Daniel bobs—his legs oddly attenuated by the blue water. I sit on the poolside, feeling cold tiles bite through the warmth of my thighs. We wait for the lifeguard to lose interest in us. It doesn’t take long: the pool is nearly empty at night and we swim three times a week—all the staff know us and ignore us in favour of their daydreams.
Daniel’s intent on his training—waiting for my signal. I watch the clock. As the second hand clicks to the top, I drop my hand and he sinks, bending his knees as he exhales. A long flow of bubbled air funnels to the surface. I watch the clock again.
At two minutes I glance round to check the lifeguard isn’t watching. He’s leaning against the laddered chair and gazing into space. At three minutes I divide my attention between the clock and Daniel. I lean forward and put my hand on his head. His hair is sleek in the water and floats around my fingers like a teasing sprite. I can feel the tension in his body—it transmits through the water like fluid electricity.
Three minutes twenty seconds. I twist my fingers into Daniel’s hair and pull, lifting his head. But he resists, bracing his body against me. As I tug him upwards and he pulls back down into the chlorinated depths I watch the clock. At three minutes and forty three seconds he pops to the surface like a balloon. He throws his head back and inhales, not bothering to wipe the water from his face or open his eyes, just flooding his lungs with the oxygen he’s been craving.
Finally he straightens, scrubbing his face with his hands and glancing up at me to see how I’ve taken his new record. I keep my face calm, giving him no clues to my mood, and he looks away, worried.
“Three minutes forty-three,” I say, without inflection.
He nods, too concerned about my reaction to take in his achievement.
I get up and walk to the showers. I hear him climbing the ladder to follow me.
Later, in the car, he waits for me to fasten my seat belt before starting the engine. He keeps his hands at ten and two on the wheel, textbook fashion and stays within the speed limits. He used to be a reckless driver, a risk-taker, but now he obeys all the rules.
Outside the flat he parks. He’ll wait for me to get out before unbuckling his own seatbelt. But I sit, watching his fingers flex and stretch around the steering wheel, the only sign of tension that he allows himself to show.
“Three minutes and forty-three seconds,” I say again.
“That’s quite an improvement,” I say.
He smiles, suddenly relaxed and full of confidence.
“Do you think you deserve a reward?” I ask.
He shakes his head, refusing to make any judgment. “That’s up to you,” he says, but his voice is naked with desire.
I glance at him. He is looking straight ahead, but his jaw muscles pulse.
Our lives have changed so much. Sometimes I feel emotional vertigo—as though I’m standing in a high cold place and I can see tiny specks below, but so far away I can’t tell if they are people, or cars, or buildings. At other times I want to giggle—it’s incredible that we’ve reached here, this point of intimacy beyond love—and the adrenalin rush makes my palms sweat and my knees weak with lust.
“Ten minutes,” I say, and get out of the car. His hands are wrapped around the wheel so tightly his knuckles gleam.
I have to work fast. Ten minutes. I walk to the front door but as soon as I’m inside I run upstairs and unlock the box at the end of our bed with the key that I keep on a chain around my neck—I even wear it in the swimming pool. I grab handcuffs, ankle restraints and a quirt and lay them on the bed. Then I rustle through my lingerie drawer and grab a black basque that laces in front and head for the bathroom. I drop my clothes on the floor and pull the basque around me, hooking the two sides together as fast as I can. I press my hands against the cold porcelain of the basin and stare into the mirror. I ask my reflection who’s really in charge here, but before she can answer I look away. I hear Daniel coming up the stairs.