It’s hot. That’s why at one in the morning, when the stars are burning holes in the sky and my thoughts burn holes in my sleep, I get up, strip down to my underwear, and go outside.
The pool water inks in its pebbled shell, surface quiet as a breath. The promise of peace is alluring.
At the first step, the cold bites at my ankles, a bitter thing that tries its best to exclude me. The night air is like a beach; I can even smell salt, though it’s probably just haze blown in from the ocean miles out at the coast. That happens, sometimes, when the wind is right.
I kick at the water, splashes like shouts slapping against the surface. The water splashes back, icy droplets on my legs, my thighs, my stomach, each one burning a hole through the reality of my skin.
I step deeper. A line of acid coldness traces around my knees, but my feet have been welcomed by the quiet below. I can see them under the water, like dim, pale fishes in the darkness. I take a breath and fall forward, fighting the shock of ice to force myself still, floating, hair splaying like kelp that the fish might eat.
There’s chlorine up my nostrils.
Under the water, everything is black. The fire of the stars is too dim to reach me, and as my body acclimates to the cold it too fades away. Water presses against my eardrums; everything is silent, like a breath. Even my thoughts can’t burn me here.
I swim deeper. My chest scrapes along the pebbly floor; I flip over and stare up through nothing into nothing at nothing. My lungs begin to ache.
Inky swirls, seaweed hair, and the only sound is the thrump. thrump. thrump. of my heartbeat. My lungs burn. It might be the last time anything does.
No stars, no thoughts – just lungs.