Sail out to an island I know of, spend the day sailing on the reef that surrounds one side of it. A fun day doing something simple. A way of maybe helping my friend Merlyn forget some of the pain, the bitter loss, that was making her so depressed that even I noticed it. Not that I’m unobservant.
Take just then for instance. I was blissfully enjoying observing that an older woman’s body and a young woman’s body were not all that different.
“Are you coming in?” Merlyn asked me. She smeared the inside of her mask to keep it from fogging.
Nodding, I slipped my feet into the fins and grabbed up my snorkel and mask.
“Just let me set the other anchor,” I said, reaching for the bail to let it drop.
“You don’t need to. She’ll ride fine on just the one,” she told me. Looking back over at her, I had to resist the urge to ask her if she was sure. But of course, she was. Her husband is a World Cup racer. Sorry…was.
Months had passed since Jason’s funeral, yet I still found myself wanting to look around to see if he was watching me. He joked with me that he knew I had a crush on Merlyn. He said he didn’t mind, after all, he had been a young man once himself and had fallen for her as well. He said I could look to my heart’s content … well, until she caught me anyway.
She never had though and I don’t think he ever told her.
As I watched her lean back and slip into the clear water, I sighed. It seemed like a good idea, today. My sailboat was finally refurbished after two years of slow, patient work. Work that Jason had more or less supervised step by step. I had planned that he and I would be the first to take it back out onto the salt. Wish someone had told me, life doesn’t care about your plans.
Fitting the scuba mask snug to my cheeks, I mouthed the snorkel and dropped over the sides. The rush of bubbles was wonderful; the Caribbean water was warm as a bathtub. No … more like a hot tub. I surfaced and blew the snorkel out then let my legs rise behind me till I was just surface swimming. I moved over towards Merlyn. Together we started to slowly swim the cove. Under us, the water was so crystal clear it felt more as if we were great seabirds skimming above some strange land, than swimming in water.
The little reef below was teeming with life. All shapes and sizes of every type of sea life. Huge fans of living coral drifted to brush the sides of passing fish, lazy with the heat of the day. Colors in every hue lit the seafloor, brilliant reds, and dazzling yellows. Darting flashes of silver, and blue. Then I saw a great shadow cross the bottom as a ray flew past below us.
Sucking in a heavy lungful of air, I followed her down. My ears popped, then moments later I felt the pressure pushing my mask to my face double. I was very quickly deeper than I had ever free-dived and still she was going down. Swimming more to the side of the reef than for the top.
Thoughts of how badly her depression had grown lately surfaced then to scare me something terrible.
She turned and pulled at a large shell that was sitting on the bottom edge of the reef. Looking up at me she gestured.
My lungs screaming, I swam down next to her. She handed me the shell then swam further down to fetch a second.
I had to head for the surface or drown! The long fins made my legs burn as I strained for the surface, every second feeling like it would be the one when I would open my mouth and try to suck in air that was not there. I breached into the air like a missile. The water was so clear I misjudged the surface.
What felt like an eternity later, she came up right next to me.
“Put these on the boat. I’ll make us a chowder for dinner,” she said, handing me the other shell she had gone for.
I looked at the shells. “Conch…chowder?”
She smiled. It was the first I had seen on her face in half a year. “Be adventurous, Ben. What’s the worst that could happen? I poison you?” She shrugged. I heard the soft mutter under her breath. “You won’t be the first man to die because of me.”
As I tread water she dived back down into the clear depths.
Knowledge of just how much she blamed herself came at me in a rush. How she could see her husband’s death by cancer being her fault, I could not fathom. I drifted over to the boat, and pulled myself up, opened the cooler on the back and dropped the shellfish into the water.
Grabbing several deep breaths, I held the last and dived. I saw her, after a moment of searching; she was all but standing on the bottom. Several small fish were nibbling at her fingertips. She was letting them do it like she had all the time in the world to just stand there. By the time I got down to her, I was well past half my air. I caught her hand, sending the fish to scattering, and pointed towards the surface.
She gave a shrug like she couldn’t care less about the surface.
Moving behind her, I caught her under her arms and kicked off the bottom with all I had. My lungs were screaming for air. I started to slow about halfway there. The fire in my chest had become a cold burn. I felt like my legs were being held by my hands. Legends of mermaids came drifting through then as I felt myself simply giving up.
She turned in my arms as we stopped. I saw her eyes go suddenly big then her hand was at my snorkel pulling it from my mouth. Her lips hit mine in a rush. I felt her mouth seal off mine, then air was driven into my lungs. They pulled it in and tried to breathe it back out sending a string of bubbles out between our lips.
Her hands on my sides, she headed for the surface with powerful strokes of her legs. When we broke the surface, I coughed and sputtered as I dragged my mask off my face out the way.
“Ben, for heaven’s sake you nearly drowned!” she said, clearly furious at me. She lifted her mask to the top of her head.
I looked at her, blinking water off my eyelashes. “Merlyn, you were standing down there trying to kill yourself!”
She gave a half shake of her head in denial then looked away. “Ben, it doesn’t matter … I won’t miss it.”
I moved a few feet to her and turned her in the water to face me. Her eyes went wide at how close to my face she suddenly was. “You would be! I promise you that! Cause I would … miss you something terrible.”
She looked down at the clear water. “That’s sweet of you to say but … you … you’re young. In time, you will forget about me.”
“What the fuck makes you say that?” I was suddenly angry with Merlyn. “Do you think I will forget about Jason? He was like an older brother to me. He was there for me when no one else was. Do you think I will ever forget him?”
“No … but then Jason was special,” she said, tears leaking out her eyes to join the rest of the salt water.
“And so are you,” I insisted.