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A man’s honeymoon isn’t the time to be discovering new phobias. Especially when what you’re afraid of is water on a live-aboard halfway through its two-week voyage. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I’ve dove hundreds of times — and by hundreds I mean at least twenty (a fair amount when you think about it). I know how relaxing it can be, suspended in depth, the only sound the distant hiss of oxygen and carbon dioxide bubbles billowing toward a gleaming surface. Knowing though doesn’t help.
Genevieve is like an eel in the water; it’s like she was born there. She can’t understand what my problem is.
“Oh my God!” she says, passing her fins to Pablo, the boat captain, and hauling herself up out of the sea. “You would not believe the coral down there.”
“Pretty good, eh?”
She’s grinning that adorable mashed-up grin and waddling toward me. I help guide her tank into the slot behind the bench.
“Good dive?” I ask.
She removes her mask and red rings encircle her eyes, a string of snot dangles from her nose. “Pretty good,” she replies, understating it, I know, for my benefit. Once the others finish their decompression stops, I’m able to get the real story.
“That’s some of the biggest brain coral I’ve ever seen!”
“And how about the rock lobster!”
“Did you guys see the octopus I was motioning you toward?”
“Where was that?”
“I saw it.”
It seems like every dive they go on turns up eighteen different things I’ve never seen before.
“How are you feeling, babe? Better?” Genevieve places her wet hand on the back of my neck and it makes me shiver.
“A little bit,” I say, rubbing my shoulder. She thinks I’ve got decompression sickness. “To be honest though, I kind of enjoyed just being up here on the boat for a change. It’s kind of relaxing.”
“Hey!” she says. “Married a week and already cherishing your solitude.”
“I didn’t mean that,” I say, knowing she’s trying to keep things light to hide the truth behind the statement. It is not the honeymoon she imagined when I announced that we’d be spending two weeks diving off the coast of Spain. Here, more than any other place in the world, the reefs sprawl out from the coastline so far you cannot even see land. They are scattered so distant the only way to see some of them is to travel on overnight voyages. They are some of the most pristine and exquisite formations in the world.
In another life, maybe.
On our fourth dive we were one hundred feet down and searching for eels under the shelf when I felt this annoying dryness in my throat. I tried swallowing, and when that didn’t work, spitting into my regulator. I spit and I spit, trying to moisten things up, but the more I spit, the dryer and more mucousy it got, until finally I was afraid of clogging my regulator. This was a silly thing to worry about: those things are designed so that should you have to vomit underwater, you can do it straight into the regulator. But for some reason, at the time, it was a real fear.
Luckily they showed us during dive school how to remove and purge your regulator then put it back in. No problem. I had done this myself at one point during checkout. But here I was one hundred feet underwater with a snotty regulator in my mouth, and when I took it out and purged it, suddenly my mind drew a blank. Do I put it back in my mouth then purge it again? Do I purge it as I’m putting it back in my mouth? I tried the latter and swallowed a mouthful of water, and now I was panicking.
Genevieve, being the prodigious diver that she is, was thirty feet ahead of me and not looking back. I jerked back and forth, searching for the nearest person to help remind me of this very basic skill. My lungs were starting to hurt. I turned around and saw Bill swimming toward me, that old bastard. I could tell it was him by the way his bald head shone, even at depth. Bill was the only retiree with us on the voyage: a Vietnam vet and one of the original frogmen that later became the Navy SEALS. He spent most of his time bitching about how lazy the rest of us were for sleeping in past seven o’clock and about all of the crazy things he’d seen during his lifetime. He was a one-upper, that guy, and I hated him. But right now he was the only one who could help me.
Seeing me thrash, he swam right up and gave me a confused look when I signed that I was out of air. My regulator, after all, was floating somewhere behind me, and my spare also was still clipped to my side. He took his own spare and popped it into my mouth, like a pacifier, and purged (so it was the first one after all). Once I’d inhaled several deep breaths he motioned to ask whether or not I could continue the dive. I could have, probably, but by this time my nerves were rattled and all I wanted was to surface, to be surrounded by air and to feel the sun on my back and the reassuring pull of gravity underneath. I pointed up and he had no choice but to surface with me. At several points along the way he tried to stop to allow the inert gases to escape our joints and tissues, but I was in no mood for procedure. I kept ascending so he had to either follow or risk me damaging his equipment.
