George and Mary Miller were the best swimmers in town. Although they were no longer the youngest, they could still swim like fish in water. Mary’s hair was no longer a deep chestnut brown, but grey and George also had silver threads, but that was not a problem. They both felt fit and still did their weekly swim in the local baths. However, something was different and soon people began to talk. George and Mary always came together for their weekly swim, usually on Saturday afternoon, but it seemed that George came on his own on Saturday and Mary would arrive at the swimming pool on Monday morning. Tongues were wagging in town and eventually Joan Smith, their neighbour, met George and Mary’s daughter Jean and asked whether there was anything wrong.
Jean felt a bit embarrassed but decided to come out with the truth to stop any rumours going around.
“Jean, is there something up between your mum and dad. They don’t go swimming together anymore and we never seem to see them in town together” asked Joan
“To be quite honest Joan they seem to have had an argument about something and are just not talking to each other any more. I invited mum and dad to dinner last Sunday, and they both came, but my husband Jack and I noticed that they just did not converse together, and were only talking to me and Jack and the kids, but separately.”
Indeed the slates were hanging crooked on the roof at George and Mary’s house. It would soon be the annual swimming race in town where all ages were invited to swim the length of the river, the winning post being at the traffic bridge. The competitors were expected to swim a certain length of the river and each year the winners, who were divided into certain age groups, were given a cup and mentioned in the local newspaper. George and Mary were always the best in their age group and either George was the first to cross the winning line or Mary. Their list of successes was equal and it seemed that they arranged between themselves who would win each year. If Jean had been at home when they were discussing this year’s competition she would have realised why her parents were no longer talking to each other.
George and Mary were sitting at the breakfast table one morning and George was reading the daily newspaper.
“Mary, looks like we should send our applications off for this year’s swimming competition in the river. Looks like I will be winning this year. My only rival is you and it would be my turn this year.”
“I am sorry George, I don’t quite understand. I am sure I could beat you easily this year.”
“Yes, that might be Mary, but I am sure I am still as fast as you are and it would be my turn, otherwise you would have one medal more than I.”
“George, I don’t think you understand what I am saying. We are both old enough to know how to win a competition fairly, and I am sure that I could overtake you this year, so I have decided to win.”
“Woman you cannot just decide to win. I am the man in the house and say what will be done.”
And so the argument began until Mary stormed out of the room muttering under her breath something about emancipation for the women and George decided he was the one that decided who did what in the family. It was basically a small argument, but in the Miller household swimming had always been a subject of importance and both George and Mary felt that their feelings had been hurt. The problem was who was going to say the first word again, but they both remained adamant. As the swimming competition came nearer, they did not even meet at the breakfast table any more and although Mary still did her housewife chores she did them in silence. George also went about his tasks as usual but also in silence.
One evening George went for a drink in the local public house and met Bob Feather, one of the swimming colleagues. Bob was also a good swimmer and so asked George how he felt about this year’s competition.
“I suppose you will win again George” he said
“Probably, yes” George answered
“You don’t think Mary has a good chance this year” asked Bob.
“I don’t think so” answered George and changed the subject talking about football or cars or something manly and Bob noticed that the air had definitely turned cooler when he mentioned Mary’s name. Bob’s wife had also met Mary in town and noticed that when she started talking about the swimming competition Mary changed the subject.
So life went on in the village and the day of the competition arrived. George and Mary went down to the starting position on the river, but not together. They were in the age group for veterans, which was an honour in itself, both being older than 60 years. They took their positions on the river bank and the start pistol was raised and the swimmers dived into the water. George went ahead swimming well, but Mary was very close behind him. When they came to the first bend in the river Bob Feather had also caught up and was swimming a good position three.
It was a cold day and the swimmers were glad for a lively race to keep them warm in the water. The competitors soon turned the bend in the river and the traffic bridge was in sight. Mary was glad as she really did not feel so fit on this day. George was still in front but Mary was catching up and he decided this cannot be, so he increased his pace to ensure his win. It was then that he felt a slight twinge in his arm. Not too bad, but enough to worry him a bit. The pain in his arm increased and he soon found he was fighting for breath. Mary had now caught up with George and was just about to overtake when she noticed that George was really swimming slower, so much that Bob Feather had almost overtaken. Bob was a good third man each year, but he was never as fast as George.
Mary felt that something was wrong, but on the other hand she now knew that her victory was certain. She was in sight of the winning line and saw that George went under the surface of the water. She stopped swimming and turned back and swam to where George had disappeared. She dived under, but in the dim light of the water could not see him anywhere. At this moment her leg became fixed and she could not move it. It had got caught in some of the weed growing on the river depths. She pulled as much as she could with the result that she got a cramp in her leg. It was then that she felt an arm around her waist and saw that it was George. She gripped George and tried her best to pull him to the surface but it just did not work. Her life flashed past her in a few seconds and somehow in her last thoughts she was together with George who was telling her not to worry, they were together and everything would be fine and winning a race was not so important as them both being together forever. Then everything went black.
She woke up a few days later and was blended by the whiteness around her. “This must be heaven” she thought, but then saw her daughter Jean and son-in-law Jack sitting near bye and realised she was in a hospital ward.
“Mum, are you ok? Jack and I were worried about you. You must have got tangled with some water plants in the River when you tried to save dad and the first aid team dived in the water and managed to drag you out.”
“Where’s George” asked Mary fearing the worst.
“He will be ok mum. He had a heart attack in the river and with his last strength he pulled you out of the weeds. The first aid team managed to save him as well, but he had to have an emergency operation as soon as they got him to hospital.”
“But he will be ok – please tell me he will be ok.”
“Yes mum, he had surgery and they had to fit a pacemaker into his heart. It seems that for both of you the swimming days are now over and perhaps it is just as well.”
When Mary was able to leave her hospital bed she visited George. She felt so guilty about what had happened but so did George. They soon forgot their argument about who was to win the River race, but who did win the race they were wondering.
When Bob Feather came to visit George in hospital it was very clear who had won. Bob was smiling all over his face and proudly showed the trophy to Mary and George. Mary and George both congratulated him and decided they would spend their remaining years together taking walks in the country side and watching the race from the river banks. Bob Feather became the annual swimming champion and even became faster than either George or Mary, but he kept that to himself.
Pictures to Words - Segments Week 3 - Swimming