Water Therapy

by Doley Henderson

2017: Pool All 31 spinal nerves are on fire. I inhale-exhale. Meralgia paresthetica, chronic-sensory nerve-pain razors my mind, seizes my body. Physio says that recovering from the motorcycle-crash, I pushed my lateral-femoral-cutaneous-nerve into a frenzy. Now it is irreversibly trapped. From L2-3, over hip, through groin, down outer right leg, it slithers, shocks, numbs. We are altered by life every day, worn down, bit by bit. Physio says, Swimming will help. I grit my teeth, wiggle-step my webbed toes into a saggy suit. I rinse in cold water, sliding on cracked tiles, nerves shorting-out like wires. Physio says Motion is lotion. Dragging my feet to the pool, I slip-torque. Shards of pain slice my back-hip-groin-leg. I am a wild sea-creature forced to live as a human in an aqua centre. On the ladder, my toes grip-scream. Physio says, Move it or lose it. My body descends, numbs. Zipping back-and-forth are goggle-eyed aliens. I drop down, push off. My bi’s, tri’s, quads, hams feign a breaststroke. I inhale a wave, choke, glare. Walrus-man tsunamis through a flip-turn beside me. 

Walrus is our enemy, Big-sister. We are seal-women, selkies, his favourite dish. We slip, slide, dip, glide, evading his machinations-mastications. His blubbery bulk cannot catch us. We are wise, wary of tricks. Our women shed their skins on land, danced like Terpsichore, Seventh Muse. They did not notice fishermen slithering nearby, stealing their skins and lives. I wince as they trudge in human wife-and-mother bodies. So I stay in the sea, elusive, sorrowful but free. Follow me.

1953: Lake  I am a toddler in an inner tube on the dock, not a swimmer. Sister-who-never-wanted-me shoves me into the lake. I sink. Now she can be the baby again. Marvelling at the bubbles, I feel them fizz up my nose as sand grates my toes. I pick up a white stone, become a selkie. Aunty Viv bubbles down, thrusts me to the surface, squishes out the water. Mum cries. Her stomach is nearly bursting with Baby-sister and she cannot move from the canvas chair. Wet strands she slides from my eyes, then caresses my cheek. I show her my lucky stone, roll it in my palm, contemplating my Underwater-kin. 

I watch you Big-sister-to-be, as you toddle-trudge along the dock, up to the cottage for nap-time. You glance back so sadly. Don’t worry about Sister-who-never-wanted-you. We will meet after they give me your second-name and bury me. I love swimming in utero but alas will not survive on land.

2016: River  I dig into the roaring Zambezi. Whitewater yanks the paddle, pulls me into the frenzy. I sink, become a selkie. Do crocs and hippos eat us? Bubbles fizz up my nose as rocks graze my toes. I drift, remember the raft, grab-kick the gelatinous swirl, relax-and-rise. Support kayaker surfs by, hauls up my torso, squishes out the water. My ribs ache, lungs scream from near-drowning, limbs shiver. Inside my pocket, I roll my lucky stone, contemplating Baby-sister, Underwater-kin. 

You slipped from my grasp, disappeared into their world, Big-sister. I follow you because you are my only family. It’s been decades since your last visit. Until next time, an chéad uair eile.

2018: Pool  I can finally do a languid crawl. My legs slide, arms reach, head slips side-to-side. I am a silky selkie composing, diving for words. Aquafitters tap their feet. Two men wave, as I ascend the ladder, One day, we will swim like you. They squeeze into double-lifebelts. I fist-pump, flip-off alien goggles. I am Terpsichore, dancing to the shower. I glance back, webbed toes aching but mind swimming in perfectly formed sentences.

I watch you evolving, confident, ready. Your skin is in the locker.

2019: Slough  The Slough of Despond greets me in sleep but Help saves me instead. My arms pull through swirl as I mentally draft my novel. Endorphins mist my mind, well-being flushes my veins. Through chartreuse bubbles, I sink. A shaft of sunlight streams down, I glisten. My lucky stone falls, selkie skin slides on. I flip my tail. I am here, Baby-sister, for a visit. Then I must return to my writing, my real home at last.

A visit is good. We’ll see about the return.

About the Author

Doley Henderson is a Toronto writer of fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work is featured in "The Gaspereau Review", "The Sunlight Press", "BANG!" and "Blank Spaces". Doley’s novel "Sea Change" has been accepted in "The Writers Hotel" fiction conference in NYC, in June 2020. She enjoys telling a story with texture, rhythm, a strong voice, wit and grit.