Sian Evans: They’ll say I smelt of damp

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I hate the smell of damp: clothes that haven’t been aired as they dried; the bath mat after my niece and nephew have splashed their way through bath time; the old sock stuck in the corner of the duvet cover that is only discovered when you change the bedding; the unused side alley to the house after a sudden summer downpour or the dank path through the woods.  It permeates and it lingers.  It’s a smell worse than vomit.  It’s an Edgar Allan Poe smell.  When I think of damp I envisage mildew and fluffy green mould, I see slugs and worms and water droplets clinging to spider’s webs.

Damp was at the forefront of my thoughts when it happened.  Standing by the shallows of the reservoir, I was shouting at the dog to get of the water.

“Jack!  Jack,” I growled.  “Get out of the bloody water.  Now, you stupid animal.  Get back here.  If I have to come in and get you there’ll be no bloody chicken and chorizo jumbo bone treat for you.  Get out now!”

The summer sun was high and the heat was low, coating all in a sweaty body suit.  Jack, wild Jack, thankful for some freedom, had taken no warning from me about being sensible in the heat.  He had ran and ran and then leaped into the water of the reservoir to cool off.  He was a dog, he couldn’t understand the complexities of human speech or read the warning signs hammered into the hard, dry ground on the bank.

Jack wasn’t even my dog.  He was my boyfriend’s.  Not that he would be for much longer; I’m talking about my boyfriend.  Jack would always be a dog.  John however, whilst always being a dick, wouldn’t be my dick.  So to speak.

“Jack!”  Futile I know, yet I still keep shouting his name.  It’s that human reaction. I’ve witnessed enough people shouting inanely at their dog and seeing zero results, but it’s what pet owners do.  However, I wasn’t the pet owner and I don’t like inaction or looking stupid in front of a crowd.  And there was a crowd considering it was a hot Saturday in summer.  People were strolling around, kids were on their bikes and dogs were ambling along, sniffing the ground and yapping as they jumped up and down alongside their owners.

There was a crowd when John sped past on his jet ski and the resulting ripples caused waves to crash over my trainers.  Trainers never dry well, hence my thoughts towards damp.

Fucking twat!  I raged in my head.  Fucking moronic twat!  These are my only pair of bleeding trainers.  I’m running the Charity 10k tomorrow John, remember.  They’ll never bloody dry now.

Go for a run Lisa he said this morning after breakfast.  Get a little practice in and then we’ll go for a leisurely lunch.  Let’s go early, Lisa, before it gets too hot.  How about the reservoir?  We’ll take Jack with us.

Translation:  I’m meeting Pete and Dave for a piss-about on the jet skis.  Then we’ll all get slashed up down the local this afternoon.  If you come with us, Lisa, you can look after Jack and then take him back with you whilst I stay for a few more pints.

Fucking twat!  Me that is, for knowing this and still coming.

Even if my trainers do dry I’ll still be convinced that they smell of damp.  That will play on my mind as I run tomorrow.  People will think I’m unclean.

John waves and grins.  He turns and sets back off towards the pier but what he doesn’t see is Jack following him.  Stupid dog paddling further out into the water.

“Hey!  Hey!”  I shout after John, trying to get his attention.  A group of lads, well boys really as they didn’t look more than twelve, started hooting in my direction.  I had already clocked them earlier as I’d jogged past.  They were doing what we had all done as kids, jumping into the water on a hot day.  As I passed they’d given me that defiant look only pre-teens can: can’t shout at a kid; can’t tell me off you’re not my mum; what you goin’ to do about it (bitch).

I ran past and dismissed them from memory.  Not my problem – Where are the parents?   I was envious though, I wished one look from me to John could convey so much.  Ignoring the kids, I continued to yell after my idiotic, self-absorbed boyfriend.  “Stop!  Stop!”

The boys started jeering at me.

Honestly.  Like I care! 

Thankfully, for now, my niece and nephew were five and three respectively.  I didn’t have to contend with the pre-pubescent crap for a long while yet.

I continued shouting and waved to try and get John’s attention, but he wasn’t looking.

“Stop!  Wait.  You need to stop!”

The six boys on the bridge went wild.  All males are simple. What more can I say?  I was not interested in their game and clearly, they couldn’t see the danger of a dog swimming out into the middle of the reservoir.

They were in that horrendous boy phase where they were still young enough not to care that they were wearing hideous neon-coloured Bermuda shorts – or surf shorts, whatever, it’s clearly an Opal Fruits/Starburst conversation.  To all of my peers they are Bermuda shorts, hideous when I was a kid and still vile now.   Massive shorts with spindle-like legs and arms sticking out and then an oversized head with a motor mouth (see what I did there, you’ll get it if you’re of a certain age!) screaming abuse at me.

I gave them a dismissive wave but kids, being little shits, always assumed that everyone was centred on and interested in them.

“Shut up!”

“We can do what we want!”

“We’re not harming anyone!”

“Call the police, be a snitch!”


I resisted the urge to stamp my foot.  The act would lose some impact as it squished and squelched anyhow.  Turning in their direction, I gave them that adult wide-eyed death stare that I hope translated into a sentence reminiscent of what their mother would say.  I was yelling: shut the hell up you little gits, I’m not interested in you and what you’re doing.  Piss off.

“John!”  The sound of the jet ski drowned me out.  Typical man, all else dismissed once he turned his attention to something else.  I’d lasted an errant wave and a blinding whitened teeth smile before he’d buggered off back to his mates.  Since when was I a bloody pooch-sitter?  Regardless though, Jack the dog was a harmless mutt and if he swam out any further he’d be in trouble.  He was an old dog.

