Wednesday, March 26, 2008


A week of writing alone, cut off. It's lonely, but I can think.
I've been meaning to write this for a while. I don't have a nice clean ending; maybe there isn't one. Well, actually I think there is, but I haven't articulated it yet. That's OK, it'll come along. Photo is of my diving buddy's light illuminating his instrument console at night, 98 feet below the surface of Puget Sound.


Kneeling on the sea floor, at a nervous peace with the world. The intake of breath is a hiss. The exhale is a guttural rumble of bubbles rushing upward, thrumming at my temples, muted by thick neoprene. A trickle of water finds a weakness in my wetsuit and icicles down my spine.
It’s night and I feel alone but then my swinging lamp illuminates Todd’s upper torso, the black neoprene and hoses and bubbles, and there’s a flash when the light finds the glass plate of his mask. Then he’s gone again in the murk.
I kneel, still.
Something bumps into me. Todd. He backs away a few feet. For a moment I see his expression is calm in his mask.
I switch off my light and I'm painted over by darkness. Now there are no ghostly washes coursing by. There is simply nothing. The dark of deep space, far from any star.
I take a moment to calm my breath. Then I raise my hand, slowly in front of my mask. I can’t see it. I push it forward through the seawater, fingers splayed out, and suddenly five streamers of glowing motes appear before me, twirling tendrils of light that flow like impossible fire from my thickly-gloved fingertips. Phosphorescent plankton. Uncountable, microscopic dinoflagellates. We are descended from the same original life forms. I share some of their DNA.
I sweep my arm to the side, igniting a curtain of grass-green points. The curtain warps and then winks out, trailing end first. I wave the other way, entranced by the lights just as I've been taken hold of by other lights, in ice, or the sky. The looping points look like the Arctic aurora, but fragmented, frozen and shattered, tumbling through space.
Something is wrong. I’m off the bottom, floating free. What is this I fumble for my light as my body seems to rotate in a slow backward somersault. When I come upright again my fins don’t brush the sand. Stupid! You didn’t stay buoyancy negative! Where’s Todd? Where’s up?
I can’t find my light. I’m in my bubbles. That’s wrong. They should be rising above me. It means I'm ascending!
Suddenly the cold liquid weight above breaks across the back of my skull and I bob up on the surface. The moon is behind thin clouds and the water is black and calm except for some wriggling silver strokes.
Where the hell is Todd? What the hell am I doing on the surface?
I swish an arm to turn in place and Todd rises up from a roil of bubbles.
He pops his regulator from his mask and says “What the hell?”
“No idea,” I say, “No idea. I lost bouyancy control. I just shot up!”
“Me too,” he says, then, feeling underwater, “I think one of my fins came off…Yeah, I only have one fin.”
I’m confused. Todd’s fin can wait. An uncontrolled ascent is the worst thing we can do here. No, no, I think, we haven’t been down long or deep enough for the bends! Have we? Right now I can’t remember anything.
Shining my light at my wrist depth gauge, I read the numbers. They're deadly. I blurt out “Todd, we shot up from 23 meters! That’s over 70 feet! We gotta go back down and do a safety stop!”
“What? No way. We weren’t more than 30 feet down.”
“I’m telling you my gauge reads 23 meters,” I say, lowering my mask. “I’m going back down. Seventy feet! I’m not getting bent on my 30th dive!”
Todd shakes his head and says “No way we were that deep!” He looks at me, preparing to go back down, as if I’m crazy.
I don’t care. I believe my instrument. I bite the regulator again and breathe in as I deflate my vest and start to sink.
Dropping slowly, steadily. Hordes of dinoflagellates mark my descent, a fading column of green blinks.
Waves of shame roll over me. I’m worried about the bends, or embolism. Damn, my 30th dive and I shot to the surface! Idiot! Todd did, too. How did that happen to both of us at the same moment?
Crunch. I’m on the bottom.
I switch on my light. Todd’s fin is just a few feet away. It lies like a corpse on the sand. I grab it, hook the strap through my elbow, and then kneel and stare obsessively at the digits counting time on my dive console. Three minutes pass, then a fourth. I inflate the vest just enough to feel my knees rise slowly from the sand.
At the surface Todd is resting, just floating, laying back in the water, his vest fully inflated.
I pop out my regulator and hand Todd his fin. The only sound is water dripping from my mask onto the still water.
“You found it!” Todd says.
“Yeah, it was right there. So, no problems? You OK?” I half expected to find him twitching or red-eyed, ‘hit’ by the rapid ascent.
“Nope. It’s a beautiful night,” he says calmly, fumbling to strap his fin back on for the swim to shore.
“I don’t get it.” I look at my depth gauge. Twenty-three again. Wait. Twenty-three what? Does that mark mean feet or meters? The display is too small, and it’s too dark. I put my eye right up to the plastic housing and squint as I shine my light on the instrument.
“Oh hell,” I mutter. “Feet. Not meters. Feet!”
“I told you, man,” Todd laughs.
“We were only 23 feet down! I can’t believe it! How could I be so wrong?”

(c) Cameron M. Smith, 2008

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