It’s cold here, and it is
dark, and I have not
always been underwater.
A Man Near The Sea
A few shallow breaths disjointedly distanced, scattered recklessly through time. The silence in between. A hollow for all sorts of evil to breed in the mind. And a woman. Whom he loved…
Soon the walls would close in. The room would collapse, all air rush out with a hoarse hiss. And he with it. She breathed in. Her chest barely rising. And a woman… She swallowed dryly. Whom he loved… breathed out. A short shallow release. She sank into the bed. Why must she look so relieved? To inhale, surely was to claim life. Had she no longer a will to live? Yearned she for nothing more than to breathe her last breath? He brushed a sleeve across his forehead. Across his mouth. The ceiling. The lights. It would not be long now. The air was thin. Thinning. Breathe… And a woman… Breathe… Whom he loved… Breathe… He must leave.
Every night. At her bedside. Breath for breath. Suspended. The mimicry took its toll. He escaped to the darkness of the streets, to the embrace of the gale, and the sea
The water flowed, a slow salty river down his throat. The flow momentarily reversed. And reversed again. How does one let go of breath? How does one openly greet water into the lungs? His mind was resolute to let go, and still, his body clung to life. Arthur sank now, sank ever deeper, away from the waves, from the ocean gale, from life-giving breath, from life itself. His limbs floated weightless at his sides in a pale simulacrum of life. Finally, the moment came. The last of his air escaped his mouth and nose, upwards in small dancing bubbles, surrendered dearly to the woman whom he loved. A last offering. He inhaled deeply, welcoming the entire ocean into his lungs.
It is said a man near the sea does not draw breath. That wind is granted him, saline as mother’s milk, to fill his lungs and heart. Arthur stumbled over the cobblestones out into the night. There was a thin drizzle veiling dim the yellow of the street lights. The cold night air was sharp against the walls of his lungs. In his mouth, the iron taste of blood. There was happiness unknown in a breath. There was unfathomable guilt. Of the sort that awaited in the depths, with teeth pointing inward.
He escaped farther into the night, through the alleyways of the village, like a man trying to outrun the fire on his back. Past the end of the road and houses. Until, breathless once more, he knelt into the waves. The sea immediately extended its embrace to him, inviting him forth, robbing the very sand beneath him, whispering a soft sandy breath, showing him the way in, in, in; but he did not yet listen, he didn’t yet yield. The regular rhythm of the waves soothed his breathing. And, as the ocean reclaimed his salty tears, as the gale filled his lungs; he forfeited into the vastness beyond, his vast burden to bear.
Arthur drifted. Wayward, at the whim of the many undersea currents, his was a simple planktonic existence. With dull wonder, he peered where he faced at that which was not death. Never death. Had he not conjoined every element of death? Had he not foregone love and warmth and breath? What more could the ocean ask from him than a wilful exile from life itself? He sighed, staring through clouded eyes into the crisp void, contemplating an eternity of current–borne vagabonding, with hollow weariness in his heart.
Some long darkly nights, nights when moon and stars dance hidden behind thick clouds, he would bathe in a deathlike peace, lying upon the seabed. Deep amidst the silently swishing seaweeds, he would lay, their gentle sway rocking his eyes to sleep. He would dream then of a breath as easy, as gentle as a draft in a willow grove.
These nocturnal yearnings, albethem ephemeral, brought solace to his heart, and quieted his doubts. Amongst the willows of his dreams, she too would sway, weightless as a leaf, smiling, and he would see. His offering of breath, of life, had not been in vain. Then, the day would dawn. The sun would illuminate the air, the forsaken air, forsaken, yet forever tantalisingly within reach, above the surface. A temptation, for a weakening soul. Life would carry undeniably on. And his mind would fall prey to obscure ponderings. Ocean, acknowledge my sacrifice. Acknowledge, grant me this. That I may fulfil my penance knowing. Knowing that I did not just abandon my wife in the chasm of her sickness… That she received my sacrifice of breath.
