It’s hot girl summer.
That’s what Jess was saying. She was right: this morning she had showered at the house of a guy she met on the 333 bus the night before outside Elephant and Castle station. You! she had said, pointing to him as he appeared on the top deck of the 333. And they had gone back to his.
Jess, I have to go meet someone else. My friend Anita is taking me to a spa.
What station are you going to? I’ll walk you there.
Don’t you have to be anywhere?
Jess shrugs. Not right now. I’m just doing errands.
At the station, she says, Text me later, let me know you’re okay.
I worry about you.
If you get there first go in without me, okay?
That was what Anita had said. So, when you get off the Tube at Latimer Road, you follow Anita’s instructions. You walk out of the small station and down the street, past the off-licence where you and she had ended up one carnival when you were kids. You look at the yellow-and-purple shopfront. Ten years ago, you had waited outside this shop in the sound and heat, the street spilling people, while the boys from school had got their beers.
You look around yourself and the tower block is there. So much closer than you have seen it yet, since you had last seen it, since the fire. The large writing on the canvas is green on grey. You stand still and living children move past you on the street. A little Black girl with her hair in puffs wearing pink trainers goes by on a scooter. A small South Asian kid, running. Their mothers, walking slowly, hips almost touching, move past you. You take a breath.
The leisure centre building is large and next to a school. At the reception a woman with threaded eyebrows tells you to go upstairs. That’s where the spa is, hon, she says. She hands you a white bathrobe and white slippers. As you walk up the stairs, you hear a basketball hit against a wall and echo. You walk past the sign that says gym and the sign that says pool. You press against the door with the sign that says spa and then the door with the sign that says changing room.
The changing room is white like heaven in movies. No mirrors. It makes you think of the scene at the end of the seventh Harry Potter film. You stand between the rows of white benches and take off your trousers and your shirt and your underwear without going into a stall.
You get changed into the bikini you bought earlier with Jess. As you bought it you had said, I know – fast fashion – but I need a bikini for later and I forgot to bring one. And Jess had said, That’s fine babe.
Your breasts don’t sit in the bikini-cup scoop properly. They spread at the bottom. You touch your legs. You put on the spa robe and the spa slippers and lock your phone and bag away into
Anita’s email had said that there would be an ice fountain, a hydrotherapy pool, a sauna, a steam room and a monsoon shower in the spa. You know what two of those things are. Hydrotherapy pool will mean jacuzzi, Anita had said. She booked you both head massages too. Two days ago Anita had messaged you: I’m booking us a spa, what can you afford? £40? you had texted back. This is the best last minute spa deal in London for under £40, Anita had replied, sending you a screenshot.
The main room of the spa is light but without windows. It smells like eucalyptus and lime and there is music playing, a piano without a tune or melody. You hang up your robe and sit in the sauna, the hot wood hurting your thighs. It’s dark. There is a man in the sauna. He doesn’t talk to you. You lie back.
Anita arrives. She is wearing a flowery bikini and the white spa bathrobe. She waves at you through the sauna door. You wave at her. I’m taking my glasses off ! she mouths.
Anita steps into the sauna. How was your day?
It was good. I saw my friend Jess, you don’t know her.
She had just stayed the night with a man she met on the bus.
Anita opens her mouth. I love it.
Hot girl summer.
Anita rubs her legs. All my dead skin is coming off.
Anita says, How was your day?
I’m too hot.
Me too. Should we get out?
You walk out of the sauna into the main room. You walk in your spa bathrobe and spa slippers to the ice fountain. It has a silver funnel that spews small ice cubes, like a high-tech fridge, into a square metal sink.
Anita says, We rub these on our bodies.
You take off your spa robe and rub the ice cubes on your legs, bellies, collars, breasts and arms, shoulders and back. The ice cubes melt.
It’s not even that cold.
Anita shakes her head.
Next to the ice fountain is a cuboid shower nook in the wall. You stand together in the cuboid shower nook in the wall. It has dark tiles and three buttons: Caribbean Mist, Monsoon Shower and Tropical Storm.
Look at these names.
Anita laughs, Caribbean Mist?
The shower cuboid fills with a veil of misted water. The mist is very cold and tastes like orange. After twenty seconds the lights turn off and water begins to fall in two heavy streams. You put your fingers on the top of your head, on your wet hair. You close your eyes. The water stops.
You and Anita sit in the steam room. Small filtered ceiling lights turn the white plastic walls and white steam to green. White plastic seats come out of the walls like urinals, facing the middle of the room.
Anita says, This is like a spaceship.
Reminds me of those fairground rides, you know the ones where they strap in you before lifting you up and spinning you around.
The lights turn from green to yellow. No one else is in the steam room. You breathe in a breath of steam. It wets your throat and makes it hot.
Anita says, Only a leisure centre in Kensington would have a spa.
I know right.
Kensington Leisure Centre.
Leisure centres must have been a GLA thing.
Yeah they must have been.
So much better than the fancy new gyms with mirrors and scales.
Like the one we went to for that spin class. You know near Bank or maybe Shoreditch?
Yes. So individualist.
No adult swimming lessons or kids playing badminton.
Exactly! Whereas – Anita gestures – there’s something utopian about leisure centres, don’t you think?
Every community should have a place where kids can play badminton and their mums can drink cucumber water.
Did you see the Grenfell stuff on the way here?
No – I got an Uber because I was late.
The tower is right here.
Anita closes her eyes. She opens her mouth.
The lights change to the colour blue. Let’s get in the hydrotherapy pool.
I think it’s just a jacuzzi.
You stand up. The hydrotherapy pool has a diameter of about 1.5 metres. There is a man inside it. You climb into the other side from him. The pool bubbles.
Oh it’s cold.
I like it though.
Yeah I like it.
The man turns his back to you, leaning against the edges of the hydrotherapy pool.
Anita says, How has your week been?
You float your feet in the rising water.
Anita says, Did you hurt yourself ?
And the suicidal thoughts?
Are you keeping safe?
What do you mean?
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