tour guide explained that the facility was divided into 2 parts, one for the paying public and one for the TB patients in the hospital. The part for the patients was behind a large glass wall. From what I could see of it the tile surround need to be regrouted, sometime about 20 years ago. Paint chips were flaking from the walls, the ladders were rusted, the windows had algae growing on them. In contrast, the public portion was spotlessly clean, a little worn, perhaps, but I wouldn’t have been afraid to walk barefoot on the pool deck.

As we were waling around the edge of the large central pool, I had a terrific urge to jump in, fully clothed. I quashed that desire, thinking it might take my hosts by surprise, and might get me sent upstairs to the psych ward, if there was one. We passed a series of lap pools, the guide explaining what each configuration was for, me trying to NOT jump right in. The water was so clear, and the air so warm, it just seemed like the thing to do.

We got to the dive pool and watched some spectacularly fit young people launch themselves off of very high platforms, perform aerial gymnastics, and slice through cobalt-blue water with hardly a splash. I was entranced, so much so that at last the dam of my hesitation broke. I ran toward the pool, leaping in gracelessly, my overcoat flapping like a superhero’s cape, my face in a cheek-cramping grin.

Splashdown. Bliss.

Sinking. Not bliss.

The heavy coat and boots and clothing weighed me down, absorbing water, pulling me toward the bottom. I watched the surface recede over my head, and gasped without breathing. I was drowning, and despite being a good swimmer, I was no match for the extra weight and bulk of my sodden clothing.

I decided to let it happen, and stopped thrashing, stopped trying to reach the surface. Once I stopped fighting, I reached neutral buoyancy and was suspended in the middle depth, my head 4 feet below the surface and my feet 4 feet above the bottom. With tiny motions of hands and feet I found I could rise, and by so doing I broke the surface not long after my descent. I was helped out by a team of young divers, some of whom seemed truly concerned for my safety, some of whom looked really pissed off that I had disturbed the smooth surface of their pool.

Someone had brought out three large white towels, and as I shivered with cold and fright and exhilaration I was stripped down, dried, and swaddled in them. Once attired in my new finery, my host told me we’d have to go to the laundry to dry my clothing, but that to get there we’d have to use a corridor that passed through the patient’s area and I needed to be prepared and forgiving of the condition of the facilities there. I didn’t care, I was still out of my head at my actions and near death.

At the door to the corridor, my host made an unmistakable “after you!” gesture, and so I reached for the handle, which was an odd green color. I thought it was a patina’ed copper knob. I was wrong. The handle I’d grabbed was a nesting ball of green spiders, and my touch broke the web-cradle, sending a boil of small green spiders up my arm. The spiders were not happy, and so bit and bit and bit, each tiny bite a shock, both physically and visibly. Sparks actually flew from their mouths as they expressed their indignation. Their firm legs scrabbled over my hand and arm, running for my neck and hair, carrying the thick meaty green bodies to more succulent offerings.

Needless to say, I became hysterical, spinning and swatting, leaping and shrieking, begging my host to get them off of me before they got in my mouth, before they got in my nose. She did what she could, but I was moving much too fast to get them all off of me. Many were evacuated through the centrifugal force of my wild exertions, but some remained, tenaciously clinging with the claws on their feet and the mouths that continued to shock and bite.

The TB patients pressed against the glass, watching me dance. I could see their dark horrified eyes through the smoky glass each time I spun around.

That’s when I got the idea.

Back in the pool.

Sink to the bottom.

Never come up.

Let the spiders drown with me.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

It’s a damned good thing that this is the moment at which I woke up, because finishing that dream might have been that last thing I ever did. It was 5:06 a.m. I never did get back to sleep.

Yeah, I hate spiders. Really really really hate spiders. This is just one more reason why.


Now that I've confessed one of my irrational fears, why not tell me one of YOURS? I'm all ears!

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