At times, driven to despair, he would tempt his fate at the mouth of large carnivorous fish. He would seek the venomous, the electrogenic, the tentacular. Finding down that avenue, not death, but rather a confirmation of life, through pain. His tender dilapidating body could suffer more, he discovered. His numbness not absolute. Not death, never death. His pact with the ocean transcended to the consciousness of every one of the lifeforms it harboured. Chomped, sucker strewn, choked, burned, scarred, fin whipped, swallowed whole… However creative his endeavours became, however elaborate, death would not be granted to him. For all his efforts, the ocean would not release him from his cursed post-mortem existence. As though a breath for a breath were not a fair enough exchange, as though the weight of his sacrifice were too insignificant. Daylight always would follow his precious deathlike nights. Life always would follow his pretence of death.
Over time, the thought of taking his love farther underwater, into the tenebrous deep-sea realms, away from mnemonics of life, filtered through the daze of his existence. And from then on, never released his mind.
The water from the faucet steamed as it spilt into the taloned bathtub. He had returned home near morning, depleted, pallid, devoured by the cold humid night. He was naked now, adrift in vapour clouds of warmth and eucalyptus. The tap exhaled forcefully with a mighty rush that echoed against the tiles. Once full, he silenced the flow, sighed. He stepped in, and settled into the calm water, allowing the heat to scald then gradually soothe his shivers. The warmth brought him back into the moment. He listened.
And a woman, he thought as every porcelain square reverberated with cold cruelty the sound of her struggling breath, whom I love. There was barely a moment there. Only the acknowledgement of his cowardice. To flee what she could not. To seek solace in the sea when he, himself, was hers. Her only solace. Her sea. Guilt drove him underwater once more, to escape once more, unworthy solace, unworthy sea, unworthy of her pain.
A wave washed steaming over the lip of the tub. The warm water hushed her breath, hushed his. Time slowed. His guilt escaped him in bubbles swimming upwards from his mouth and nose. A fish in a tank, alone. He pictured the door behind which his wife lay ill, and peered through the cracks in the worn wood, into memories of their youth. The air had flowed abundantly then, and full of lavender, he recalled. There had been love then. And an ocean behind green eyes. The lavender of her hair and the green of her eyes. And the sun of her smile. Elizabeth, he whispered in bubbles.
Time passed unbeheld, as he lost himself in contemplation. Careful, his ears safely below the surface, his mouth surfaced periodically for air.
The water, now tepid, now cool, was growing inhospitable. He shivered and the images of his youth were shaken from his mind. Above, his reflection on the surface revealed the skeleton of a man, unkempt and worn thin. I’m letting myself perish with her, he thought. So be it. Ashamed, he stepped out of the tub, trembling. Ashamed shallow tricks he played to fool himself. Little good it would do her to level the scale by adding unnecessary suffering to your side. The short shallow breaths, resonating from the other room, returned immediately to haunt. To induce both pain and relief; vicarious compassion and a stubborn reluctance to let go. And I, seeking to escape the sound. The depth-less gasps that have become her.
There is a darkness that creeps up from the deep. An opaque darkness that the sunlight even cannot permeate. The colours of warmth are the first to stay behind. As though the cold itself guarded the way into the dark. Last to go are the tones of water. The ocean blue has no place in the furthermost confines of the world. For a while, the colours lingered in view up above. Majestic a view for those looking back. Aurora Borealis-like, he imagined, never once venturing a glance towards it. With time this too would fade to black. An abyssal shade, so black as to shroud himself in and wait. Wait with the timeless patience of the buried.
Outside the room, Arthur sat waiting. With scarcely a breath of his own. Staring at the walls with distrust. The doorknob wince and a steady hand pushed the door ajar. The doctor grimly stepped out, heavy with the message he bore. The floor whined under him. Arthur rose slowly, then sat back into the wicker of the chair, steadying his gaze upon the doctor. The room swelled like a raging sea. A few breathes later, he had regained control and rose once more, feet wide. Affecting outward calm, composure. If only to counteract the strength of the tide pulling away at his love, he stood straight and studied the doctor’s expressionless features. Behind layers of hardened pain, lay hidden the words. There isn’t much time left. But the doctor’s practised face did not reveal them in the least.
She is strong, the doctor uttered instead. A moment of silence. In deferential acquiescence of the hard, dry truth that would follow. Simple and elegant and cruel. She will not outlive this battle. I’m sorry. Nothing more can be done.
