X equals X

When I go into the garden the deck chair that X was sitting in is empty. A book is opened, face down, where her feet should be. I put the glass of water on the wrought-iron table. Light moving through the decorations on the glass and the small bubbles in the water is making an intricate pattern on the surface of the table. I look into the pool: a dark blur, probably X, is swimming – actually, making strange, wriggling movements – several feet under the surface of the water. I sit down and begin to read the book. The light reflected off the white page is very bright, which makes reading uncomfortable. I close my eyes and rest my head on the canvas strips that form the back support of the chair. Sunlight shines through my eyelids. X must have been wearing sunglasses when she was reading, but I didn’t notice them on the table. They could be under the chair.

Man underwater (charcoal, 20220331) Stephen J. Williams
Man underwater (charcoal, 20220331) Stephen J. Williams

When I open my eyes X is still underwater. The surface of the water is now quite smooth, and the water itself very clean except for a leaf which is floating in the corner farthest from me. Barely discernible, small waves appear on the surface just above the spot where X is spreading her arms; but they quickly taper out to nothing before new ones appear.

X is wearing her new, dark blue bathing costume. When it is wet it looks almost black, just as it looks now from this side of the water. When she reaches the end of the pool X curls up her body into a ball and tumbles over without breaking the surface of the water, then her feet push her away as she starts another lap. Just at the point where she turned, where the pebbled surface of the pool’s edge is rounded and dips into the water, there is a large area of that pebbled surface which is wet. The pebbles and the brownish mortar are darker and shinier when there is water on them. There are footprints leading from that wet patch onto the concrete path which goes to the back of the house and the kitchen which has large windows facing out onto the garden and the pool. Whose footprints are they? They must be X’s footprints.

A few bubbles escape from X’s mouth, rise to the surface of the water and vanish so quickly it is impossible to say exactly how. They are gone.

Her body is rolling over at the bottom of the pool, like a cylinder would roll down a slight incline except that X is not actually going anywhere. Her arms are stretched out above her head as she lies suspended in the water parallel to the bottom of the pool, and by quick wriggling movements of her torso she manages to make her body turn around an imaginary axis which runs from her head to her feet.

The footprints on the concrete evaporate. The wet area of the pebbled surface near the pool is gradually getting smaller.

X bursts out of the water; she comes up out of the centre of the pool in one quick movement. The air escaping from her mouth makes a small exploding sound when the lips open, and the water that is falling down the front of her face and over the lips is suddenly forced outwards, forming hundreds of tiny drops that travel slowly in an arc from her mouth to the surface of the water. X’s long hair falls liquidly down the centre of her back.

X stands in the water, almost motionless, for a long time. The only movement is a slow heaving of her chest and shoulders as she takes deep breaths. After a while she moves to the edge of the pool and lifts herself out of the water. She seems to be waiting as she looks down at her feet where a large puddle of water is spreading across the pebbles and brownish mortar.

X turns and looks around the perimeter of the pool several times. She’s trying to locate something, perhaps the towel. It’s nowhere in sight.

She turns around, walks up the garden path and leaves a trail of footprints on the concrete as she goes.

The path makes two swerving movements, first left, then right, on its way to the back entrance of the house, and X follows the centre of the path precisely even though it would be easy to cut across the curves because there is only fresh, green grass on either side of it.

She stops just inside the doorway. Stepping out of the sunlight, she feels quite cold. There is a towel draped over the back of a chair in the centre of the room. She moves over to get it and then stands in front of the sink underneath the kitchen’s large windows. The bottom edge of these windows is lined, on the outside of the house, by a shelf that carries about six large pots of azaleas. Standing in the kitchen, looking out into the garden, the sight of these brilliant pink flowers resting at the bottom of what could almost be an artist’s picture, is always the most striking feature of the garden. The evergreen trees at the bottom of the yard. The pale blue water in the pool. The brownish mortar and small, shiny pebbles around the perimeter of the pool. The white, wrought-iron table and canvas chair. The pink azaleas.

X stands at the sink and stares out into the garden. Perhaps she is imagining that she is again walking up the path towards the house. The footprints leading away from the puddle of water beside the pool are still distinct.

X turns around suddenly. The telephone is ringing. It makes short, shrill bleeping sounds, not at all like the old-fashioned bell type.

She takes one end of the towel in each hand, swings it up and around her neck, then uses one end to wipe the small droplets of water from her face. With her other hand she picks up the receiver.

“Hello.… Oh, hi! Are you all right? … No. No, she’s not here.… She hasn’t been around for hours, thank god.… Well, yes. You could come over now, but I’ll be meeting you later won’t I? … I do think it’s better that you stay away for a while.… Good.… Well, I’ll see you later then.… Goodbye darling. See you then.”

X continues wiping herself as she stands in front of the sink underneath the kitchen’s large windows. She puts the towel down on the bench, turns on the cold water tap, and reaches up to a shelf on the wall to get a glass – one of the better glasses with a deeply engraved pattern on the exterior surface. She fills the glass with water and turns off the tap as she gazes into the blue pool.

Standing in the doorway she sees that the footprints closest to the kitchen door have completely disappeared. The others, closer to the edge of the pool, are still very clear. X turns around momentarily to pick up the glass of water off the bench, and then walks out into the garden.

She sits down on the deck chair after picking up a book which has been left lying face down on it, and rests her head on the canvas strips that form the back support.

It’s a hot, bright day. Oppressively hot. Light passing through the glass is making a striking pattern of faint violet and orange colors on the painted, white surface of the table. Small bubbles form in the water and cling to the side of the glass.

X opens her eyes quickly. The hot sun has made her drowsy. Her facial expression suggests some anxiety, as though she has suddenly remembered an important task which needs to be completed. -But then, just as suddenly, her expression is calm again.

She continues reading.

Hercule Poirot hands M. Bouc a piece of paper. At the top are written, in Poirot’s own hand, the words:

Things needing explanation.

Underneath is a list of ten questions. X reads through the questions carefully, then lifts her eyes and looks into the pool. The book is a long algebraic equation. Things begin to fall into place very slowly. There is someone swimming underwater. She can again feel her chest hardening with the strain of holding her breath and can remember how desperately she fought the urge to let that air out of her lungs. When was that? The body in the pool is tumbling slowly over, several feet under the surface of the water.

She continues reading, but the light reflected off the white page is very bright. She closes her eyes and tries to remember where she put her sun-glasses.

The leaf floating on the surface of the water, the piece of paper on which Poirot wrote his list of questions, a bright, blurry-edged yellow square, all float slowly away in a sea of red.

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