A Penguin Comes to Tea

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A Morning Surprise

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When I discovered the leg I knew I was in for a very bad day. It was trapped under the bulkhead at the swimming pool, and if I had not told anybody it would probably still be there, but I was in a hurry to get to my weekly coffee morning, so I opened my big mouth.
The day had already started out badly when I got up late and missed my normal swim time at the pool and instead found myself stuck behind some slowpokes while being deafened by loud music for the old ladies in their exercise class who wiggled their hips and waved their dumbbells like palm trees swaying in the wind. Half of them don’t even move; I think they just come here for the gossiping. You would think they could gossip in a coffee shop, like normal people, instead of spending hours taking long showers in the pool changing room.
By the time I had finished my thirty laps the pool was becoming quite crowded, so rather than fight my way past the waddling ladies to get to the steps I ducked under the dividing section between the lanes and the deep end. You are not supposed to go under this – it says “no swimming” and “lifeguards only” in big letters on the side, but if they only provide one ladder to get out of the pool what do they expect? It’s not as if I were swimming, anyway, I just dived under and surfaced on the other side, right in the middle of a group of youngsters having a lesson, but in that brief moment I caught sight of something above me, trapped under the bulkhead.
I should have just ignored it and gone on my way but it was such an unusual sight that I repositioned my goggles and ducked under again to have another look. It was a complete human leg, severed at the top of the thigh.
As I surfaced, a lifeguard caught sight of me and came walking along the bridge towards me.
“There’s no swimming under the bulkhead.”
“I’m just trying to get out,” I said in my most polite voice, “but did you know there’s a leg stuck underneath there?”
“Yes, that’s right, you could get your leg stuck, so please stay away,” she said.
I suppose that’s what had happened to a careless swimmer, but you would think the pool staff would clear away the leg – it must be very unhygienic.
Two of the youngsters nearby were watching me and as soon as the lifeguard turned her back they dived down under the bulkhead. A moment later they resurfaced, shouting and waving their arms, gulping great mouthfuls of pool water.
“A leg! Help! There’s a leg under here!”
Lifeguards are trained to react to words like ‘help’ so in an instant the young lady jumped into the pool with her red, floaty people-saver and began hauling the kids out of the water while they continued to thrash and shout.
“It’s all red and gross!”
“It’s a leg, a real leg; somebody’s stuck under there!”
Well that wasn’t true; there’s no way you could get a whole person under the bridge, but some of the other pool staff jumped in to have a look and the person on the top of the lifeguard chair began to blow on a whistle and make semaphore signals to the office. Of course everybody stopped swimming and waddling and gossiping and looked over to the section of pool near me, so I swam over to the ladder and climbed out, thinking that I had better get to the showers before everybody made a rush for them.
“Excuse me, but you need to remain on the pool deck until we establish what the danger is,” said a youth with a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘staff’ and a tattoo of a snake on his arm.
“Oh, there’s no danger,” I replied, “the leg’s not attached to anything, and it’s not mine. But I do have an appointment to get to so I need to get dressed.”
I tried to get past him but he stretched out his arm with the snake and guided me over to a corner of the pool where the young children were being gathered and inspected, to make sure they each had two legs, I suppose. Since I plainly did have two legs I did not see why I should have to wait and I said so out loud, only to be scolded by the swimming instructor.
By now the exercising ladies were being helped out of the pool, but it was slow going with only the one staircase and most of them not understanding what was going on.
“Why is the class ending early?” asked one, “we haven’t even done the stretches yet.”
“They found a leg in the pool,” said another.
“It must be Mabel; she always used to ask for a leg up out of the pool.”
“No, it’s a leg on its own, not attached to a body.”
“What’s that? Who’s not attached to anybody? I can’t hear without my hearing aid. I have to take it out for swimming, and now I’m as deaf as a post.”
“They found a human leg in the pool!”
“Ooh, did they really?”
As the news spread the ladies became more agitated, some of them falling back into the pool from the steps, which upset the lifeguards who were trying to clear the water, others arguing over the pile of flip flops by the edge of the pool.
“Attention please,” boomed a voice over the p.a. system, distorted by the echoes in the large pool hall. “Due to an unforeseen incident we ask that everybody leave the pool area and retrieve their belongings.”
Unforeseen incident. Well of course it was. Nobody plans to leave their leg behind in the pool. I tried to sidle around the tattooed youth; I would be last in line for the showers now, I could see, but at least I could get my clothes and go on to my coffee meeting, but three firefighters strode down the pool deck towards us, looking very overdressed in their flameproof outfits. I hoped they were not going to spray water everywhere.
“Are these the witnesses?” one of them asked the tattooed youth. “I’m sorry, but the police will need to question them.”
“What about the kids? They’re freezing,” said the instructor pointing to the youngsters who were standing, knock kneed, teeth chattering, peering into the pool with rapt attention, no doubt hoping for a parade of other body parts.
“We’ll be as quick as we can,” said the firefighter and turned to talk to the kids, while the pool management staff gathered around.
Well, great, so here I was, the only person not allowed to leave the pool, and on the one morning I needed to get going. The only good part of the delay was that it allowed the police to arrive so that I would not have to answer questions twice. Two of them rushed down the pool deck, totally ignoring the signs about not wearing street shoes, and zeroed in on me like homing mosquitos.
“So, can you tell me how you found the leg?” asked one policeman, taking out a notebook.
“Well, I swam under the bulkhead,” I said, “and when I looked up, there was the leg above me, trapped against the underside.”
“You didn’t see anybody leave it there?”
This was getting ridiculous. Did he seriously think that somebody would leave their leg behind in the pool and just climb out, one legged, and hop off to the changing room?
I shook my head, trying to look serious.
“What were you doing under the bulkhead?” asked the second cop, who had just joined our small group. “It says here, clearly, ‘no swimming.’”
He turned and looked at the pool manager, who nodded in agreement, as if the very fact of a ‘no swimming’ notice should have prevented the leg from getting stuck under the bulkhead.
“I wanted to get out of the pool, as I have an important appointment to get to, and it is very hard to get out of the pool without a ladder.”
I glared at the manager, so that he would get the message about the lack of ladders, then I looked up at the clock in the hope that they would get the idea that I was in a hurry, and so I nearly missed what they said next.
“…contravening the rules of the facility; possible suspension of membership.”
What? Were they serious? After I did them a favour by reporting the leg?
After much talking back and forth between the cops, the management and the firefighter, who was now holding the leg as if it were a fire hose, they allowed me to return to the changing room to get dressed, and wouldn’t you know it but the showers were all taken by those gossiping women who couldn’t get enough of the leg.
“A man’s leg, all hairy it was.”
“I heard it was a woman’s.”
“Blood dripping from the end – it’s disgusting, us being in the same water. It will affect my allergies, it will.”
I gave up on my shower and dressed as quickly as possible. I was already an hour late but luckily I was able to sneak out of the building without being called aside for more questioning.
I jumped into my car and raced to my destination, fixing my hair as I drove. I worried that everyone would have given up waiting for me, but I was pleased to see they were all still seated at the table.
“A double frosted mocha frappucino with extra cream,” I said to the server, then I turned to my Thursday coffee morning friends and said, “you will never guess what happened at the pool this morning!”
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