There is a pale blue-green light that comes and goes, and relieves me from the lonesome gloom of the great unlit reaches below, where I lay, clinging desperately to the shadow of a hope. An unbearable lonesome gloom, I once sought. But the ocean endeavours to prove its point. That death is a gift, that I do not yet deserve. This, my endless purgatory, is more apt a torture for my cowardice. Might even be hell. And so, I might not deserve death. Once unable to face her malady, her shallow breaths. Now unable to face the price to pay. Incapable of summoning any lasting faith in my sacrifice. And yet, unwilling to break it. What if faith, faith that the exchange took place, that in surrendering my breath, she somehow regained hers, or inherited mine; what if faith was the ethereal element that validated the pact? What if faith was the alchemical substance that held the power to transform interminable hell into penance, into purgatory?
And what of this light that visits me in my blindness? A floating orb that comes and goes, symbol of wavering hope. Dare I believe its promise? This glow which, to others, might appear feeble; for my sun–starved eyes, for my light depraved heart, this glow became iridescent warmth. Aridity. Embers of a life never fully extinguished. Schemes of a cruel ocean. Taunting and tempting me to hope, so that I may be made to suffer more.
And yet, here I lay. I, who have relinquished life. With hope again in my heart. My illusory death, my abyssal retreat, brought to a bio-luminescent end.
The doctor faded. The life that Arthur held most dear, an exhale now could expire. A flickering flame slowly deprived of oxygen. Arthur stood before her now. Trembling quietly. Struck by the impending finality of his yet unsounded love. The floor creaked terribly under him. The weight of the doctor’s conferred words was now his to bear. Breathe, he prayed, a few tears dripping silently down from his eyes onto his sallow cheeks. The room soon would not hold the both of them. Breathe, he implored. The walls scraped and shrieked as they closed in. The pressure mounting in his chest. He stole a few more seconds at her side at the cost of his own suffocation. Until he could no longer withstand it. He tumbled out of the room and stumbled off, away from her and into the darkest night.
The darksome seabed. What occurs here in the dark, one can only hope not to dream of. It is love that has landed me here, amongst the exiles of the sun, to slumber heavily in the tenebrous expanse. Love, he thought, as though the word held a long–forgotten promise. The perpetual gloom had clouded his mind, so that he could not think clearly.
A light here did shine, however. A light that he now longed for. My Lucifer, Arthur whispered, shaping the words silently with his swollen lips when the sharp blue–green light appeared in the distance. A lighthouse’s beam to lost ships, puncturing the opaque ceaseless night. Always you find me, he thought. As the wand of light neared, revealing the grotesque black seadevil devilfish fading like a nightmare in its wake, he would shudder involuntarily. Though only once. For always the thought found him, that he too was such a grotesque demonic creature now. He too had surely become the stuff of fright. She sped towards him now, her filed dentistry falling to work upon the shell and flesh of the many crustaceans crawling incessantly over his body. So relieving him of their relentless gnawing and hoovering. So relieving him from the clutches of solitude.
The mere sight of her would come over him like the smell of death. At first, Arthur had to fight hard to quiet his instinctive revulsion to such a monster. Beauty, he reminded himself, may not always come beribboned. And with time he learned this truth, that nothing can be so tender, as that which is enveloped in rough. Like a cactus or a chestnut. Or those whose allure is meant to repulse or intimidate. Nothing can be more valuable than that which needs be heavily guarded. He, himself, had morphed into one such brutish, fearsome creature of the deep. For this reason, his heart squirmed with sympathy for Lucifer. To Arthur, her cold heart was as delicate as her glow. And so, a kinship of sorts gradually blossomed between these two devils.
At first, Lucifer would return but sporadically, leaving Arthur to linger unknown stretches of time in the wake of her glow. But as his fondness for her presence developed into a heartfelt yearning, so it happened that her ramblings into his desolate resting place became increasingly regular. Their relationship gradually evolved into a curious symbiosis. Hunger for hunger. Light for crustaceans.
The absence of light between her visits became the silence between breaths. The tremendous pressure of the depths would strengthen its hold upon his heart and he would find himself inside Elizabeth’s room once again, gasping for air. Thoughts of his previous life, which he had all but forgone, would flood in by waves to disturb his eternal rest, and set his mind about finding the answer to a question he no longer dared to formulate. Had it worked?
