by Tim McCool
The man dressed all in white was by the pool again. This was the fourth consecutive day I saw him there. He wore a white buttoned shirt, a stiff collar that cut into his neck, and white shorts that covered only a fraction of his long legs. He always sat at the same table, underneath one of the umbrellas, his legs stretched out to their full extent. The man would sit like this, not sleeping, but not doing anything, except sipping on a pineapple juice that the waiter would refill several times over the course of the day. I walked over to him, stopping at his table and casting a shadow across him. He looked up at me.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning,” I said. “How do you do?”
“Well, thank you. And you?”
“Well, thanks. Lovely day.”
“Yes, yes. Lovely week.”
“Oh my, yes. Enjoying your stay?”
“Very much. Very relaxing here.”
“Oh my, yes. Your first time visiting?”
“And where do you visit from?”
“From the States,” he said, this time with an exaggerated drawl.
“Oh, wonderful,” I smiled warmly, invitingly. “Wonderful.”
“Would you like to sit?”
“Love to, love to,” I replied, pulling out a chair. The scraping of metal on concrete was loud and irritating. No one has yet invented quiet pool furniture.
“May I ask, and please stop me if I'm prying,” I leaned forward in my chair, placing an elbow on the table. “But I've come down to the pool every day, and I always see you by yourself. Are you here on your own? I'm so accustomed to seeing families and couples here.”
“No, not at all. Yes, I'm here on my own.”
“Forgive my nosiness. Married?”
“Yes, a wife and a daughter. One year old.”
“Lovely. They couldn't join you?”
“To be honest, I'm here on something of a bet.”
He looked over at me and then stared out in front of himself, across the pool, past the children yelling and splashing, out toward the ocean. I realized how tired he looked. The unimpeachable neatness of his outfit and his slender, tall, athletic build could no longer disguise the fatigue I saw weighing him down, pressing him into his chair. His chest sunken, pathetically concave.
“Yes, a bet,” he exhaled heavily. “A bet my wife made me. I'm not prone to gambling. I've never set foot in a casino my entire life. But sometimes a bet comes along and you have to follow up on it. This is one of those cases.”
“May I ask what were the conditions of this bet?”
“My wife thought I couldn't swim across the Atlantic.”
“Good Lord, you don't mean to tell me-”
“I had to prove her wrong.”
“I did it in stages. I didn't do it all at once, of course, believe me that would have been impossible. I swam to Bermuda first. Then I caught a break when I came across a series of fishing boats. Each captain was kind enough to let me rest on board for some time, but I wouldn't stay more than an hour or two. About halfway across I found myself in a school of fish, and they carried me along like I was one of their own, far faster than I could have managed by myself. I ran into some real rough weather not too long after, and a hurricane sucked me up into the air. It launched me some distance, I couldn't tell you exactly how far, but it was a long way. After that it was only a couple hundred miles to go, and that was that.”
“And that was that.”
“That was that.”
“That's a remarkable feat. I can understand why you'd need to relax after that. What does your wife have to say about it?”
“I can't say she was too happy about it. She told me not to come home.”
“That's terrible, I'm sorry to hear that.”
“Well, I was afraid that might happen. You swim across the Atlantic to prove a point, and then you turn around and you're not welcome anymore. Isn't that just life.”
I nodded my head. The man drained the last of his pineapple juice. The remaining ice cubes and excess pulp settled at the bottom of his glass. He began to stand and I followed him up.
“I hope everything works out for you,” I said, offering my hand. “It was genuinely good to talk you.”
“Thank you,” he looked at my hand. “I have to be going now, but it was nice to meet you.”
The man unbuttoned his shirt and let it fall to the concrete. He walked over to the pool and descended the stairs. Two kids stopped yelling and splashing to look at him. I watched him too, as he entered the shallow end, where it was only three feet deep. He kept walking until his toes barely scraped the bottom. He propelled himself forward and onto his stomach. I stood there for several minutes and watched him float face down in the pool before I walked back into the lobby to check out.