19 October 2007

One time its a scrawny kid up there at the highest diving board, the dad and older brother kind of waiting in the water down below. Kid stands at the back end of the board, doesn't want to walk out along it but looks like he is somehow psyching himself up for the dive, or the jump – why else would he be there. Holding on the rail. Looking down. The dad and the brother are gesturing, like come on then, come on, you can do it. They try not to make a big deal, so when there's no action up there for a while they keep themselves busy, start fooling around, swimming, splashing each other. You can tell they still have eyes in the back of their heads for the younger kid though – they know all the time that he's still up there, still not moving, still stood up there at the top. He stands with this firmness that endlessly undoes itself – face scribbled with signs of some big mental battle. Always sure what he's busy with, but there's too much of it; too many tasks, ticks, actions. He takes his hand off the rail and sort of looks down to the water. He looks up the ceiling, or out the window where you can see forest on the lower reaches of the mountains or he just looks to the ground – the tiles and water down below. The father, the brother. Then he looks up again, this time to the roof tiles/ceiling beams. He scratches his head, constantly messing with his hair. Then he's constantly shifting his eyes around; up and down, then side to side. It goes on for a long time all this, maybe thirty minutes and through all of it he's stood up there, going through this very private thing, raised high on a platform for the contemplation of all. Every now and then the older kid climbs out of the water, runs around, clambers up the ladder, squeezes past the scared kid saying this or that, sometimes a brief exchange of words, then takes a big run and a massive jump to splash down into the water. The father's watching, all attention and smiles. But the younger one still up there doesn't get the hint or the message from these supportive and/or challenging displays, he just loops back around into his waiting/psyching up routine. One time he walks out onto the board a few steps, slowly, as if with some kind of resolve, but then he backs away again. Nothing. He's not diving today.


Another time its a guy in his 30s maybe who more or less strides to the brink of the board. Stands there at the end, folds his arms behind him, right behind his back, then after a brief moment lunges forward. Dives. As if in some mentally defective hard-man test-of-resolve he keeps his arms knotted crossed there behind his back the whole way down, enters the water head-first, no arms to break his fall. Big splash. He swims to the edge.  Once on the poolside he heads round to the diving board steps again, goes up and out to the end of the board, checks himself, folds his arms again, right behind his back and then launches forwards, arcing downwards like a guy that's shot in movie, falling like a dead weight, again hitting the water head-first with a terrible splash. This routine he keeps, diving time and time again, head first and humourless, compulsive, bordering on self-harm. Head-banging against a water-wall, as if to say in all caps I CAN TAKE IT. I CAN TAKE ANYTHING. AGAIN AND AGAIN. He keeps looping round. Pull out of the water, walk to the steps and clamber, head to the edge of the top board and then fold arms. One two, three and go for it, why bother with four, he's in the air already. Head down crash. Only once he breaks the routine, and on this one time when he gets to the edge of the board, instead of the arms folded behind his back he spreads them to make the wide open-armed salute of a victorious footballer or the splayed arms of a man shot suddenly in the back whilst running. Round and round he goes, a loop of time in which he is always plunging, a kind of amateur tough-nut stuntman of this small town, making ready for some horror-thriller-action role that will never come his way.


Days later I tell all this to Kate who tells me that sometimes, when watching strangers (on the street, in a bar or wherever) she wonders if (somehow) they are dreaming the events they enact; as if a guy like this one is really back at home in his bed while his body has come out – a grim phantom, a compulsion driven ghost – to enact such strange obsessive scenes in the world. Now I think of it they both had this quality of nightmare in action or made flesh – the nervous kid and the head-banger – perhaps not so much people as flickering symptoms of the town's neurosis, or its inhabitant's distress.