Such were his troubles, when he noticed that the intervals of darkness between Lucifer’s visits, became shorter. And shorter still. Until a time came when Lucifer seemed at last content to simply float at his side. He had become her home. This fact brought him untold joy. Arthur, would lie there, peacefully, and contemplate her for lengthy lapses at a time as she basked in the glow of her own light. Simply buoyant. It was not rare for him to find her poised curiously upright or even, at times, upside down. Distinguishing no orientation to this forsaken underworld.
As one dances when alone, so she was motionless. In all her delicate ruggedness.
One’s own life
The air was good, almost sinful to breathe. His fleeing feet had again brought him to wade into the ocean. For the waves to soothe his breath. The gale to fill him with air and the brine to reclaim his dripping turmoil. The water encouraged him forth, enveloping him in a soft saline embrace. He walked deeper into it. And deeper. Until his feet left sand and land altogether. He slipped under.
Away from breath.
Is this how thoughts of taking one’s own life creep into the mind, he wondered, not by the command of harsh inner-voices, but rather like a veil, like a blanket to ward off the cold of winter? Is this why so many are powerless but to heed its alluring whispers?
All is night. Lucifer led the way with her pale radiance. Arthur trailed after, lurking like her shadow enlarged and malformed. Following as a leaf follows the progress of the sun. Lucifer plunged into narrow chasms and through gorges, further into the abyssal throat of the underground. The dark stirred around them, mystical, unknown.
A few lengths ahead, Lucifer halted abruptly. Arthur ceased his chase and looked on as she lingered motionless a while, observing below. Then, in the swift beat of a fin, she dove downwards. Caught off guard, Arthur caught but a glimpse of his lucent friend before she disappeared into a small opening in the rock bed, leaving Arthur marooned in her afterglow.
He swam blindly forward full of haste, the imprint of what he had seen slowly fading from his retina. With arms outstretched, he reached the rock bed. His swollen, clumsy hands do not feel much as they travel the rock, searching, hurtling into numerous prowling creatures. The fissure that had swallowed Lucifer only moments before was nowhere to be found. A scurrying creature, taking badly to his disturbances, suddenly retched up a bright bio–luminescent secretion in Arthur’s unsuspecting face. The milky discharge spread, shedding its greenish light on a massive school of shrimps in full alert. Their eyes gleaming. Ready to spew at any moment to protest his unhandy ways.
An instant of stillness ensued. A stand-off of sorts. The dispersing vomital light was menacing to leave him stranded anew. Before the thought had even broken the stillness of his mind, he burst into action. His hands gathered roughly every shrimp at hand until he had himself a half-dozen of the little light–heaving creepers, and, bluntly, discourteously, he threw them in all directions.
Immediately, the water was ablaze all around. He almost lost his opportunity as he marvelled at the spectacle, and only managed to wrench his eyes away when the light began to fade. He found the fissure he sought not far off to his left. He stole one last moment to appreciate the uniqueness of his situation. What mysterious beauty, he thought, knowing himself to be smiling by the pain it occasioned in his locked jaw. Then, expeditiously, he engaged into the cave that had swallowed Lucifer.
All too soon, darkness encircled him anew. The rocky outcrops of the narrow, narrowing couloir abraded his soft water-logged flesh. At last, as he fumbled forth, he was rewarded by a light brightening at the end of the passage. Arthur felt his way along though his journey was promptly brought to an end a few meters away. He had reached an obstructing constriction. The gap was small, but with a few quite laborious trials, and a complete disregard for the maltreatment of his corporeal self, he managed to squeeze through the rock, like vomit out of a shrimps throat, out into a vast cavernous hall. He took a moment to catch his breath, so to speak. Ahead, light poured in through another constriction in the rock wall.
He swam towards it. And as a great deep–sea explorer of old, peering out the window of his bathyspheres, Arthur peered through the aperture and discovered an incandescent sea. An entire community of deep-sea dwellers aglow, casting colours that spanned the entire spectrum against the oppressive opaque darkness. A biodiverse world inhabited by the strangest, most extraordinary creatures ever beheld.
