Cassie hated the changing rooms and the feeling of being sized up, assessed, compared and found wanting by the other women. With their sleek limbs, muscles rippling under their skin, and flat stomachs, oh yes, she could imagine their thoughts as their eyes travelled up and down her own mis-shapen, lumpy body in revulsion.
She wished she could wear a sign hanging from her neck, explaining to people who she was, what she had been through, how much it took out of her to come here every week, how the memories assaulted her every time she passed through the doors and the chlorine tickled the back of her throat. But that just wasn’t the done thing. And she didn’t want pity, just recognition.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry, aren’t you..?” a teenaged girl was swiping her index finger furiously over her phone, looking first at Cassie, then down again.
“Oh, I can swim, even though it looks impossible. Well, kind of, anyway,” Cassie plastered a smile on her face, practised but not yet used to the sharp stab of pain in her heart. ‘Not the pity, not the pity,’ she thought.
“No! No! It’s not that! You’re Cassie Anderlecht, aren’t you? The Olympic swimmer..?”
“I was the Olympic swimmer, once, yes,” Cassie sighed. “Not any more, as you can see.”
The girl looked Cassie full in the face, ignoring the crutches, the ill-fitting swimsuit, the twisted legs, the scars that bore witness to the story of her past.
“But you’re still Cassie Anderlechts. I’m so very pleased to meet you.”