Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Shadow And The Shadow

It is almost 1 pm. The sun is shining as bright as is astronomically possible. It is a cloudless day. The pale blue water of the swimming pool looks refreshing, cool, inviting, as clear as chlorine and the reflected sky can turn it. Every now and then I leave the shade of the umbrella over the table where I write this. (The text uploads to the Evernote servers automatically, my unmatched prose duplicated into the - impossible 10-years ago, surely - computing cloud, already transported to whatever computers are running at home or at work. Magic really.) I stand at the pool's edge and prepare to disturb the near perfect stillness. The pumps are bubbling small ripples, their tiny coruscations are mirrored through refractions of sunlight to dance on the bottom.

I throw no shadow. Turning my head up so my that vision is vertical, I confirm that the sun is directly overhead. It is the equinox tomorrow. We are ready for the second half of the year, identical but reversed. Six months with the sun casting shadows to the south, six months casting them north.

I dive in with a large splash and my breath stops for a second. It is cool alright. It is refreshing. I surface and gasp a lung full of air. Calmly I swim to the edge and rest my arms on the tiles, lay my head on my elbows and let my body float. It is a fast pool, the water level breaches the edge and trickles past the first row into the slotted drainage tiles that circle the pool, like another perimeter. After my dive they have some heavy work to do.

I am not up to doing laps today. I just want to cool down. I want to get some sun.

I am prepared to allow my body to be bombarded with radiation, happy to have my melanin suck in a barrage of UV. I want a better suntan, not cancer, so there is another layer of absorptive agent, some low-wattage water-resistant sunscreen that takes away most of the UV-B and UV-C, and it shines off my skin, at least those parts I could reach.

As well as punching the keys here, I have been re-reading The Prestige and am still confounded by Christopher Preist's amazing legerdemain. Can Borden (grand-pere - Christian Bale in the movie - and/or grand-fils) bi-locate or does he have an identical twin? Which is The Prestige? Artifice or sorcery?

The movie was on cable the other night and was better than I remember it. Good in fact. (Christopher Nolan, what do you expect?) But it answers the question clearly, which i found disappointing. The novel, as I remember, leaves it tantalizingly ambiguous. Both answers seem correct. This is Priest, his specialty is split and duplicated realities. (And The Affirmation is also about twins.) But I read the novel a while before the film was made and want to brush up on The Pledge, The Pact and The Prestige. (I think is that what they are called. Memory 0, Making It Up 1.) I want to see if I was right about the movie being wrong. If you've been reading here, you know these things are my peeve at the moment.


As an aside, both my testicles are being crushed by a combination of the twisted polyester trunks that contain them and the hard cushion-less seat. I think I shall get back into the pool when I finish writing these words and sort them out...


Sunday. And I am out of my bedroom before noon. Unheard of.

I didn't wake to the church bells at 10am, nor to the couple in the flat above going at it - regular as the bells - for their weekly bout of horizontal folk-dancing. But I am awake nevertheless near eleven. There is a sound outside my door. The flat-mate and his girlfriend. I doff the CPAP, turn down the humidifier and off the air-con. (n.b.: Singlish is creeping into my vocab. Lah.) With these domestic ambient-sound generators quiet, I can hear outside my room more clearly. Not that I am eavesdropping, I getting up for my shower and I can hear, that's all.

The girlfriend says something in her high voice, the slightly echoing accent of a Chinese mainlander who has learned her English at a village school and refined it with American boyfriends in Shanghai and now Singapore. Unmistakable. (We've spoken about it around the dinner table before: she is quite aware of its uniqueness and finds our discussions amusing.) I hear the click of her heels as she puts on her shoes, then a clunk as the door closes and I hear my flatmate's footsteps - he has come back in alone. The door to his room closes.

When I come out from my shower to make breakfast, his door is still closed. I crush up some Weet-bix for fibre, lay on a hefty sprinkle of blueberries for their antioxidants, scoop two spoons of unsweetened yoghurt against the looming immanent diabetes and to feed the bowel parasites, and finally a generous trickle of honey because, as mentioned, the yoghurt is unsweetened. I top the bowl with low-fat milk and mush it all together. I see that it is a lovely day. I decide that, in a minute, I will lie by the pool.


