Free Swim by Marjory Ruderman

Marjory Ruderman is the 1st place winner in Streetlight’s 2021 Flash Fiction Contest

Photo of a person underwater
Photo by Nate Neelson on Unsplash


Phoebe was busier than ever, juggling depression and a midlife crisis. She dreamt of favorable circumstances becoming chaotic. A swimming pool displaced the boxes in her attic, its tiled bottom Escher-stepped and undulating. The water teemed with strangers.

“Not serious buyers.” The Realtor at Phoebe’s elbow aimed her pen at the hordes of people there for the free swim in a structurally bewildering pool.

Phoebe had never had a chance to enjoy the calm of a solitary swim, and now she never would. She wasn’t even ready to list the house, hadn’t decluttered, but it was filling with people.

“Relax,” the Realtor said. “Let them swim.”

Hairy men pushed past. Phoebe shrank from their dripping shorts and cannonballs.

“What about liability,” Phoebe asked. “What if someone gets hurt?”

The Realtor waved her clipboard, gave her pen a decisive click. “I have to finish my tour.”

Phoebe felt more attached to her house, knowing the pool was up there, could be up there, might be up there. She didn’t want to leave, but what could she do? Not swim. There was no room for her. Too loud, too splashy. She plugged her ears to muffle the aggressive springs of the diving board. She stopped showering in case chlorine was leaching into her pipes. She wanted to burrow into the dark warmth of bed, but she didn’t dare invite further intrusion by sleeping.

Avoiding sleep gave her more time, at least. Phoebe had a lot to do. She made lists of things she wished she had accomplished years ago, and other lists of things she felt incapable of accomplishing in the future. She scoured the real estate section of the newspaper, worried she’d find an advertisement for an open house. Her house, open. She drifted into the jobs section, where the endless current of responsibilities frightened her. She dipped the tip of her pencil to the margin, then removed it. There was no point in applying; if her house sold, she’d have to move.

She wished she had gotten the Realtor’s card.

Marjory Ruderman
Marjory Ruderman’s writing has appeared in satirical newspapers, magazines, museum exhibit labels, academic journals, and lots of public health reports, but this is her first published short story. She lives in Charlottesville, Va.

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