The Winter Swimming of my Grandmother by Frankie McMillan

People see my grandmother walk down the road with a towel over her shoulder. The local pig hunters, burly men in thick plaid jackets and fur lined boots shake their heads in disbelief. They think she’s going for a dip somewhere. They imagine the brief frenzied plunge of an old woman.

‘Don’t tell them where I go,’ she says.

My grandmother swims naked. She swims serious. She swims the lake, from the bank right over to the reeds on the other side. Her pink woolen hat bobbing above the water.

My aunty insists upon the hat. She’s read up about hypothermia.

‘I don’t want to have to pull you dead from the water,’ she says.

Ask my grandmother if she feels the cold and she laughs. She says the strange thing is that when she climbs out of the water her bare skin is flushed and tingly. As if she’s been spanked.

She begins to stay in the water for longer.

Snow piles up on the woodshed roof. When my grandmother walks to the lake in her rubber boots she leaves behind a mushy trail of watery drift.

My aunt gets up before her, sneaks down to the water with a thermometer.

Who knows what will happen when the ice is too thick to break. Who knows if the pig hunters silently watch my grandmother swim, small brave animal that she is. And who knows what makes the women in our family go against the tide, strike out with such singular force.

Frankie McMillan’s publications by Canterbury University Press include, There are no horses in heaven, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions, Bonsai: best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, ( co edited with  M Elvy and  J Norcliffe) and The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions. She has won numerous national awards and residencies and is currently working on a novella. She lives partly in the city, partly in the Parapara bush, Golden Bay.

Person swimming in a secluded pond surrounded by a forest
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