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Feature image by Toni Cuenca via Unsplash

2 November 2023

Giant Flamingo Great For Pool Float by Laura Lynes

Read the full article online or in the print issue of the magazine.

It was a bright Monday in spring, and O was perched on the edge of a giant concrete basin, under its DO NOT SWIM sign, rubbing her hands like a fly. Normally it was O’s task on Mondays to compile a Customer Feedback report, the managerial team needed it by twelve, but this morning O had woken up with an acute pain flowering in her limbs, and because she could not name it, and because a name, in any case, would not be enough, O had told her line manager that someone had died. ‘So feeling a bit shook,’ O had written. ‘Although she’d been suffering a while.’

O had only met her manager once, some three or so years ago, when she’d interviewed for the role of dynamic Customer Service Administrator, but she knew to make this grief a small one, one that would need no more than a day to process, because by now she knew her manager to be easily alarmed. The reply had come in a small flurry:

Ah okay so sorry to hear that! Will ask J- to do report Busy times!! Take all the time you need.

Which was how O got to be here, under a fluorescent sky, squinting out over the vast slab of water. O had looked onto it often, the basin lay behind her block of flats, but she rarely saw it in the day, knowing it mostly as a dark, blank sheet between the buildings, and as the place where last summer the boy from Flat 15 drowned. ‘He couldn’t swim,’ one of the neighbours had said, squeezing with O into the thin hallway the day after it happened. ‘Fourteen years old! His mum should’ve taught him how to swim.’ To O’s landlady, the basin was ‘a charming water feature’, or, ‘a lovely scenic spot’. She’d say something like this every time she dropped by the flat, surprising O and the couple O lived with, who kept themselves to themselves except for on these occasions, when they’d be driven out of their room to stand blinking with O in the low, damp kitchen while the landlady beamed at them. ‘It’s a super location!’ the landlady would say, looking around abstractly. ‘A scenic location.’ Despite the pain in O’s body, which had now taken on a lavish, fluctuating animation, spreading around her torso, O was determined to enjoy that holiday feeling and make the most of her day off. The brightness of the day gave the impression of warmth, and the thick silt tang coming off the water felt inviting. Residents had continued to swim in it that summer after the boy’s death, ignoring the large DO NOT SWIM sign the council had erected in response, and by autumn the mother’s loud wailing, her whale-like moans which could be heard from floor three, had died down. O laid her towel onto the concrete and lay her body down on top of the towel, carefully, slowly, so as not to cause any sudden spasming of the pain. She felt bad that J would have extra work today. The junior staff on their team were already pushed to capacity following the company’s move last year to ‘stream-line’, which had left those who hadn’t lost their job with too many jobs. Recently O had noticed that, to the company, it was no longer the customer who was ‘at the heart of what we do’, but the staff. More than a usual number were leaving, and the company had begun saying, ‘you are at the heart of what we do’. They would say it in every company-wide meeting, the CEO striding up and down the stage like a regular comedian. ‘So as you can see we are meeting and, indeed, exceeding the annual target, and you!, all of you, are at the heart of what we do.’ Unsettled by the starkness of the sky, which appeared to O like the white of an enormous eye, its pupil rolled right back, O covered her face with an arm. J was generally more enthusiastic than O, she had a very cute and easy way of smiling, even on office days when, O thought, nothing special was happening. O, on the other hand, did her best to pretend. In her interview she had described herself as having ‘I would say unstoppable enthusiasm’, beating other applicants to the role only just out of university, and while she had admitted, shyly peering over at her manager-to-be, who’d been stony-faced throughout, that swimming inflatables for all the family to enjoy was not an area she had much experience in, O had been sure it would be ‘really rewarding’.

I think this should come with a SAFETY WARNING it’s very easy to topple over on this and if you fall forwards towards the head you go into the water and the neck remains between your legs and it is very difficult to roll yourself the right way up

Uncovering her face, O lifted her limbs into the sky and let them wriggle about slightly. She noticed she was covered in goosebumps, that she’d become, in a sense, raw as chicken skin, and felt even more the urge to swim, if only to offset what was a creeping feeling of exposure. There was no one around the basin now, the few morning stragglers there had been must have hurried back into the flats, or elsewhere to work, and O knew that swimming alone might not be the best idea. The water was ‘pretty much bottomless, right through the cement,’ the neighbour had said. ‘Even if he could swim, bless his soul, it pulls you in.’ At her induction day, those three or so years ago, O had been informed by the small HR woman, leaning back in the metal canteen chair, that ‘obviously if you have any concerns I’m your guy’, and also that, leaning forwards, ‘above all, the company likes a team player’. Over time, O had learnt how to align her personal values with the company’s values, which meant sacrificing a day off or two for the sake of ‘pulling together’ in busy times. The company was, in any case, ‘a family’, it always said, the CEO stretching his arms out above their heads. ‘We are a family more than anything else!’

Continue reading the full piece online or in Wasafiri 115.

Laura Lynes is a writer living in London. Her writing has appeared in publications including Litro Magazine, SAND Journal and Stillpoint Magazine. She has been shortlisted for the London Magazine's Short Story Prize and received honourable mentions in the 2022 Berlin Writing Prize and the 2022 Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Competition. 
The cover of the magazine in red.
Autumn 2023
Wasafiri 115

Wasafiri 115 is our most classic Wasafiri issue yet, with articles on Han Kang and 'diasporic dysphoria', interviews with Claudia Piñeiro, Witi Ihimaera, and artist Poulomi Basu, plus a wide range of poetry, fiction, life writing, and reviews.

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