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The Bathing Suit.

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The Bathing Suit.

by Yelena Tylkina

The Red October Factory was about a minute walking distance from my house, or
perhaps three minutes, if you really dragged your feet. So, it was very
convenient when one day I discovered the factory’s management decided to open
the company indoor swimming pool for the use of the children of the
neighborhood. Aside from the fact that there would be a swimming coach available
to teach the children how to swim, there would be showers – with hot water – to
bathe in. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but to me, living
as I did, in a house where in order to bathe we had to boil water on a
wood-burning stove, this was a source of indescribable happiness and bliss,
especially in the winter, where the simple act of bathing meant taking your life
in your hands.

At the time, I was eight years old and very excited about the prospect of
swimming in a heated pool in the frigid Russian winter. However, my
participation required possession of a bathing suit. Bathing suits were not so
easy to obtain as one might imagine. Indeed, they were rare and luxurious items.
How could I obtain a bathing suit in my provincial Byelorussian town in the
middle of winter- or in any other season for that matter?

I tearfully complained to my mother that I would not be able to learn to swim
and that the kids in the neighborhood would make fun of me in the summer when
they - unlike me - would be able to swim in the town’s river like caviar bearing
sturgeon, whereas I would sit on the shore like a lump of gefilte fish.
Fortunately for me, my mother owned a two-piece bathing suit in royal blue that
was imported either from Bulgaria or Yugoslavia that she considered one of her
most treasured possessions. She put it on to demonstrate it for me. Now, one
must remember that my mother, God Bless Her, looked something like a Russian
–Jewish version of the The Venus of Willendorf. Each of her breasts was bigger
than my head and her midsection was the widest point of her body. But, in that
royal blue bathing suit, to me, she was beautiful!

With much flourish, she removed her famous bathing suit that made her the envy
of all the women on our street and presented it to me so that I might try it on.
The bottom was much too wide for me at the waist and the top of the suit
contained large plastic supporting cups for each breast that created the
illusion that I had things that I would not have for many years to come. I
marveled at my womanly good looks as I viewed myself in the mirror. I was
convinced that Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and even Marilyn Monroe had
nothing on me.
“Ach! Meine schane madele!* This is marvelous! ”, My mother cried,” Everyone
will be green with envy!”
Indeed, I was so impressed by my newfound good looks that I refused to take off
the bathing suit even when I went to bed. This presented a problem since my
mother and I slept in the same bed for the simple reason that we only had one
bed. As I slept and turned one way or another, the plastic breast cups of the
bathing suit made loud clicking noises. Suddenly, my mother sat up and kindly
suggested to me to take that thing off so she could go to sleep because the
noise was driving her meshugah.**

The twenty or so neighborhood kids stood at attention along the side of the pool
as our young swimming coach introduced himself and began to examine the new
recruits. He slowly went up the line like a general inspecting the troops when,
upon reaching me, he stopped, moved closer and, in a particularly polite manner,
inquired about the origins of my bathing suit. “Aha!” I thought, ”Here is a
person of taste who has sensitivity to fashion!”
Happy as I was to be recognized by such a worthy person, I took one step
forward, and proudly announced to everyone that the bathing suit belonged to my
mother. He looked intently at the cups of the bathing suit and said ”Hmmm…Your
mother’s, eh? I would like to talk to her sometime, but first we must begin our

The shallow end of the pool was the place where our training began. Our coach
wanted to discern our various levels of ability. Sitting at the edge of the
pool, we first got our feet accustomed to the water. Then we all jumped in and
tried to swim as best as we could. Suddenly, I realized that my bathing suit had
decided to go out on its own. To my horror, the bottom of my suit was floating
right beside me. When I tried to retrieve the fleeing rascal, and salvage my
dignity, my top, having become waterlogged, began to pull me down like the
tentacles of a giant squid. As I strayed into deeper water, my body was ready to
surrender when I felt someone grab me and pull me to the surface. Our coach had
joined the battle against the fashion import that betrayed me. When he tried to
release me from the grasp of the deadly “D” cups, there was a loud clicking
noise and one of the cups smacked against my ear. I lost my senses and saw all
my life pass before my eyes -- all eight years of it !

I awoke to the warm embrace of a terry-cloth robe. On my lap, was the miserable
object of my embarrassment and of my almost untimely demise-- the bathing suit.
That day in the pool dramatically shook my confidence. I didn’t swim in the
river that summer. As a matter of fact, twelve more summers would pass before I
was able to conquer my fear of the water and the unseen fashion monsters that
lurked beneath.