Our heads broke the surface and the pressure draining out of my ears felt like a balloon expanding.
“What’n the hell was that?” Bill cried, signaling Pablo on the boat to come pick me up.
I murmured something about no air before turning and swimming in the direction of the boat. Not even a thank you. Once I was safely on board I realized I’d never been so happy to be alone. Part of me wanted the rest of them to stay down there, indefinitely, so that I wouldn’t have to invent any stupid lies about decompression sickness. But eventually they came up. Eventually, they always do.
“How are you feeling there, sport?” Bill asks me at dinner, patting me on the shoulder as he scoots around my chair and takes his seat. Our dive leader, Eddie, has prepared some calamari. I poke at the tentacles with my fork, the thought of seafood unappetizing.
“I’m fine, Bill,” I say, and feel Genevieve’s hand rest on my opposite thigh.
“Don’t worry about him,” she whispers.
Easier said than done.
“Reckon you’ll be joining us out there any time soon?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Right now I’m enjoying just being on the water while y’all are down beneath.”
“Never heard of anybody signing up for a live-aboard just to sit on top of the water.”
“Probably a lot of things you haven’t heard of, Bill.”
He glances at me sideways and I imagine him coming back with a remark about having to hold your best friend’s hand while he’s dying, or some vet bullshit like that. But he’s quiet.
“Here you are, darling.” Eddie leans over Genevieve, pouring her another glass of red wine. At the opposite end of the table the other passengers, a Spanish couple who don’t speak any English, say something to him and all three of them laugh. The rest of us just stare, waiting for Eddie to explain. He doesn’t.
Eventually I pop each of the slimy cephalopods into my mouth and, though they gross me out at first, I see how much Genevieve is enjoying hers and eventually I also begin to enjoy them. The wine helps. By my fourth glass I’m in a much better mood. I even listen while Bill tells us about detonating underwater charges off the coast of Thanh Hoa. After helping clear away the dishes I go on deck and look out over the water. There is a line of orange light on the horizon, although the water around us is inky black. A warm western wind is blowing, and the boat tilts gently in the waves. I haven’t been standing there long before I feel Genevieve’s arms encircle me from behind.
“How are you doing?” she whispers in my ear.
“I’m doing good,” I say. “I wish you’d stop asking me that every five seconds.”
I can tell by the silence that she is hurt, but don’t make any effort to comfort her.” Are you enjoying yourself out here,” she asks at last.
“It’s a beautiful evening,” I say.
“I mean this trip. Our honeymoon.”
“Oh.” I think about it. “Yeah, I’m enjoying it. I just wish I wasn’t feeling so bad, so that I could do more dives with you. Who are you partnering with while I’m up here?”
“You’re not setting any underwater charges out there, are you? These reefs are protected, you know.”
She laughs half-heartedly.
“Is it because of what happened the other day? With your regulator?”
“No. That was an accident.”
“Because, you don’t have anything to be embarrassed about…”
“No, I don’t. So why do you feel the need to keep reminding me?”
Her arms tighten around me. “I’m just trying to — ”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m having the time of my life. You just keep enjoying the dives without me. I’ll bet Bill’s better at spotting stuff underwater than I am anyway.”
This is true, I know. I can tell by the way her arms loosen, ever so slightly.
The door to the cabin opens and the sound of voices escapes for a moment before it closes again and the Spanish couple joins us at the railing. Their names are Maria and Escobar. They lean against the railing, her arm wrapped in his, and say something to us in Spanish, at which we stare until the woman says, “Beautiful,” gesturing toward the open sea.
“Yes, very beautiful,” I say, and it’s true. The middle of the sea is the only place one can go and feel truly isolated. On land, even in the mountains, there are power lines. But here as far as the eye can see there is nothing, no ships, no land masses. Just miles of open water in every direction and worlds beneath not even science has explored. Seventy percent of the Earth’s surface exists three miles beneath my feet. Only a few submersibles in the world can explore depths like that, and even then there are canyons that open into further depths, seven miles down in places, where the pressure is so great even a titanium sphere would crush like a soda can. Scientists can’t imagine what kinds of life might exist in those places, and cannot hope to. Whatever is capable of living at those depths cannot possibly ascend otherwise it would explode. But it’s there. They are there, somewhere beneath our feet.
