Coming Up For Air

One Full Breath

Picture this: a girl lying under the water, body relaxed, her fair hair floating serenely while her last full breath pulsates in her veins. Calmly, she contemplates her life, enjoying the stillness and sense of peace that washes over her. The seconds pass by into minutes and still she doesn’t come up for air. Is she a fish or perhaps a mermaid? Whatever she is, she seems to belong under the water. 

Cut to a shot of me trying awkwardly to stay beneath the five centimetres of water that I’d managed to run before it got cold. Most definitely not the glamorous image that I’d imagined. Wearing nothing but goggles in the bath isn’t exactly a strong look.

Holding my breath underwater while going over the events of my day, the way a director might run through the dailies of a film shoot, is my absolute favourite thing to do. With my view limited to what’s right in front of me, and only an inner monologue to narrate the story, it’s like viewing my life through the lens. It gives me a new perspective and enables me to focus on what’s really important. It’s funny how much I can relax like this.

I’m forever imagining myself in a movie. A montage of best mates giggling over a burger; the lone main character, i.e. me, running in a city park; the main character, me again, staring out of the window pensively, with some sort of emotive music to accompany the shot. Wouldn’t it be great if we actually did have soundtracks to our lives? You’d certainly know what was coming next if you heard the ominous sound of violins striking up…

Mississippi eighty-two, Mississippi eighty-three.

So goes the count in my head while I focus on what the sequel to my London life is going to look like. 

Min, my insanely creative, chaos-inducing, fun-loving, stuck-in-adolescence mother, has lost her job – she was a producer for a large Soho post house – and is relocating us to her hometown, some 300 miles away from everything I love and cherish. It’s somewhere I’ve never been and – cue the violins – the place where my dad died before I was born. Min calls it a hellhole on the edge of the world and had vowed never to go there again, but she’s rather prone to dramatic outbursts, so you can’t take her word for anything. That reminds me: I should look the town up. As an aspiring documentary maker, it’s important to have more than one point of view.

The thing is, I love where we live. It might only be a tiny one-bed apartment, but it’s on Wardour Street, slap bang in the middle of everything. It’s Min’s favourite story actually, how it was purely down to her having the gift of the gab that we got to live here. How, when starting out as a runner, she made friends with Bob, an up-and-coming director, who also dabbled in property development. Quite how she talked him into letting her rent our one I don’t know, but they’ve been friends ever since and here we are fifteen years later…

Mississippi one thirty-one, Mississippi one thirty-two.

When she first told me that her boss had sacked her, my immediate thought was that it was my fault. Robin’s never really liked me hanging round the edit suites and as of last month, when I asked a visiting celeb for an autograph, I’ve been banned. Not surprising I suppose, given it’s a sackable offence and I’m just an annoying fifteen-year-old hanger-on. But it was the presenter from a TV show I’m obsessed with: Big Mother.A reality show where children who think their mums are the best get them to go on telly and compete, doing things like baking, running and the odd outdoor extreme sport thrown in for good measure.

Mississippi one fifty-two, Mississippi one fifty-three.

This change has been coming for some time. Min’s been burning the candle at both ends and has said for ages that post-production is a young person’s game. I just wasn’t prepared for her to make such a big alteration to our lives. I’ve got friends here, a Saturday job, school even. But, with Bob selling our flat to release some equity for a short film he’s planning, and Min without a penny of savings, we’ve got no choice.

Mississippi one seventy-five…

I’ve been under for nearly three minutes now and my insides are spasming, telling me to come up for air. But I hold on, and just about make it to three and a half minutes before I burst to the surface, gasping for breath. 

“Yes!” I yell with a triumphant punch, ignoring the slosh of water over the side of the bath.

“You still in there?” asks Min, picking her way over to the loo where she perches, knickers round her ankles – she’ll take any audience she can get – the hem of her vintage dress soaking up the spilled bathwater like a sponge. 

“Personal best,” I pant, still recovering my breath.

She frowns. “I hope you didn’t use up all the hot water again.” 

She tiptoes over to the sink where she begins the long and laborious process of getting ready for a night out. I used to love watching her do it while lying in the bath. An immaculate beehive hairdo, thick black eyeliner that wings out almost as far as her perfectly shaped eyebrows, pale foundation, dark eyes and barely there lips. It’s a look all right. And she doesn’t have any kind of skincare routine – except soap and water – at the end of a night. How she never breaks out in spots is beyond me.

“Come on,” she says, chivvying me out of the bath. “Last night on the town. Let’s make it one to remember…”

Coming Up For Air by Lou Abercrombie

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