Fiction | Máirín O’Hagan

At Tooting Lido

If a cartoonist coloured turquoise-green and littered it with sparkles, your expectations would be closely met. Your tired eyes might pop out on stalks and boggle, telescope. This is it. This is holiday.

You step through the leafy fence that cuts you off from Tooting Common and transports you to another place. All outside was London; all of London is your life, your work, your love to, but I’ve got to—, your tired feet and weary obligation, your so great! and so exciting!, and, yes, you probably should move out soon for your health. Where would you go? It doesn’t matter, leave it on the other side. The trees are taller than the buildings, the trees have closed you in and shut them out. The is the last day of summer. This is holyday.

The kitschy coloured row of doors, the custard yellow, forest green, red is a fireman’s truck and blue’s a school jumper. Your holiday doors are the chairs you sat on in your primary school. The hot sun and concrete-under-bum, and jumps high enough to feel the fall before you splash plunge your holiday into years before breasts risk falling from bikini, and ambition was the price of an ice-cream. When daring to be daring was terribly scaring, but the heart- faltering, tear-spiking fear of a too-high leap to a too-cool pool might matter everything in a day, and not an eternity of never really amounting to anything. What if you never amount to anything? I don’t know. My skin is warm and resting. I dare you to jump in.

Rosena’s MP for Tooting now, after Sadiq’s success. Andy’s excited, she’s amazing. You’re excited too. Even after Brexit, Tooting’s doing alright, London loves each other. Donald Trump’s not president yet, and how on earth could that happen? London loves each other. Tooting’s doing it right. Everybody’s here, look! It’s the end of summer, the last day. Did you ever want to not work? Today, I didn’t work. It’s summer today, All Day, isn’t Andy? Like a Mayfly’s one day of blissful everything. It’s perfect.

There’s an older lady behind me, she’s a lady of leather. People would say it like it’s a problem. She’s worn it, she’s tanned it, she’s carried everything in it like a bag for life, and it’s still water-tight. She’s lovely, she smiles and she wears clothes to keep her reverend, useful bones comfortable. I’m glad she rewards kindly the body of veteran service, I’m glad she’s reading in the sun, she looks so uncommonly… comfortable. I love her. I love everyone here. Everyone’s here.

Who else is here? The Lads! All European, noisy, keen to shout, and lark about. Outside I’d find them tiresome, uncouth, menacing. If they shouted to me outside, I would fume for hours, feel imposed upon, feel never to be free from objectifying unenlightened. I would rage, how dare they? Why is my smile something they have rights to demand? If they were loud as this another day, why would their voices have more right to drown out all my thoughts, all others on this bus or street or carriage? Today I am grateful for their happiness, and I’m already smiling.

Now when I front crawl, I creep, towards an ancient, elemental reach. I bubble blue and wash congested channels, hair-lined tunnels choked from flowing filthy air. I stream out black strings of snot and hope that this satisfying thickness will lessen the load of my lungs. The chambers that, outside, I hear rattle as I cycle on the roads. When I first moved to London I heard hoovers, following me down the streets, before I recognised the sound I made myself. I wheeze, I wheeze, I rattle blackness picked up on the breeze. I don’t know what more the poor— but London’s so green!—leaves can do. Though they fight valiantly, their defence but delays a fate; attrition’s active: all my life’s at stake. I swim and swim, and rinse with water blue as Ventolin.

Are you hungry, Andy? Want to cafe? It’s 1930 there, or 1999. Halloumi wraps are great here in Tuscany, I mean Tooting, right inside the holiday, at the far end of the pool. Let’s walk, my soul’s friend, relieved and lightened of the too-hot-too-cold it’s a about layers that cause complaining on a daily day. The sun is on our skin and we are peacefully alive within. Everyone is free to feel good without their clothes, because here is Common love. It’s bouncing off every body; the sun takes of his hat and taps every cell upon my skin, my biggest, fattest organ, says relax. This is your body, let it enjoy alive. Let it be glad. Let it not be to blame. If that feels strange, what does it normally?

I don’t want summer to end today, but I know what the sun will do because my iPhone told me. It doesn’t matter, today we’re living harder, living better, and the memory will last more than all the other days because it tastes of bliss— and bliss eclipse banal. Banalarama! That’s my everyday, that’s not today, my holy day. Remember bopping in the shadows, and do not forget the aquamarine is so unnatural that you can’t believe we’re in it. Remember sharing happiness that came so easily. Today we’re not now joined by shared travail, there is no dissertation, no director, no joint effort of achievement to make us allies or systems of support. There was no giant struggle to make time to fit each other in. Sadiq’s success! Rosena Allin- Kahn! I can believe that Donald Trump won’t win!

Why can’t we do this more? Because time skips, and after all we won’t remember most of it. A half-glass of that water fills my memory; optimism has enough to drink on this. I have to go to war now. Go to work. I have to tear my myself from bliss, the day that made my senses shiver like an early kiss. We have been dulled and dumbed, receptors numbed and sense lulled, but I feel this restoration underneath my skin, I can remember sentience, believe that London loves each other, we can win. And I forgot I had to work tonight. I have to pull away, that today’s the last day of summer; that work snatches; that trees look taller than the buildings, the city, and the greenhouse that this outside’s in.

Máirín O’Hagan is a writer, performer and film-maker living in South West London. She writes historical drama as part of duo Queynte Laydies and runs film company Barefaced Greek which uses Ancient Greek drama to make modern films, as well as writing TV comedy and drama.

Queynte Laydies:
Barefaced Greek:

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