The chlorine stings my eyes. I blink. Shards of sunlight glitter against the chip-tile bottom of the pool. The hem of my faded t-shirt floats upwards, oblivious to the panic and pressure swelling in my chest. White-hot air smoulders and expands behind my pubescent breasts. I can feel my ribs spreading wider and wider, pulling at the seams of my end-of-summer-saggy swimsuit.
The air would push me to the surface if it weren’t for the rigid, uncompromising fingers curled around the neck of my shirt. I wriggle and the fist clenches tighter around the fabric. His knuckles bump against the back of my head. He pushes me down; further from the surface.
A bead of air leaks from my nostril. I tighten the muscles in my neck, trying to create a lock that will keep the air safely in my lungs. My cheeks bag out. Pressurised blood fizzes against the back of my eyes. The light begins to dim and I feel the tickle of bubbles as they trickle out through my mouth, up and across my cheek.
I reach around my neck and peck at the hand.
One. Two. Three.
The hand releases. My feet find the pool bottom and I push up with mouth open; ready to suck in the summer-sweet air. I break the water’s surface heaving and shuddering and gulping.
“Very good.” He consults my Christmas-present stop-watch. “You added another five seconds to your record.”