I love the smell of chlorine; it reminds me of childhood. They use it in the halls here. The bromine solution never got all the germs, smelled bad too. But not the chlorine. You knew it was a thorough cleansing when they used chlorine. I love the smell of chlorine, it reminds me of childhood.
My family lived in a house two blocks from the Peace River swimming pool. Beside it was the Kinsman arena, where we spent most winters either on the ice or running around like the rink rats we were, and beside that, the baseball diamond and the football field. It wasn’t the only field, there was another on the far side of the arena for soccer that we usually forgot about. Out of sight as they say.
The pool was always my favorite. On the ice you could slip and fall, in the fields they made you run until you couldn’t feel your legs. Floating in the water felt safe. If you wanted to, you could leisurely float from where you were to where you were going, it didn’t have to be abrupt.
When you were old enough to begin swimming lessons, the parents would leave you in the capable hands of one of the instructors and simple games would be played in the shallows. The instructor’s name was Julie. I always felt safe when she was around. Diving to the bottom of the shallows to collect toys tossed there, then shooting out of the water with the clumsiness of a dolphin, practicing floating on our backs and our doggy paddles. Every day was fun and filled with excitement! Then came the day when I didn’t like Julie anymore.
When we were all confident in the shallows, we started to play “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” We slowly crept forward until we were almost at Julie’s back. When she figured we were close enough, and we asked Mr. Wolf what time it was, she spun around and yelled Lunch Time. I didn’t have a name for what burned in her eyes at that moment, but it stopped my heart with terror. For an instant, she was no longer the safe and nurturing instructor I’d grown to know. Instead she became something primal, dark, and evil. She turned and lunged at me, fangs and claws at the ready, and I was frozen. Claws wrapped around my arms and she growled as that burning in her eyes pierced my young soul. I cried and peed myself and she held me to her bosom and hushed me apologetically. Her skin smelled like chlorine.
When we were a few years older, the boys and girls were separated into different groups. The girls went with Julie and the boys with Andy. I liked Andy; he was a cool older boy. We were finally allowed to swim in the middle area. The deep end was still a year or two away and I think it scared more of us boys as we were willing to admit. For the time being though, we were kings of the middle ground.
Swimming became more technical as we learned different strokes and rescue techniques. We had a whole week when we had to learn nothing but boring things like mouth to mouth, but Andy made it up to us by letting us have fights on these big floating mats and taking us for a walk backwards up the waterslide. We got in trouble for both activities. But the highlight of any session with Andy was when he’d take us to relax in the hot tub.
Andy told us stories about the cartoons he was watching, not the kiddie stuff that we could watch, but the later night cartoons for the older kids. Stuff like The Simpsons, anything anime, and mature comic book shows like Spawn. He even told us some of these shows had boobs, real cartoon boobs! We couldn’t believe it.
But he also told us a story once about how his brother and he liked to play with army men in this vacant lot every day after school. They’d bury the little toy men in a bag under a log on the lot so that they could always continue where they left off. One day the boys came to the lot and, to their disappointment, there were diggers and men in bright orange vests and where there used to be a lot, there was nothing but a big hole. I felt bad for Andy. He was always so nice to us: I couldn’t believe the universe would do something like that to him. After lessons that day I went home and picked out a handful of my best army men. I brought them to the pool and left them with my clothes. I wanted to give them to Andy after lessons that day, but not in front of the guys. That would be too embarrassing.
On Valentine’s day, one of the girls in Julie’s group had made cards for everyone at the pool, boys and girls alike. The boys in my group didn’t like her, she was poor and smelled bad. They all threw her cards in the urinal in the boys change room then pissed on them. I didn’t want to be left out. After the lesson we sat in the hot tub and Andy told us another story. I wasn’t paying attention. The girls group came and joined us. Julie kissed Andy. The hot tub smelled like chlorine. Chlorine reminds me of Valentine’s Day.