In the water it is majestically pleasant as I rest half-in half-out and contemplate life. Employment. Leisure. Vast wealth and political influence. I have about three of these. I am alive, have a well-paying job and am lost in relaxing reverie in a beautiful swimming pool on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in the tropics. On the equator, on the split between north and side, two halves of a global orange. I am not don't-care-what-I-spend wealthy but 5%, you know what I mean. I am smiling, almost laughing at how good I have it. Health? Not so much, admittedly. Enough of that. Denial.

Urine. Back-up. Urgent. I needed to pee. I am too old to let it go here like a child, so I climb out, take a brief de-chlorinating pool-side shower - the pole which holds the shower rose has no shadow either - dry my legs and trunks to minimize dripping (and the possibility of slipping) on the 'marble' floor of the flat and head to the lobby door.

A fat man with thin legs walks towards me. My heart drops a beat, but metaphorically only. The two of us pause. It is my reflection in the glass walls of the condominium's gym. I always surprise myself with this body. I hardly ever recognize it as my own. This unreal reality is not me, for inside is my perception of me and looking out my eyes, these eyes that I can touch (as does the reflection, mimicking me, parodying me) is a strong lad, nineteen, fit from several years of surfing who boasts a large-breasted girl-friend and locks of long springy blonde hair. The ethereal creature in fornt of me now is a lonely, sad old man, albeit with job, alive, good money and otherwise relaxed.

I am in the process of making a new myself in this gym. I have lost nearly 10kgs. I'll never bring that young man back to existence, I know. I am merely trying to reassemble myself as a person who might live longer than the guy on my side of the reflection, as a person who might outlast the current dangerously unfit version of me.

There are a pair of lady's shoes on the stand at the door when I re-enter the apartment. I am struck by this. Where they there when I left to go, ahem, swimming 45 minutes before? I seem to recollect they were, they might have been, but who can trust my memory? They certainly look like the flatmate's girlfriend's shoes. Slight heel, thin straps and sparkly girlish adornments to support her lithe acrobat's body. She must have left them there. Gone off in flip-flops? Unlikely. She only ever came in one pair of shoes, I am sure. I had never seen her in anything but heels like these. One pair at a time. Either she had brought another pair, a twin set, or someone else had left earlier. Who was it? Someone with her voice? Impossible.

I reason that she might have come back while I was at the pool, (submerged or resting, swimming, absorbed my writing or lost in my reading) but the path by the pool was her only access. I hadn't seen her. I'd seen others: the fortunate and rare maids with a day off, heading to Lucky Plaza or to Golden Mile; hookers doing the walk of shame; mum and dad leading the triplets off to their ballet lesson, the identical girls cute as buttons in tutus and white tights - they all wave; but not her.

No, she could not have come back this way. Then, I reason again, less convincingly this time, that she might still be there and it was someone else who had left. But it was her voice at the door earlier, I could swear it on a dozen copies of The Origin Of The Species.

I go into the en-suite of my room, and take a brief, dribbling, unsatisfying piss. My trunks are already wet, so what. Prostate, sigh.

When I come out of my room the flatmate and his girlfriend, whom you will understand I am surprised to see, are at the kitchen door. They smile and say good morning. The flatmate's smile is exceptionally broad. The girlfriend's is more tentative. Is she embarrassed about something?

I say good morning, hesitating for almost a moment too long, and come back out to the pool all confused.

And I have a slight shadow now.

How could she still have been in the room (as the evidence now says she was) and yet outside it as well, leaving the apartment? Was this a trick? Maybe she could bi-locate like Borden in the novel? Ha! Did she have a twin, a sister also trained in the family circus troupe in China since a toddler? Able to fold herself to fit into an impossibly small tube, able to bend backwards way over to touch her feet on the floor in front of her smiling face with her arse resting on the back of her head?

I think of the flatmate's exaggerated smile, a cat and cream smile, and I curse him. That must be it! The perfect threesome!

I dive firmly into the pool making an enormous splash, and underwater I scream into a stream of bubbles all of my envy and frustration.

(OK it was raining the day I took the photo, this is not today. Though of course it rained today as well.)


[Hey flatmate. You know the girlfriend I made up for this story is not the girlfriend lying on the couch with you now, right? Or her twin. Not either of them. Don't hit me!]


savannah said...

i'm confused, sugar. ;~) xoxoxoxox

(ok, not really, but it seemed the perfect response. good piece of writing, darlin.)

(by the by, why wv AND comment moderation?)

expat@large said...


marke said...

This, Sir, is a pretty powerful paragraph:

"A fat man with thin legs walks towards me...."

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