So long it had taken us to hike out here, even with the help of the guide who talked in soft, bubbly Turkish, and the sun beaming high in the sky despite the afternoon’s wearied position. Some of the locals call this place ‘Cotton Castle’, most likely due to the fluffy mineral formations caused by the crystallised carbonite which clusters upon the rock. My husband George and I had chosen Turkey because of the beauty of these natural springs, and the restorative promise that seemed to gurgle through the very turquoise of those lustrous, travel agent photographs.
The guide told us, switching to a lilted English, that the ground transported magical properties up through these waters. My husband is of course a sceptic of everything and he raised his eyebrows with such rudeness that I was forced to gush my enthusiasm. There were a handful of other couples here – mostly older folks – but also the odd young man or woman who had come like us to escape the tiring perils of modern life. While George stood with his arms folded looking out across the twining rivulets, I pulled off my shirt and let the hot sun glow through every nerve. The wonderful, life-giving sun. I recommend it to all. There is something indeed enchanting about the softness of the little wavelets as they ripple across the aqua baths, the tiny, tinkling sound they make as they purl in swirling whirlpools that pull against the chalky rock. A young man grinned at me unashamedly as I climbed with as much grace as I could muster into the hot springs. Steam gushed off my skin as I sank beneath the warm water, feeling the thick of it billow and shimmer around me. Light from the late sun shone on the glossy surface and I felt it reflect on my face in so many triangles of white. How good it felt to be warm, to be so refreshingly warm!
George glared at me, obviously disgruntled by my shameless entrance into the water. The guide seemed to sense this and whispered something in my husband’s ear that caused a lewd stare and then a grimace. These things are to be expected of men, I suppose. My response was to stare hungrily at the young man, to pick out the glitter of his eyes. It was then that George decided it was about time he clambered in, and there was an unpleasant splash as he did so. Thin streams of water trickled over the edges, dripping like molten silver down the terraces and glinting so prettily that it would blind you to watch for too long.
“I’ve never been so happy,” I murmur to George with a knowing smile.
“The water is too hot,” he said huffily, leaning back against the rock. We were silent.
I suddenly had the urge to be utterly submerged. Ignoring my husband’s protests, I plunged my whole self underwater: felt the hot surges rush by my cheeks and pull back my skin like gills. I pulled with my arms into a kind of butterfly stroke, forcing my body deeper below the surface. All was a potent, cobalt blue; the kind of blue you dream of in the sapphire-hued sleep of a winter’s evening. I blew bubbles and touched the bottom of the pool. The rock came away easily like gritted salt in my fingers; I clutched some tight in my fist and kicked up to the surface.
As I burst through the layer of perfect gossamer, I found myself up close to the young man. He said something in what might’ve been Spanish and laughed. I could not see my husband.
“How peaceful it is down there,” I found myself saying breathlessly. The Turkish sun was sizzling on my back and the water spilled off my hair in droplets that snatched the splintering light. My heart did a funny somersault as I found the man ran a finger down my wet cheek. I let go of the handful of silt and felt it drift slowly to the bottom of the pool. I watched the man as he took his finger from my cheek and put it in his mouth.
“Tastes like salt,” he said in crystal English. I remember being aware of the sheer precipice that hung below us: the millions of white icicles shining in sunlight; the infinite layering of cerulean pools and carbonite glazing; the steady susurration of trickling water and tinkling laughter. I felt myself dissolving in the pureness of this beauty, its centripetal pull towards a perfect present. I could not help but kiss him; could not help but let him ruffle his hands through my soaking hair. The moment was ours and we were part of that eternal flowing of water: the slow clustering of hydrogen and oxygen, the corrosion of soft rock over thousands of years.
It was only when I opened my eyes that I remembered my husband; felt his cold gaze like a cloud of dripping fog on the back of my neck. Of course, I never saw that man again.
(Prompts: photograph of Pamukkale Travertine Terraces, Turkey; middle)
by Maria Rose Sledmere