2019 Calibre Essay Prize (runner-up): 'Floundering' by Sarah Walker

I swim at night, carving through water full of chlorine and tasting of mould, turning lap after lap before the pool closes down, while cells inside me hurry into being like bubbles under a running tap. The lifeguard stalks along beside the pool watching me. I know he’s trying to get me out, but I can’t stop swimming. I have to reach sixty laps, because ending on a non-round number is too terrifying tonight, because everything is too terrifying, because I am pregnant. I tumble-turn at both walls. If I don’t surface, I reason, he can’t stop me. I can keep swimming forever, until my heart lies back down and everything goes back to normal, before today, before it all changed. It is a pool noodle that is finally my undoing. The lifeguard prods me with one like a boy testing roadkill for life, and I can’t pretend to ignore him anymore. I surface, blinking up at him, staring at the blue and white flags stretched across the pool and trying not to cry.

Two weeks in, says the internet, the sex of the baby has already been decided.

I wake up gasping, a low, sick moan floating into the morning. I shake the body beside me, frowning. He kisses me softly, says, ‘It’s only the chickens’, but to me it still sounds like screaming. In the bathroom mirror I watch how my aching right breast has already changed shape, kicking out, reaching for the mouth my body hasn’t yet grown.

It was a girl, I thought.

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Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker is a Melbourne-based writer, photographer, and fine artist. In 2017 she won the Sydney Road Writer’s Cup and the Sydney Road Storytelling Prize, and was a runner-up in the Darebin Mayor’s Writing Award. She has been published in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Women of letters She was a finalist in the 2019 international MTV RE:DEFINE Award, the winner of the 2016 Best Portrait Prize at the CCP Salon, a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize, a two-time finalist in the Maggie Diaz Photography Prize for Women, and a semi-finalist in the Moran Photographic Portrait Prize. She is also an award-winning theatre designer and director and co-host of the podcast Contact Mic. She was runner-up to the 2019 Calibre Essay Prize. 

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