The Long Swim
Jenny Bitner


I want to swim to the Aleutian Islands. I’ve been saving up and practicing. My body is ready. I will swim along the route that leads from California up the Pacific coast, around the tip of Alaska and then farther, farther, almost to Russia. It’s the path of the elephant seals. I’ve gained a lot of fat to be ready for the icy waters. I’m very strong and fat now, the two not always going together. I have been fattening up like the seals to get ready for the icy voyage. The baby seals gain over a hundred pounds in four weeks by drinking their mother’s super rich, creamy milk, a decadent seventy percent fat. My body is ready. I’m strong and fat, like a Sumo wrestler. I eat brie cheese, fried chicken, bacon sandwiches with gobs of mayonnaise, and Ben and Jerry’s. I consume milkshakes, seal blubber and butter. I’ve been obsessed with fat for a long time: fat in containers and floating around on top of water and fat that you find on the outside of meat and fat that you slather your body in.

Once you wrap something in fat it becomes a magical equation; once the fat is there the thing inside of the fat is protected and nestled.

Right now I can feel my vagina open like a bell inside of me. When I sleep, I press my hands there with my palms flat against the lips and top of my vagina, soothing me. Another girl in a boat somewhere told me that she puts a sock between her legs to sleep. What do you do to sleep?

Sleep is magical and doesn’t always come. Then it comes and years slip by.

I’ve grown up and I like flowers more than most things.

Have you put your face up close to a tulip and looked inside?

It’s good to be reminded of death sometimes. Some people say every day to hit deaths over our head. And now now and.

In the paper I read that a soldier had himself shot so he didn’t have to go back to Iraq. He and his wife and cousin drove out to a wooded area near Philadelphia and his cousin shot him with his wife’s gun. He told the police he was shot by two people who passed him fighting on the street, but his cousin had a different story and said they were shot when they were being robbed. Somehow they hadn’t gotten their stories straight, or someone got confused and told the story they were going to tell before the story they settled on. I imagine they’ll go to jail for that. I picture them driving out into the country, arguing about the best story to tell, and then his cousin shooting him in the back of his leg. Because anything is better than going back.

We sleep we wake up.

Everywhere I go there are TVs radios cell phones people advertisements airplanes buildings noise. But if I can go out to sea, the deep sea, it will be quiet—the elephant seals swim for months of at time, most of their lives really. The baby seals gain over a hundred pounds in four weeks drinking mother’s milk.

I am practicing up for my swim. I go out to the San Francisco Bay and swim into the icy waters. I cover my body in fat beforehand. When I hit the water, it’s a shock and for a moment I don’t know where I am or where I am going. I just think of the long swim ahead of me and how cold I will be, how much fat I will need. I go home and eat doughnuts and fried calamari.

Another soldier back from Iraq wears a sign that says he killed innocent civilians for our government. He walks around his hometown. People warn him to take it off. The military says he is mentally ill.

Where I am eating the waitress is sixty-three and just became a grandmother. She tells everyone everything of everyday importance for her. At the restaurant, which is a diner, there is a paper placemat under every dish. The placemat is not your horoscope or a covered bridge, but rules for caring for the American flag. It says not to let the flag touch the ground or fly it in inclement weather or turn it into a piece of clothing.

I ask for the fattiest thing on the menu and she says it’s not very good. I settle on prime rib with coleslaw, mashed potatoes in pools of butter, buttery rolls, ice cream with a large dollop of whipped cream.

The fat is sticking on my body already, adding an extra protective layer, a millimeter over every part of my body, except my eyeballs, so that, whatever was touching me a second ago will not touch me soon and whatever skin of mine has been exposed to the elements (in a way that the flag never should) will never be exposed again. What you see of me now won’t be here for long. The fat will cover it and you won’t be able to see it anymore at all.

I am preparing for the long swim.

The day is coming when I will follow the route of the elephant seals. When I am in the water, all sense of time will be lost to me. I will be in between continents, swimming backwards in time. I will become a more primitive, peaceful life form. I won’t hear anyone talk. I won’t know what any government anywhere is doing. Come here, put your hand on my belly. Feel the good rolls of fat.


Jenny Bitner lives in San Francisco. Her fiction has been published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Fence, Mississippi Review, 14 Hills, and others. Following a nuclear accident in her hometown, Middletown, PA, she and her family were interviewed by People Magazine. Jenny has a shell of a blog at www.jennyart.com.