[Inspired by many years of pool parties in fat liberation contexts -- and specifically NOLOSE -- I wrote this short short at least fifteen years ago. Social media is buzzing about fat pool parties right now because of a scene in the television show "Shrill," which is based on a book of essays by Lindy West. ETA: The episode itself was written by Samantha Irby. The buzz made me want to send this back out into the world." Susan Stinson]
Once a year, fat women drink a swimming pool. We always go to the same hotel, a dumpy little franchise with a parking lot full of seagulls and a musty smell. Half of the ice machines are always out of order, but the hard-pressed management has been responsive to our desire for privacy. They allow us to cover the windows with brown paper and close the pool to other guests after midnight. They used to be less willing to indulge our reluctance to hire a lifeguard, but now we request a local who is one of our own.
She tells us that other members of the staff have theories. Some say that with so many fat women in the pool, there is simply no room left for water. Others imagine something more dramatic: a splash like a tidal wave. No one straight out asks the lifeguard what happened, so she leaves them to their rumors while they take down the paper and refill the pool.
We drink it together, all at once. Some worry about getting sick, and, of course, some do, but -- sick or not -- we are made clean on the inside, where it counts. The chlorine is powerful, so strong that it fades the colors in our suits. We buy new ones every year. These are beautiful suits, specially made for us. One is a blue that starts dark at the curve of one hip then gets lighter and brighter, becomes a cloud over the breasts, and reaches darkness again at the strap. A summer day and night of a suit. Or orchids, hot and loud, splashed over one with a tiny skirt. Tankinis, boy shorts and aquatards with long zippers. A memorable Grecian thong. Yellow and green striped tanks and hot pink bikinis. We robe for the event. The hotel provides small towels.
As we prepare, there are nervous giggles. Shoulders hunch. We shed glasses, room keys and cover ups on plastic lounge chairs. There are enough of us to circle the pool. We do a concentration exercise in which each of us points two fingers to her own eyes, then points the fingers at the eyes of the person next to her. Now, no one laughs.
We lie flat on our bellies on the blue painted concrete edge. The pool is very full. One by one, women begin to drop into the water. Some are seasoned leaders. Others are shy girls wishing to submerge. Our largest go in early for the sake of volume. No one drinks until the water begins to spill over the pool's lip.
When it happens, the swimmers howl and swallow. The rest of us reach into the water, motioning it towards us with great wet swoops of our arms. We lower our faces and open our mouths. Then we drink. As the water level drops, we lean farther out. Women go on falling into the water. Some slide in, or, carefully, jump. We float, slurping like thirsty animals. Some of us lick each other's skin. We stay away from the suits, which are, in general, conservatively cut. Some of us stand in the shallow end and bend to drink. When the water is low, some kneel. We lap until our faces are pressed to the damp blue bottom. Then we turn on our backs and stare at the ceiling, sated. The smell of chlorine remains undiminished. Whenever one of us is ready to leave, we give her a boost to climb the delicate silver ladder out of the pool. If anyone doesn't want to risk the ladder or can't reach it, she moves to the shallow end where we lift her out, supported by nothing but scented air and the muscles in our willing arms.
copyright Susan Stinson, 2005
Previously published, Lambda Literary Journal