An unwholesome yellow foam overlayed the surface of this pool, and half-mad mosquitoes darted in and out of the tepid fermentation. I arrived late in the afternoon. A taciturn attendant policed a mound of mildewed towels. I forced myself into the fetid water. My skin tingled, then itched, and I hoped this indicated that the minerals were working, but when I climbed out my complexion was more pitted and agitated than before. Hardly the “glow mantling” promised. In every respect, the most disgusting pool imaginable.
Cool, milky water. I sat on the third step, submerged to my neck. It is difficult for me to do nothing, but something about that solemn, rectangular bath quieted my blood. The minerals in the water are interacting with the chemicals in my body, I said to myself, and my head rolled back. I observed a sluggish procession of drab clouds while listening to a muted, somnambulant clacking. I thought I might drift off. But what makes that sound, I wondered and raised my head and gazed into the sour water. Resting on the fractured bottom of the pool were jumbles of bones – arm bones and breast bones, nose bones and wish, or other limbs, different structures (the water was cloudy; I’ve never studied anatomy). One of the tallest piles leaned against the steps. I picked up a wobbly staircase of spine and wondered about the benefits of bone therapy, but there was no attendant to question, and the water felt shivery so I headed to the next pool.
I had the highest of hopes for Amaranth, which occupied the center of a butterfly garden. Cocooned in warm water, I bobbed beneath the ebbing sun. A bather said hello, and I detested her, I don’t know why. She smiled at me. I splashed water in her face. Some side effect of the minerals? I could feel them at work, cleaning and healing. The sun began to set. An attendant offered me a tonic, iridescent, effervescent. I love fancy drinks the most, but I slapped away his hand. The glass landed on a shrub. Everyone looked at me. What is wrong with this pool, I wondered and wanted to apologize but instead shouted, “I hope the minerals make you all sick,” and flicked a butterfly off my shoulder and ran away.
Nereid is surrounded by art: murals, sculptures, fountains, and statues; rainbow chandeliers float above rainbow-colored water; there are dancing lights, singing waterfalls, routines of complicated bubble choreography, mathematical firework displays, and perfumed mists of gold; it seems possible Nereid is not, in fact, a mineral pool at all but the starless sky of an underwater world, but I don’t know because when I arrived the gate was locked, and the sign posted read: “Indefinitely Closed for Regularly Scheduled Maintenance.”
In this figure-eight-shaped pool of boiling water we glowed vermillion and merged into each other to form majestic structures, or thoughtfully sank, or floated like lanterns into the night sky until the pool deck disintegrated, the water evaporated, and I awoke charred, dehydrated, shivering, and ashamed.
An above-ground pool filled with fallen leaves. Several bathers were sleeping so I climbed in as quietly as I could. Overhead, the constellations resembled branches, and the trees beside the pool shined. I felt grateful, until I noticed that something was creeping up my neck. It was a cockroach. Then I realized that the entire pool teemed with insects: ants, beetles, crickets, fleas, termites, and wasps; there were creatures winged and creatures worried; most had feelers, but some had none, and while we tried to relax, they were hard at work hunting, feeding, fighting, and fornicating; we had come to Hesparus to be pampered, but they polluted the pool, marred the minerals, grossed the glow, and blemished the mantle; unless, of course, the invertebrates were part of the remedy, a variety of bug therapy, and we were meant to benefit from their energies and excretions, but I didn’t want any and climbed out as quickly as possible, though perhaps not as quietly because several bathers complained. I brushed myself off and told them that it was almost morning, they would have had to get up soon anyway. “True,” said a bather buried in leaves, “but we might have been stirred by the songs of birds.” Someone else asked if I was that bather who attacked an attendant at Amaranth. “There’s a hornet in your hair,” I said and left.
Only a half inch deep. Muddy water. I sat on a bench near the pool and watched the sun rise. A bather asked if she could join me. She said she had visited Oxley many times, had soaked in dozens of these pools, including Nereid, but had profited most from Palmyra and its colony of cats. She said the Mineral Cats at Palmyra were among the cleanest and calmest creatures in the world. She said the cats may be adopted. Adopt, she said, and you are gifted with a vial of Oxley’s celebrated minerals. Two beautiful bathers wearing leaves in their hair approached Palmyra. A small black cat walked over to the bench and rubbed against my legs. The bathers knelt in the mud and lapped at the water. I picked up the cat and the complimentary minerals and went home.