Only one thing for it; damn it.

I took off my trainers and started to enter the water.

Blessedly cool; all of the training for the charity run had caused a lot of chaffing and nearly-heeled blisters on my feet.  My toes were hot and cramped and the freedom from the running shoes was fantastic.  The water felt lovely but I didn’t want to go deeper as I didn’t want to get wet.  I would though, that was blatantly obvious.

John would pay for this idiocy.  Never would I be left to look after his stupid mutt again.

As I waded up to mid thigh I could hear the bystanders – yes, I had a fucking audience, the shame! – yelling and cheering encouragement to me.  I looked further out towards the jetty and I spotted Pete and Dave standing up on their jet ski’s hooting and waving as the water got to my waist.  Along the shore line of the reservoir other dog owners were holding their pets in check, it seemed every dog and pre-teen was keen to get into in the water.

Taking what John has always called my ‘huffy-prissy’ breath, a pre-cursor to a long-suffering sigh, I filled my lungs with air and dived into the water.  No longer lovely and luxuriating on my hot sweaty body now I started a breaststroke.   I was so far away from the shore and swimming towards a certain cuddle with a damp and stinking dog.

The cheering on of the crowd combined with Pete and Dave’s antics had finally alerted John to what I was doing.  He turned his jet ski round and closed the distance between him and his best friend.  As I treaded water he dragged the now happy, yapping mutt up onto his big boy toy.

I was fuming.
I was getting cold.

John waved and whistled – like I was a fucking dog performing a trick.  A heroic act on my part.  I refer back to my early thought: fucking twat.

God I was getting cold.  Turning I began to swim back to shore.  Out of spite, yes.  I could have continued towards John as the jetty was closer to the car.  But fuck that.  A girl has pride.  I’ll continue on the circuitous dirt track back to my car and thankfully a change of clothes.  John would not be my saviour.  I would smell of damp.

“Guys, look at Ollie’s shit swimming.”

“Ha!  What you doing Ollie?”

“You never learnt backstroke?”

“Look at him!  Even the dog could swim better than him.”

“Yeah come on Ollie, do doggy paddle.”

“Fucking idiot.  Hurry up, I want my turn.”

“Even that hottie with the big tits is swimming better than you.  Don’t be such a big girl.”

Looking over towards the boys – close to losing my temper and ranting at them because after all I wasn’t their parent, who incidentally had raised foul mouth pricks – I was about to shout out a put down when I too spotted Ollie.

That wasn’t backstroke.

He was in trouble.

I dived. Upon surfacing, I saw I was only a few metres from him.

As I swam I heard the boys continue to joke and taunt him, completely unaware of their friend’s dilemma.  Ollie was drowning.  With the back of his head towards his friends, they couldn’t see. I could.  Water was pooling into his mouth.

Silent drowning.

At that moment, I was thinking about my granddad.  I remembered him telling me a story from his Navy days about a man drowning not metres from him as they had mucked about in the sea on some down time.

The first sign was the silence.  The body was literally in a fight for survival, the vocal chords had been shut off, overridden by the body’s primary function to breathe.  A drowning person’s mouth alternates between sinking below the surface and then rising above it.  There is no time to shout or yell as the respiratory system has taken full control – it wants air.  At first he had been flailing his arms but, as his struggle continued, Ollie was physically unable to wave in an attempt to garner some attention.  His arms were pushing down on the water, trying to gain some leverage to keep his mouth above the surface.

Ollie was close to being dead.  As I reached him I saw him slide under the water and not resurface.

“He’s drowning!”  I shouted at his friends.  “Get help!”

As I tucked my knees up to my chest ready to dive down, I heard the shouts from the remaining five boys.  In that instant of panic, as reality and fear set in, they were just a group of boy’s scared and needing help.

The murkiness of the water surrounded me, reminding me of that dank woodland path that sent shivers up my spine.  I smelled damp.  It invaded my nostrils, making me want to vomit into my mouth.  I’d never liked Edgar Allan Poe.

I saw Ollie.  I dived deeper and wrapped my fingers around his wrist.  With considerable effort I dragged him upwards until I could get an arm around his chest.  Struggling, my chest burning for air, I kicked and kicked, willing the surface to break above my head.  I needed air.

Overhead, I saw the water rippling.  Someone had thrown a life ring in, I aimed for it but it kept moving out of reach.  I heard the hum of a jet ski so I discarded the idea of aiming for the ring and broke the surface instead.  Help was near.

“Thank God!”  I heard John say.  “We’ve got him.  Darling, we’ve got him, let him go.”

I saw Pete and Dave’s jet skis bobbing in the water next to John’s.  Jack was whimpering.  John heaved Ollie out of my arms and then everyone sprang into action.  Ollie was laid down on board attached to the back of Pete’s jet ski, and they started giving him CPR.  A crowd was on the bridge administering to the now hysterical group of boys.

Jack continued to whimper.  He was cold from his swim.

Cold was invading me.  I could hear the thumping of my heart.

I began to shiver as I continued to tread water.  I was tired.

“Come on Ollie,” I head John say as he absently patted Jack’s head.  “Come on, breathe.”

My head began to dip below the surface.  I kicked up and then sank again.  I kicked once more, again and again.

“There we go.  Good lad.  You’re ok, you’re ok.”  Ollie started spluttering.

It must have been seconds from when Ollie had been pulled from the water.  Mere seconds.  Less than a minute.  I wasn’t forgotten, just assumed safe.  All eyes were on the young boy as they should be; he was just a little kid.

Jake barked.  I sank.

A drowning person makes no sound.

black tree

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Photo by Tomek Dzido

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