First published in Ascent Aspirations Magazine (2008)
Barry moved silently through the water like a solitary U-boat separated from its pack. His eyes followed a beam along the ceiling to keep his mind on something other than the guilt he felt when he thought of Mildred.
He pushed off the gunite wall to begin lap twelve, ignoring the ladies doing water aerobics to his right. At the opposite end of the pool, Barry switched to his favorite, the breaststroke. When he did, Mildred’s sleek form drifted into his consciousness. It was the first day of practice for their college swim team. He was a junior, she a freshman. He watched her surge through the water propelled by strong, confident strokes. Twice she noticed him and smiled. Each time Barry’s face reddened, and he turned away.
She was waiting outside the locker room after practice. They stood in the hall and chatted until she had to go to class. He missed his.
Barry felt his stroke become labored at the thought of their time together. The last year of her life was his most painful, as he watched her shrivel and weaken. Typical of Mildred, she remained upbeat until the end. They recounted stories from the past — good and bad — and laughed and held hands until she tired. The only thing she insisted on was that he continue his daily swim.
He bobbed in the water at the end of his last lap, removed his goggles and laid his forehead against the tile. He stared at the rippling water. Guilt stared back. And the realization that he’d suppressed for too long crept, like bile, from deep inside him to the surface. For as much as he cared about Mildred when she was alive, and as much as he mourned her passing, he understood, at this point in his life, that he loved being alone more.