There were colonial organisms extending in great strands of soft radiant blue; clusters of tiny molluscs with shells glowing a deep chartreuse green; giant gelatinous beings displaying dazzling yellow filaments; and most surprising of all was a pale yet fierce crimson red which pulsed in the distance. Each a moon for its own black starless sky. And all this, it seemed, for no other apparent reason than to express light. To ward off an oppressive darkness that seeps deep into the heart. To communicate, to shout into the void: I am! His eyes drank in this luminous spectacle with a great unquenchable thirst.
Mesmerised, Arthur soon fell under a spell. But before he drifted wholly into sleep a most curious thought crossed his mind. That he would, for the first time since seeking the refuge of the light-less depths, he would fall asleep shutting his eyes on light. A pleasure he had long forgotten. Perhaps then, was the seed sown which would lead him to end his exile in the dark recesses of the ocean.
Nothing more can be done. The doctor’s words repeated their doomed, dooming, sequence over and over again through his mind. Nothing. The word resounded through him like the slamming of a door. Definite. Yet, here, at night and underwater, words became suddenly invested with a dissimilar meaning. Things became… softer. More malleable. Not so final. A solution could be negotiated here, below the waves. He could feel it.
Oxygen deprived and cold, Arthur reached another state. The sea lured him ever deeper in its embrace, promising resolutions. Elizabeth, he thought. The evil that took her breath away now slowly consumed him as well. Time slowed as the sea meddled with his thoughts, reorganising them, adding of its own. Arthur’s lungs screamed for air, but he ignored them a while longer. Oh devious sea, how reluctant your wisdom, how you circumnavigate never quite closing in. In the calm quiet obscurity, the ocean whispered, at last. A pact, it whispered, a sacrifice. He acquiesced.
Arthur emerged from into the air above, frantically drawing breath into his lungs. He regained his bearings. The waves were strong and they beat on him as he struggled for the distant shore. He fought a desperate battle for a life that had only just found meaning anew.
He would make it to the shore. The ocean would not claim him. Not yet.
Arthur awakened with a start. Lucifer’s light shone feverishly through his heavy-lidded eyes. She swam frantically before him, her light intensifying her distress. Arthur moved his head to grant her passage through the hole into the cave. And not a moment too soon, for Lucifer, who rushed past him, was followed closely by a havoc of giant thrashing, groping tentacles reaching after her, extending inside the cave in all directions. A monstrous flower of a creature that cast shivers of fright down Arthur’s spine.
Lucifer, who had not for a moment ceased her flight, was now halfway down the escape corridor, forsaking him to the dismal fate of being blindly entangled and twisted and wrung. Wasting no time, he dashed after Lucifer’s pale glow, through the constriction, along the widening corridor, and out of the crevasse on the other side. Once in open waters, he spun about searching for that familiar blue-green light. He found Lucifer hiding in a hollow cave. He dove down to conceal himself at her side. Thanks a lot, he worded soundlessly, as he reached to conceal her luminous wand in both his hands thus shedding darkness around them.
They held very still. Very quiet. Not knowing whether their pursuer still loomed invisibly above. Knowing nothing other, in the thick woollen darkness, than the cold comforting skin of the other, pressed against their own. In the calm silence following the excitement of the chase, Arthur was left pondering on the novel subject of fright. More precisely on the curious resurgence of a will to live, that informed it. Had he not himself sought strangulation at the tentacle of an octopus before?
When the threat seemed to have passed, Arthur loosened his grasp, and, ray by ray, let the light flood into the surrounding waters. Lucifer, who had fallen asleep, stirred awake then, and began to swim about in short excited bursts of speed. Above them, a part of the roof of their hiding place suddenly rustled and shifted. Then, clouding the water with fine sediment, it unfolded long skinny legs and embarked upon a journey of its own. Left naked to the eye, both stayed put a while longer to stare incredulously after the gargantuan spider-like crab as it disappeared into the gloom.
Eventually, they swam on. A nascent rumble travelled the ocean floor. And together they set out to find its source.
The water was ardent against his translucent salty skin. The porcelain tiles faithfully echoed with the punctuated breathing of the other room. He sat serenely in the tub and, for the first time, he did not seek refuge underwater, but rather paused to listen. Untroubled. Extenuated by his battle with the waves, yet invested with a new courage. Empowered by the wisdom imparted to him by the sea.