We remain on deck for several more minutes and share a spliff with the Spanish couple, before returning to our quarters below. We make love in a heady, vaguely uncomfortable fog then fall asleep without bothering to dress or clean ourselves. The rocking of the ocean causes strange dreams full of half-imagined things, things we cannot remember in the morning. It’s been that way since we embarked. Who knows what kinds of strange communions take place each night in our sleep? All we know is that we wake feeling rested.
In the morning we rinse ourselves on deck using a portable bladder hung from a metal bar at the stern. We (and by “we” I mean they) were planning on getting in an early dive, although for some reason the captain is having difficulty locating the site. The buoy that marks it, he says, seems to be missing.
“I know it’s around here somewhere,” he keeps muttering. We all lean over the side looking for shallow water, the reassuring glimmer of coral in the sunlight. At last we spot it. Eddie uses the forward sonar to figure out where to drop anchor, and in minutes everybody is suited up and ready to go.
“Are you sure you’re still feeling bad?” Genevieve asks me, buckling her BCD vest and sliding on her fins.
One by one, they waddle off the back end, each waiting for the one in front to clear the water before taking a long, awkward stride out and tumbling in after them.
“You’ll keep a look out for pirates while we’re down there, won’t you?” Bill asks me, following behind Genevieve.
“You bet,” I murmur.
God, how I hate that man.
Once they’re all in the water I watch them lift their inflator valves over their heads and release the air from their vests. Slowly, they begin to sink. Unlike the others, Genevieve has to descend gradually — allergies making it difficult for her ears to equalize all at once. They disappear into the deep, Genevieve last of all, but ultimately her as well, and I climb onto the top deck and lie on my towel in the sun. It turns out I’ve been telling the truth and it really is not so bad being the only one on board, except for Pablo, but he doesn’t talk to me so for all intents and purposes I am alone. I lie on my back and feel the sun press against the skin of my stomach, aware of the boat rocking back and forth beneath me. The waves aren’t too bad. I can only imagine the kind of visibility they’re getting.
I lie in the sun for about thirty-five minutes before I hear Pablo call to the first couple to surface. I sit up and look over the edge. It’s the Spanish couple and they look wild. They start going off in Spanish: “No me lo vas a creer lo que está ahi abajo. Nunca he visto nada asi!”
He talks back to them and it’s clear they’ve seen something pretty strange.
“Y los otros? Donde están?”
“Todavia estamos investigando. Nosotros también estuvieramos ahi, pero nos falto el aire.”
I climb down and Escobar pats me on the shoulder. “Big discover,” he says, widening his eyes. “BIG.”
In another ten minutes I see Genevieve’s head surface and she paddles toward the back of the boat, passing her fins up to Pablo and using the ladder to climb aboard. I help her to her seat. “Did they tell you?” she asks, still dripping, familiar snot streams hanging from her nose.
“They told me something, but it was in Spanish. I guess you saw something big? Shark, was it?”
“No, weirder than that.” She’s distracted suddenly by Eddie climbing on board. “Where’s Bill?” she asks. Eddie struggles to maintain his balance while Pablo helps him off with his tank.
“Damn fool wouldn’t come up. He’s still down there fiddling with the thing. I waited as long as I could but eventually I ran out of air. He’s got nitro, which lasts longer. Signed that he’d be up in a minute.”
“Tell Evan what we saw.”
He removes his wet suit and takes a seat in the sun in his speedo. His body is nearly orange from being on dive boats his whole life and the hair on his chest is bleach blonde. “Well, honestly I’m not sure. I mean, at really extreme depths there’s supposed to be these underwater brine pools that have a higher salinity than normal seawater, which explains why they’re distinct, but we’re talking bottom of the ocean here. I don’t think that’s what’s down there. With brine pools, the methane usually causes colonies of mussels to form around it, but there was none of that and the salinity, I would think, should make the pool look murky. Doesn’t explain the weird shimmer the one down there has.”
“So you found an underwater pool,” I venture.
“Something like that. Like I said, I don’t know what it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s new. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it before.”
“Was it here the last time you dove?”
