• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 05
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The deep end

Seventeen pools in as many days. We may as well collect empty pools as anything else, Dave says. His mother says why don’t we go round a nice garden. Or a castle. They have brilliant dungeons and better tea shops.

But everyone does those. Even full pools are a bit of a cliché these days. Abandoned things have more glamour to them.

More ghosts, Dave says. He’s taken to brushing me down before I get back into the car. He won’t let me wear bathing costumes in case I get the urge to jump in. The most I can get away with is a towel wrapped round my head, which, frankly, looks daft with jeans and a hoody.

Dave sits behind the wheel and waits for me to check out the pool. He’s got a clipboard and a map that sits between us on the front seat, and I draw a little star on it for every pool we find.

We don’t go to the successful towns, the centres where people take their fitness seriously and the council can still find money for leisure. Instead we drive like arrows towards the down at heel, where people stand outside chip shops to watch out for any stranger who might lower their guard. The pools here are bigger, they reek of European money thrown randomly and enthusiastically like cash at a wind machine and no official ever visiting to check their investment. Their closure will have been slow, lifeguard by lifeguard until even checking water purity cost too much.

Do you want me to come with you? Dave asks sometimes, and I just shake my head, side to side as if it’s wet. I put my hand up and touch the ends of my hair, pull strands over to my nose as if I can smell chlorine. There have been days when I’ll even lick my arm to taste the salt. It makes Dave groan in a way optimism never can.

And then we drive off to the next one.