The Pipe

A Flash Fiction by Philip Redo

It was a big pipe. And it was coated with some kind of cloth. Painted white. As he stared at it he thought that maybe the white paint had been brushed over some kind of adhesive tape or even a gauze. The big pipe turned at 90 degrees into the wall. He thought it would be called an elbow pipe by those who knew about such things. He didn’t. But he couldn’t help but look at the pipe as he swam his daily laps. On each trip across the pool he switched from side stroke to freestyle. He started with side and returned with the traditional crawl. The side stroke trip exposed the right side of his head parallel to the water. Going this direction he couldn’t help but see all the way up the wall that bounded the pool. Towards the ceiling the pipe was easy to spot. Even if you weren’t really looking for it.

He looked at it each time he swam. He couldn’t help it.

Below the pipe hung seven large panels. He had counted them. On each panel were swimming records. Backstroke. Breaststroke. Freestyle. Relay. The record holders were all children. The oldest age group listed was girls and boys between 13 and 18. The youngest group were 8 year olds.

As he swam he would calculate their times against his own. They were impressively fast.

He knew little about swim times. He only knew that these were this particular pool’s record holders. The glory of past efforts by people he did not know. How these times might compare to Olympic times didn’t matter. What he knew for certain was that compared to these times, he was slow. But he wasn’t 13-18 years old either.

As he swam he wondered what exactly the big pipe did. It was clearly part of the air filtering system. Or was it part of the heating system? Are those the same system? He didn’t know. Maybe some sort of vent. Venting what exactly? He imagined that when it was first installed it must have been all silvery and shiny. Like a brand new pipe in the hardware store. Then they taped it up and painted it white to match the walls around the pool. Maybe the wrapping also muffled some noises it might make. He didn’t know anything about pipes. He wondered how long ago the pool had been constructed. The oldest reference he could see was a smallish banner hanging on an adjacent wall from the pipe celebrating a championship won in 1968. 52 years ago. That was a pretty bad year, he remembered from personal experience, as he reached the deep end. He touched the wall. He swam back the other way. In this direction he wouldn’t be in position see the pipe or the names and times that were listed on the wall. Heading in this direction he swam the crawl. Freestyle. Traditional swimming. The way they first teach you as a kid. Face in the water. Up for a breath. Face back down. The entire length of the pool. Up for a breath and then back down.

Swimming was great exercise. Especially for him. He had to exercise. He was not 13-18 anymore. He was about to become a senior citizen. He had received his Medicare card in the mail two weeks ago. It was hard to believe.

At the shallow end of the pool he stopped for a few seconds. He bounced on his toes. He stretched his arms out wide and then he lifted them above his head. Then he kicked himself off the side of the pool aiming for the other side. He examined the names again. And noted their times. “R. Bouchard 24.23”, “K. Chu 21.54”, “M. Singleton 20.37”. He couldn’t fathom how even a kid could swim this same body of water so quickly. Two lengths! 50 meters in about 20 seconds. He had timed himself on occasion. The digital timer attached to the wall would continuously count up both the seconds and minutes elapsed but it did not divulge the hour of the day in which it was happening. It wasn’t a clock. It marked times but not time. He did some calculations in his head, accounting for the fact he had not started his swim with a dive. That would be an advantage. He also factored in his relatively advanced age. The kids were about three times faster and five times younger. “L. Munroy”, “J. Gardella” were their names. It didn’t matter.

The pipe seemed oversized as he went back the other direction. It didn’t seem in correct proportion to the space. It looked to him as if it either had been purposely over built or the wrong size pipe that they decided to make work because it was easier than ordering a new one. But he knew very little about HVAC duct pipes.

It was a strange thing. The pipe caught his eye the moment he first walked into the pool.

Ready to undress and get going with his laps.

It was a big pipe, covered with some type of cloth, painted white.

It looked exactly like the one he focused his eyes on when he had been wheeled into the operating room at the Medical Center. They were about to put him under. The doctors and nurses were milling around him. He was trying to take his overactive mind and put it someplace else. Anywhere else. He stared at the ceiling. At a huge pipe that was coated with some kind of cloth. It was white. He was going to have his heart repaired so he could go swimming.

A NYC native Philip L. Redo is a former broadcaster in both commercial and public radio/tv. Articles of his have appeared in several publications including an OpEd in the Boston Globe. He lives in Maine.

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