“Well that’s the thing,” he says, looking around and scanning the water as if for landmarks. “This ain’t the spot I was trying to take us to. I’m pretty sure it’s in this vicinity, but the buoy isn’t here, and once I got down there it was pretty obvious I haven’t been here before. How I’ve been missing it all these years, I don’t know.”
At the back of the boat Bill is passing his fins up to Pablo.
“Hey, Bill,” Eddie says once he’s seated. “I know you’ve got a longer air supply than the rest of us, but when I come up I need you to come with me. It’s a liability thing, you understand?”
Bill nods without lifting his eyes.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” His voice sounds distant.
“Figure anything else out?”
“I don’t know. Tried dropping a few rocks and shells into it, but nothing happened. They just sat on its surface and wouldn’t go under. Then I tried to force them under with my hand just for a second and it felt like it was being swallowed whole. The pressure…it was intense.”
“Pressure? In the water?”
“Think so.” He lifts his hand in front of his face, tries making a fist but can hardly move it. “Still don’t really have much feeling.”
“Lemme take a look at that,” Eddie says, and we all crowd in close while he removes his glove. The hand he shows us is black and blue and seems nearly half the size of the other one. “Jesus, Bill! It looks like every bone in your hand is broken!”
“It don’t hurt.”
“Can you feel anything?”
He waits a moment, then shakes his head. Eddie gets up and begins to pace in the sun at the back of the boat. He looks at his watch. “Alright, here’s what we do,” he says. “We’ve got another half hour before we can go down again…What do you guys say we stay here today, check this thing out? Tomorrow we’ll call in the coast guard and they’ll bring an army of marine biologists, but right now how would you guys like to be a part of something new and current — a goddamn scientific discovery?”
“Si,” says Escobar.
“Ain’t even a choice as far as I’m concerned,” says Bill. “You get to be my age and anything new comes along, you better be up for the ride.”
“Can you dive with your hand like that?” Genevieve asks, and Bill laughs.
“Honey, I’ve dove with a broken leg before, bullets stuck in my hip… believe me, a sore hand ain’t nothing.”
“Right, but this situation with your hand teaches us something,” Eddie says. “If we’re going to mess around with this thing we’ve got to be careful. We don’t know what it is, or what it’s capable of. Could be a living organism for all we know. I know we’re all seasoned and competent, but in order to do this and make sure everybody’s safe, I really need you all to follow my lead.”
They nod their heads, except for me. Bill notices.
“What d’you say, sport? Still decompressing?”
I glare at him. “Think so,” I say, as amiably and regretfully as I can manage. “You guys will just have to give me a full report of what you see down there.”
Genevieve stares at me like her feelings are hurt. The potential symbolism of this is too much for her: encountering something entirely new together on our honeymoon, literally making a scientific discovery. I’m becoming more cynical. I mean, isn’t everything a new experience? Isn’t everything, if you look closely enough, a new discovery? Even our cells regenerate at a rate that, every seven years or so, we’re entirely new people. But this isn’t the kind of newness Genevieve appreciates. Me neither, really.
“We’ll give you the spark notes,” Bill says, smirking.
While they wait for the surface interval to time out, we have a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and fruit, with plenty of water. Breathing through a regulator tends to dry out one’s mouth, so for them the lunch is bursting with flavor. For me though, it’s kind of bland. While we wait for the last ten minutes to go by, everyone is silent, watching their time pieces and dive computers for the green light. At last they start to suit up again. Genevieve remains holding my hand.
“Aren’t you going down with them?” I ask.
“No, I want to stay up here with you.”
“Just because,” she says. “We need to be together.”
I’m touched by the sacrifice, but at the same time the thought of both of us waiting up here is more shameful somehow than if it were just me alone. Ruining my own honeymoon is bad enough; I don’t want to be responsible for hers too, especially given the circumstances.
“I think you should go down with them,” I say, and she looks at me.
“Because I want to know what’s down there, and I’m relying on you for all the juicy details. Plus, who’s going to be Bill’s dive partner? I mean, look at the guy… he could have a stroke at any moment and who would be there to help him?”
