When I was a kid, my father, a builder, came home from work early, almost straight after we got home from school. When he finished putting away his wooden ruler, his mitre box and his hammers, he bundled us into the car. My brother and I wore faded swimmers and carried our towels.
Our beach towels were special because we’d chosen them ourselves. Mine was a finely fringed affair with some sea creature depicted in pastel colours. I can’t remember if it was an octopus, or a star fish, or even perhaps a seahorse. Steven’s beach towel was a racing car or some other gender appropriate symbol of masculinity. Dad drove us to the beach, ignoring our screeches of excitement in the back, and then let us loose as the afternoon sun sank towards the horizon.
Fine black sand stuck to our ankles and calves like sticky soot. It had to be washed off before we got back in the car. No sand was allowed on the leather upholstery; no mess permitted on the grey floor mats.
Mum would sit on a towel on the beach watching Dad and us two kids conquer the waves. Standing waist deep in water, our heads peering over our shoulders, we waited for the wave that would catapult us on our boogie boards all the way to the shore.
I don’t remember ever learning to swim, or ever forgetting how to. Water is where I feel at home. The sea, the pool, the shower and the rain.
When I met someone else’s husband in a hotel room, I made sure I had my swimsuit and towel with me. Not a thirsty, oversized beach towel but a small bath towel that would fit into my handbag. Afterwards, I got off the ferry one stop early, paid my money to the young man inside the glass booth and swam laps in the indoor pool at Milsons Point.
The hypnotic dance of my arms and legs through the water stilled my mind and washed away the dread I felt about going home. And the chlorinated water of the pool cleansed my body of the sweat and saliva of another man; removing all traces of my dampness and desire.
I emerged baptised — my sins washed away — purified enough to return to my husband without guilt.