We were finally old enough to go off into the deep end. Andy had quit. I blame that bitch Julie. Word was that she broke his heart. The boys and girls were thrown back together in a group fraught with hormones and anxiety with Julie as our instructor. The girls I’d known from ten plus years of lessons were now women. Some of their tits had even started filling out. They’d started noticing us boys as well, and there were more of them than there were of us. I was a damn good swimmer. They all noticed. Even Julie.
We were sitting in the hot tub as usual after lessons. I was fairly tired and was happy to be there. We’d seen who could swim the length of the pool completely underwater. My lungs almost burst! I must have zoned out because when I looked around, everyone had left but Julie and me. She waded over and pressed herself against me. She told me I’d grown up nicely and that she wanted to show me something tonight. She told me to come back at eleven. She simultaneously grabbed me with one hand and placed my hand on her breast with her other. Julie’s chest in the hot tub smells like chlorine. My hate for Julie smells like chlorine.
I show up at the pool’s service entrance near the far side of the arena. I knock on the door and wait. Julie opens the door. She’s wearing a bikini I’ve never seen before; instructors don’t wear those things. I follow her inside and she shuts the door. I hate Julie and want her at the same time. It infuriates me. As we walk around the pool, past the diving board, I’m thinking about how to do it. How I’m going to end Julie. Then she turns around and pushes close to me, plants her lips on mine and I can’t think straight. All I know is that I want Julie.
We go off the deep end and create our own world. I’m thinking about Julie out of her bikini. I’m thinking about whether Andy actually gave a shit about any of us. I’m thinking about pissing on a Valentine’s day card. I’m wondering, “What time is it Mr. Wolf?”
We get out of the deep end and I make note of the storage supply closet. I want to go to the hot tub, but Julie wants to go down the waterslide. We climb the stairs to the waterslide. When we get to the top, she pushes me against the railing and starts kissing down my neck. The girl’s insatiable. She’s kissing my waist and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do to her as I gaze down to the pool, so far away, calm, and I let the smell enter me. At this moment the smell of chlorine centers me. The smell of chlorine takes away these dirty thoughts. The smell of chlorine cleanses me. Then I’m rushing to meet the deck.
I hit the deck, hear the snap and feel the warmth. They say death has a cold embrace, but when it’s your own blood, it’s a warm one. I can’t feel my legs or arms. My neck is useless. It’s nothing but that smell.
Julie kneels beside me, turns my head, and plants a long passionate kiss on my lips. I’d be hard if I could. As she pulls back, she looks me in the eye and I recognize something primal, dark, and evil. Something that scared the hell out of me years ago, but it’s only in this moment that I understand Julie’s gaze has always been, to some degree, filled with bloodlust.
Julie enters the supply closet and exits with a mop and bucket. She cleans the blood that has embraced me. I feel cold and alone, except for that smell. I lose consciousness.
When I come to, I’m lying in the soccer field at the far side of the arena. I’m dressed, and Julie is standing over me. She assures me the medics are on their way and that I shouldn’t have been climbing the arena so late at night. She assures me she loves me, and plants one more kiss on my cheek. I can’t smell anything now. I am alone.
I smell the chlorine in the halls. I bask in it. The janitor always comes by at five-thirty in the morning. It’s how I’ve kept track. Today’s the day though. She came and saw me a couple times, Julie. She cried a bit, but mostly just sat and stared with that look in her eyes. If I had any movement in me, well, I’m not sure I’d want to kill her or fuck her. Makes no difference now though. She stopped coming a while back, everyone has. Out of sight, as they say. I’ve been counting the days too, so I know today is the day. Haven’t spoken a word in a long time. People have given up. Waste of resources I’ve heard them say. Today’s the day. It’s five-forty now and the janitor is rounding the corner of these long halls. I’ll take the smell while I can. I love the smell of chlorine, it reminds me of childhood.
Cam Skip is studying for his BEd at Grande Prairie Regional College. This former broadcaster can always be found with his nose in a book, or contemplating putting a story of his own to paper.