“Evan, something’s happening to us. I don’t know what it is, but I just really feel like we need to stay together right now. Okay? This is our honeymoon.” She looks at me and I can feel her eyes pleading for me to come with them, to get my gear on and quit being such a pussy. Not all of that, of course, but that’s what it feels like.
“You go, babe,” I say. “I want to be by myself anyway. The quiet is good for me.”
She studies my eyes, searching them for subtext — a secret request that isn’t quite coming through in words. She must find none because a moment later she sighs and zips up her dive skin, slides her arms through her BCD vest and starts to get ready. “This isn’t the honeymoon I had in mind,” she says in a low voice.
I say that I’m sorry, wanting it to be vague, but we both know what I’m talking about.
Once they’re all underneath I return to my spot on the top deck, although the sky is overcast and there isn’t much sun to soak up right now. I stand up there, alone, and stare out at the unimpeded sky and sea, at the blurry spot on the horizon where the two of them meet. I am struck suddenly by the full magnitude of my error, choosing this for our honeymoon. I feel small out here, and that is not the way a man should feel on his honeymoon.
I climb down from the top deck and up front I can hear a beeping noise. Pablo has been sitting with his feet up, listening to something through a pair of headphones, but now he yanks them off and stares at one of the monitors beside the steering wheel. “Chingada madre,” he breathes.
“What is it?”
He doesn’t answer at first, but rushes to the side of the boat and peers over the edge into the water, does the same on the other side.
“Pablo, what is it?”
“I don’t know,” he says, still trying to see something beneath the water. “Radar picked up something. Could be a mistake though. Something very big.”
I look at the monitor. On the screen there is a large red circle designating the area around the boat. I can see five smaller forms — whom I presume to be the divers — off the stern. In front of us is a large amorphous shape that looks roughly the size of a submarine.
“What the hell is that, Pablo?”
“I don’t know, there is no room for an object like that at this depth. I’m thinking it’s a mistake.”
I look back to the screen and can see that the object, whatever it is, is circling to our starboard side, toward the divers. “It’s moving over here,” I say, and we both rush to the starboard side of the boat. The water there is choppy and without any sun the surface appears cold and impenetrable.
“Do you see anything?” I ask, and he shakes his head, but then an immense shadow appears on the water in front of us — or is it a cloud passing overhead? — before disappearing just as suddenly.
“What do we do?” I ask.
“There is nothing we can do except be ready in case they surface.”
I wait at the stern for another twenty minutes before they reappear. During this time Pablo has managed to relax; the shape has disappeared on the radar although he can still see our companions swimming up near the prow. I continue to be anxious until I see Genevieve’s head break the surface and her pulling herself in by a rope attached to the stern.
“Are you guys alright?” I ask once they’re on board and struggling to remove their gear.
Eddie looks at me. “Why do you ask?”
“Did you see anything down there?”
Pablo explains what we saw on the sonar and Eddie shrugs. “Must have been a malfunction of some kind. We didn’t see anything, barely any fish even. It’s like the reef is deserted.”
“Well, what did you see?”
“We found a couple of other smaller pools hidden inside some of the coral formations. Look to be the same kind, although we haven’t been able to figure out what they are yet. I tried lowering my weight belt into it and almost as soon as I did I felt some pressure take hold of it and it disappeared. That’s why we had to come up so early. I couldn’t stay down without it.”
“It disappeared? Like something grabbed it?”
He laughs. “No, nothing like that. I think what we’re dealing with though is pressure. For some reason these pools contain enormous amounts of pressure. I think it made my weights heavier and that’s what sucked them under. Also explains what happened to Bill’s hand.”
“How is that possible though?”
“You’ve got me. I’ve never seen anything like it, although I would like to poke around down there some more before calling in the coast guard. When you get to be my age you have to seize opportunities like this one. That is, if it’s okay with the rest of you?”
We all shrug and nod, except for Bill, who says, “I hear you.”
“Good. Well, according to the chart we’ve got to take an hour-and-a-half surface interval this time, which should leave us just enough time for one more dive before dusk.”
The sky is overcast now and we’ve all been on deck for a while. Most of us choose to wait out the interval in our cabins.
“I want to shower,” Genevieve says once we’re below, “but I know I’m just going to get dirty again.” She removes her dive skin and the bikini swimsuit beneath it, wraps her hair in a towel, and lies down on the made-up bed beside me. I lower my lips to her shoulder and taste the salt still clinging to her.
