Squinting up at the blue sky, you feel the heat radiating off the red brick and black tarmac. You hear the sounds of the pool before you see it; yells and splashes echo through the empty streets.

Ned avoids the main roads, leading you through the backways, past rows and rows of terraces and corner milkbars and pubs.

You follow him as he skirts round the edge to the front gate. He pulls some coins and a card out of his pocket, holding it up for you to see.

'Got one of these? Health care card. Half price.'

You shake your head.

'Two bucks then.'

You follow him through the gate and pay, coming out into the bright white light reflecting off concrete and water. The pool is a maelstrom of bodies and churning white water.

Ned strides around the pool to the other side, chooses a spot and throws down his towel. He peels off his t-shirt and boots and socks and stands staring at the pool for a moment then turns and glances at the people sitting nearby, letting them know he knows who they are in case they are thinking of ripping him off while he swims.

He walks over to the pool edge and dives. Water splashes all around him and people frown. Surfacing he splutters, swipes the water from his eyes and turns on his back to float.

You follow him in, diving more gracefully and reaching the middle of the pool underwater.

The water is icy cold, crystal blue. Its depths surround you and you exhale deeply. You let the water support you. Close your eyes.

Around you people jump, dive, splash. The water crests in small waves which break in your ears.

A boy lets out a howl and jumps, lands right next to Ned.

'Fucking hell...' Ned surfaces and treads water, 'Little shit...' he mumbles as the boy laughs and swims away to join his mates.

Five teenagers stand on the edge poised to jump and Ned frowns and swims to the edge, hauls himself out.

'Dare you to jump,' he snarls at the closest boy moving as if to push him in. The boy jumps.

'Suckers.' Ned shoves on his sunglasses and picks up his towel, looks around for you.

You swim slowly down the pool and back, float for a minute and look over. Ned looks impatient, sitting on the concrete bench, smoking a cigarette. You glide over to the edge and pull yourself out of the water, shake off the water and head over to pick up your towel.

'That was great,' you rub your hair then shake your head.

'Yeh. Great.' Ned stomps the butt under his boot. 'Ready to go?'

You pull on your shirt and nod, 'Yep.'

You follow him out and back to the house.

Philippa J Burne 1996

e-mail pburne@peg.apc.org