Down she went and down, hand under hand on the guide rope. Where it petered out, she nudged the dial on her buoyancy vest and waited for her husband to emerge from the fog of churned-up sand.
She watched the last diver slip through a gap in the coral with a flick of flippered feet. Without Jack, it didn’t occur to her to follow. Beginning to gag on the mouthpiece, she spat it away.
Was that reckless, or the purpose of her preparation? Without Jack at her side, how could she tell?
With balletic poise, perfected that morning in the hotel pool, she wheeled back her arm to snag the rubber tube connecting the respirator to the cylinder on her harness. Her hand arced towards her mask, cutting through a parade of rainbow fish.
No air tube. Chest tight, blood drumming in her ears, she swept the water once more.
It had been so easy in the tiled pool where toddlers splashed on plastic floats and mothers sipped fluorescent cocktails. Too easy. Jack had laughed when she’d shared her fear that, out of her element, her instinct for self-preservation would desert her, as if the ocean could percolate through her skull to recalibrate the settings in her brain.
Rubber bashed her teeth. Salt stung her tongue. A figure loomed before her, forming an ‘O’ with his thumb and forefinger. Goggled, a black plug where his mouth should be, he could’ve been a phantom from children’s picture book. He’d got her breathing again, but could she trust that the gas he fed her was air?
As if in a dream, she turned her back on the sea monster. Finning away into the coral, she yanked the respirator from her mouth.
Anne Goodwin is the author of over 60 short stories, including Stepping into Dan’s Shoes and A Dress for the Address published by Halfway Down the Stairs. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, which opens with the words “Halfway down the stairs”, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for May 2017.
© 2016, Anne Goodwin