“Dirty girl,” I say.
“I’d rather not,” she says. “I’m so exhausted from all the diving.”
I stop kissing her. “You can rest. I’ll do most of the work.”
She smiles. “Evan, what can we do to get this honeymoon back on track?”
“I didn’t know it was off track.”
She waits a moment: “I know you’re afraid of going down again.”
“What do you mean ‘afraid’? I’ve been diving longer than you have, sweetheart.”
“I’m not trying to insult you. I don’t even blame you. It was probably really scary what happened, and if it were me, I wouldn’t want to dive for a while either. But we can’t keep being separate here, not acknowledging it. If you want to stay on the boat instead of dive, that’s fine, but I want to stay with you. What’s important isn’t the diving or discovering some new sea thing…it’s that we’re together.”
My eyes become bleary for a moment and I consider again how it felt being underwater suddenly without air, how my mind drew a blank despite all the training.
“Look, I understand how it must seem to you. But the truth is that I’m just not feeling well. Maybe it’s decompression sickness or maybe it’s something else, but I just don’t want to dive right now. I don’t want that to ruin your time. You should keep diving. Enjoy yourself. We’re paying for it, after all. Anything less would be a waste.”
“But I told you, I don’t care about that.”
“I know, but I do! I don’t want to be the cause, do you understand? It’s bad enough that I’m stuck up here myself, but if you are too it’s only going to make it worse for me.”
“But I want to be with you.”
I sigh. Her devotion is infuriating.
“How about this,” I say. “It’s the depth that bothers me — what if while you guys are diving I snorkel on the surface. That way I’ll be able to see you, you can look up and see me. I’ll be able to contribute to the conversation about stuff when we all come up. How would that be?”
“I don’t want to force you to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”
“Snorkeling would be fine,” I say. “Honestly. In fact, I’m surprised I didn’t think of it sooner.”
“Will you be able to with the sea this rough?”
“It’s worth a try.”
Now she smiles and I smile too, happy to have come up with a solution finally. I lower my mouth to her shoulder again and can feel her relax beneath me. I remove my shirt and shorts, climb on top of her, knock the towel off of her head and cradle her damp hair in the crook of my arm.
Once we finish, we both put our swimsuits on and carry our dive skins up to the deck. Genevieve hangs hers on a railing to dry. Bill is seated on the bench nearest the stern and is staring off into infinity. In his lap, his injured hand is cradled, moving slightly, unsuccessfully attempting to open and close.
“See anything out there?” Genevieve asks, smiling. He turns, surprised.
“No. Nothing that wasn’t already there, anyway.”
“Guess who’s going to be joining us this time on the surface?”
He raises his eyebrows and she turns to indicate me. I look away.
“On the surface?”
“He’s going to snorkel.”
“Well, good for him, I guess.” He turns back to the horizon.
“Still another half hour before we can go down,” Genevieve says. “I’m going to go make a sandwich. You want one?”
“Sure, I’ll come with you.”
“That’s alright. Kitchen’s cramped anyway.” She looks at me significantly and then at Bill.
“Beg your pardon?” I say, but she just smiles, turns and disappears beneath the deck.
I look back at Bill and he is still gazing at the ocean, holding his injured hand. “How’s the hand?” I ask, inching a bit closer and reluctantly taking a seat on the bench opposite him.
He doesn’t turn. “It’s fine,” he says.
“Are you able to move it alright?”
“It’s fine,” he glances at me fiercely out of the corner of his eye before returning to the horizon. We’re silent for several moments, and I consider giving up. I don’t even like the old bastard, but something about the way he’s seated, the contemplative air around him, interests me.
“Any idea what it is down there?”
“You seem interested in them. You ever see anything like them before?”
He glances at me again. “No.” And he waits a moment, as if considering whether or not to tell me what he’s thinking. At last he sighs. “There were times during the war when I wished I had. When I was underwater and enemy boats were humming over the surface, sometimes I’d imagine something real similar to what’s down there: a pool, or a portal of some kind that I could enter into and be home again, or at least someplace tropical.” He smiles, and I smile too despite myself. “I imagined meeting my wife on a beach somewhere. Surprising her. Just coming up out of the water in my scuba gear and catching her there in a swimsuit, a daiquiri in her hand.”