As his ears took in that which had before chased away his breath, he felt… composed. And when he at last submersed himself it was not to escape, but to listen further. The warm water hushed his breath, and he waited. Not sure what to expect, he nonetheless had faith that it would manifest. That the sea would not let him down. Then, it came. Subtle, at first. He fastened his ear to it. Permeating through the water, like the swish of a fin, came the sound of Elizabeth’s breathing. Why had he never heard it before? Had it always been so? A slow, easy breath. And then, another. Words could not accurately portray that which he felt in that moment. The water soothed Elizabeth’s breathing to his ear. He understood, now, the ocean’s proposal.
There is a formidable rage bottled at the centre of the earth. An obscure machine, alive with fiery heat, churning the water deep. The rumbling earth exuding profusely in jets of scalding fumes, soaring from the underground.
Arthur settled on the seabed, resting his head on the pillow–lava. And, as one sunbathes on a desolate beach, so he soaked in Lucifer’s cold light and permeated the inebriating warmth of the deep-sea volcano. Memories began flooding in, triggered by these rich sensations, of a time before, spent above sea, in the sun, in the wind, where seagulls flew above the fishing vessels; of work, and the long hours of nights away at sea, rocked by the swell of slow dark waves, casting nets and hooks overboard; of the smell of fish he worked so hard to wash off before he made his way home to Elizabeth. Yes, memories of home.
As he lay there restful, pensive, content, an indescribable feeling began to settle into him. A vague feeling at first and distant, but as the warmth gradually cleared the fog that came to cloud his mind, it eventually came to him. Then, it resounded through him. Like a coin hitting the bottom of an empty well. A sound so clear it shed light on the dark damp hollowness within him.
This is no sacrificial exile, no purgatory, he thought. To bear witness to the most extraordinary underwater phenomena; to discover the wonders that he had only blindly groped at before from the confines of his fishing vessel; was no burden to bear. No. Rather, this was a second chance at life. A gift from the ocean, who could just as easily have taken his life away.
In that short instant, Arthur saw true. And, before the sound ceased reverberating through the walls of his mind, he knew what had to be done. There was a journey to be undertaken.
I must take a leap of faith. And you must forgive me for it. In a few days, I would lose you regardless. I realise that it might not make sense to you, as you read these words, but the ocean has shown me the way. You must understand that if there exists the slightest chance that it could work, if there exists the possibility for you to breathe again, then I must take it.
I am empty now. Tired beyond repose. I feel a tremendous trepidation towards the journey ahead. The darkness will come to me soon, I know. You, my love, are all I’ve got to lose. Can you forgive me? Can you understand? When I close my eyes, I can see you dancing softly. And if I could remember anything of this life, after the darkness comes; and if I could remember anything of you; I would make it that look in your eyes as you smiled for me for the first time, as you smiled for me last. Lavender in your hair, green ocean in your eyes.
Breathe for us two my love.
Arthur lingered a while longer near the erupting earth amassing heat and resolve for the cold journey ahead. When he, at last, set off towards shallower waters, Lucifer assumed dutifully her position ahead to guide him out of the abyss. But there was only so far that she could go. Soon enough, the sun would brighten his way up, and she would have to fall behind. Still, for a while, they swim solemnly upwards. A course set for the cessation of their waterborne friendship.
Then, sooner than expected, the moment came. Faithful Lucifer halted. Arthur swam ahead a little, hoping that she would follow alongside him, if only a short while longer. Above, the ocean was the colour of his true friend’s light. When he glanced back, her light was already fading away into the opaqueness below. My Lucifer, he thought, his sorrowful heart flooding his eyes with an ocean of tears.
As Lucifer disappeared from sight forever, swallowed whole by the light–less depths, a slew of new companions surface to meet him. A school of strange looking fish with bloated stomachs were rising through the water belly up, like so many air balloons setting course for the sky. Suddenly surrounded by them, he felt the inexpressible loneliness one feels when witnessing grandeur alone. To let such a spectacle go unshared, felt sacrilegious. An overwhelming feeling full of disbelief rose within him. Arthur let them pass as he cast one last dolorous look downwards. Farewell, Lucifer. Then, he swam upwards after them.
