The Spa Nordic in Montréal is where secrets go to die. The woman on the porch in the snow, her bikini under her fur coat, is smoking a cigarette. She’s done the hot soak and may even plunge her wrinkled middle-aged body into the cold pool for its healthful benefits but must first take a break outdoors in the 15-degree weather to smoke. 15 degrees Fahrenheit is -9 Celsius, but of little concern to a smoker. Her lipstick marks the filter of the cigarette as she takes another long pull. She throws her head back, exhales a cloud into the sky, and drops the still burning cigarette to the snowbank, pushing it under with the toe of her fur-topped boot.
Back inside, a balding man with a 70s-style mustache and hairy-chested man boobs, breathes out bubbles as he submerges himself entirely under the surface of the steaming water. I watch him look up from under the hot water to the surface. He lays back, extending his feet into a float. Nose, boobs, belly, toes break the surface simultaneously, his exposed parts like the silhouette of a distant mountain range at sunset. He waggles his hands gently at his sides to keep his mountain range afloat turning in big, slow circles. I watch the wake of his fluttering make tiny waves against the tiled edge of the pool. He circles for two minutes, three…until his feet start to sink. Down go the hills of his knees, then belly, then boobs. As he stands, he splashes hot water onto his very red face, blowing out more bubbles into the stream out water flowing out of his hands.
I loosen the belt of my fleecy robe and slowly stand. I wear no shower shoes as do my fellow bathers; my legs are not shaved like those of the bikini-clad smoker but covered with a light brown down. As I open my robe, I look down at the stretch marks at the top of my hips. I reach down to pick my bath suit bottoms out of my butt crack and toss the robe onto a cedar bench. Eyes forward, I hold my head high as I make my way to the pool’s edge, lower myself down into the heat and slowly let myself begin to relax.