“Where is she now?”
“Dead three years. Stroke.”
Somehow I’d known this to be the case, and I try to convince myself it wasn’t cruelty that made me ask. “I’m sorry,” I say. He doesn’t answer.
Genevieve returns with two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We eat in silence. Twenty minutes later Eddie joins us on deck, followed by Pablo, then Escobar and Maria.
“Ready for one last dive before we call it a night?” Eddie asks.
We all nod and murmur assent, slowly start to suit up.
“You joining us this time, Evan?” he asks me, seeing me pulling on my fins and strapping my dive knife uselessly to my calf.
“Just on the surface,” I say.
“Pretty choppy out there. Visibility might not be so good.”
“If it’s too rough I’ll come in.”
He nods and glances once at Pablo before going to suit up himself. As usual I watch the procession of waddling individuals in scuba gear march off the back end of the boat before following after them. When it’s Genevieve’s turn, she turns and smiles at me — her face all mashed against the dive mask — before fitting her mouth around the regulator and taking one long stride off the back end, tumbling into the water. I follow and stand there for a moment looking at their heads bobbing together in a little group, disappearing one by one beneath the surface, replaced by streams of air bubbles. The boat rocks from side to side and the water has the look of steel. I’ve already lost sight of the others beneath it, except for their bubbles.
“Compadre, a donde vas?” Pablo calls from the captain’s chair. Without answering I take a long stride out into the water after them. We’ve been without sun most of the day by this point and the water is cold. Seawater splashes into my snorkel and I have to tread water in order to clear it. Pablo, I can see, is at the back of the boat. He touches his head with his right hand and I do the same — the international sign for okay — then press my face beneath the surface and watch the others sinking, anchored to five streams of bubbles.
The waves have me rocking from side to side, and the visibility is not good anyway from all of the silt being stirred up, but from where I am I can just barely make them out and recognize who is who. I recognize Genevieve by the red and navy on her wet suit. They are waiting on the bottom for her to work her way down, and once she arrives they proceed in a line behind Eddie. I cannot make out the reef very well. At this depth it looks like a great, ragged shadow throwing each of the divers into relief. The floor is probably fifty feet down, and not too far off I can see where the shelf drops off into open water, a spectrum of blue darkening into murk.
Genevieve flips onto her back and looks up at me, gives me two thumbs up. I return the gesture although I suspect anything I do will be lost in the light of the surface around me. I can see Bill swimming several yards ahead of her, not bothering to look around or to investigate the reef like the others. He is focused. It’s the pool he’s interested in. I try to follow and to remain directly above them, which feels strange and voyeuristic in a way, not to mention lonely. Every now and then I lift my head just to make sure I’m not going to run into the boat motor or anything, although each time I do this I find an infinite plane of grey distending in front of me.
Below I can see that the procession has stopped and is gathered around something. I cannot tell what it is, but by its shape and the dull sense of color I’m able to discern it looks just like a rather large piece of coral. And yet it has captured their interest, even Bill’s — all of them hover around it, inverted, the Spanish couple snapping pictures with their underwater camera. I continue to puzzle over what it could be when I suddenly notice, about twenty yards distant from them, the pool. Because of the poor visibility everything surrounding it appears foggy and indistinct; it, however, seems to shimmer even at this depth. It is silver and beautiful, and judging by the size of the divers relative to it I would guess it’s about six-by-six feet in diameter. I forget about the divers and swim until I am directly above the pool — the water here, I’d reckon, is about seventy feet — and there allow myself to float, buoyed by the passing waves and hypnotized by the silver shimmer of the pool beneath me, the way it captures what little light there is and reflects it in a way that seems almost like a gesture, though one incomprehensible to me.
I watch it for what feels like several minutes before the others finally make their way over to it, obstructing my view. I wish suddenly that I had my own gear and that I too was able to inspect it up close, perhaps even touch it, maybe, although that didn’t work out so well for Bill. I lift my head from the water and wheel about so that I am facing the boat. I’m surprised to see that I’m nearly one hundred yards out. On the prow I see Pablo stand and lift his right hand to his head. I lift my right hand to my head, and begin to swim back in its direction.
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