Arthur drifted through familiar waters, knowing not exactly what he sought in coming here. He dared not break the surface. The memory of the obscure trade sealed by the sea, washed over him. He thought of Elizabeth.
For perhaps a week, he let himself be carried fore and aft, wondering what had possessed him to leave the far reaches of the undersea with such haste. As though summoned, as though dismissed. The sun and the proximity of air were distressing on the higher fathoms of the sea. Not that he entertained thoughts of breaking his vow never to breathe again. Merely that the sight of it roiled a deep restlessness inside him. On most days, he awaited nightfall inside caves and under reefs. At night he would follow fishing vessel in their endless roaming. Poor companions though they were, following them broke his solitude, a little.
On a particularly cloudy night, as Arthur drifted about amongst slumbering sleepswimming fish, he found himself absently trailing a fishing vessel, rocking slowly upon the slow waves of the surface. Its name, outlined by a swaying lantern, was barely legible through the rust and peeling paint. Yet, his eyes recognize at once that this was in fact his old fishing boat. The Gull. The very last vessel on which he had been employed before the worsening of Elizabeth’s condition. And for a moment he could not believe that it was indeed she. His mind was rustled by the implications of such a meeting. He followed in its wake far into the night, confused as to what could bring her to wander so far away at sea.
The Gull drifted forth, barren of haste. Perhaps most curious of all, in all his time following it, it cast no nets overboard. By the time it came to a halt, the clouds had parted and moon rays plunged through the surface, lighting his way towards its motionless hull. The sea was ominously calm around them. From the side of the ship, he saw arms extending downwards, setting adrift a fleet of floating candles. Arthur didn’t dare move too close, wary as much of being seen, as of disturbing the ceremony. Could this be the anniversary of his death? Of the beginning of his subaquatic life?
Then, as though triggered by the many floating candles, the water suddenly ignited for miles around the ship. The whole sea was ablaze with a radiance akin to Lucifer’s blue–green light. It seemed they had accidentally stumbled upon a vast bank of phosphorescent plankton. Or was it perhaps the ocean’s way of showing its approval of the ritual. The party aboard the fishing vessel ceased all activity a while, undoubtedly they were awed by the unexpected spectacle. Arthur swam closer, casting glowing streams with his every motion. A more beautiful sight was never beheld. Nor had he ever seen the ocean so favourable to human presence.
A few moments pass, and the odd mid-sea ritual resumed. Arthur looked up as a ramp was extended off the starboard bow. What further offering is this, he wondered. Flowers were sent sliding down the ramp into the water. Some dancing on the surface, some weighed with small pebbles. And as the first of a hundred lavender flowers sank towards him, his heart too sank under a terrific weight. His eyes blurred. And, as the first of myriad imperceptible tears fell from his eyes, into the ocean, so did a coffin slide from the sky above into the salty sea.
The coffin burrowed its way rapidly into the light–less depths. Arthur dove immediately after it. He heard a dull thud as the wood hit the ocean floor. His useless unwieldy hands blindly fell to work on the edges of the box. Searching with increasing despair for a weakness in the wood or a loose nail. Fortunately, the crash seemed to have wrenched a corner slightly ajar. Arthur patted wildly on the seabed around him and, to his great relief, found a rock. With all his diluted might he swung at the split corner. One by one, with aching reluctance, the nails gave way. At last, when the gap was wide enough to fit both his hands in, he pried at the boards. With one mighty thrust, he split the lid off the coffin.
In the gloom of the ocean floor, he reached inside and lifted the sleeping body there laid to rest, and with it rose slowly from the depth into the moonlight above.
Her dress floating weightless as a white cloud, dancing with the currents as a veil with the winds. A few drifting candles, scattered like stars above the surface. And a woman. Lavender falling still, in small weighted bouquets. Whom I love. The Gull slowly drifting away, its trail softly aglow. And a woman. Arthur wove his fingers through her hair. Whom I love.
Elizabeth, he whispered.
Her green ocean eyes opened.
Arthur made his way through the fog as the blue world awakened. Down the narrow stone steps, between the small houses and shops, all the way past the very end of the road and onto the sand. And then,
He just walked out to sea.
© 2021 Etienne Robert. All rights reserved.