My hair drifted around my head like it did when I was a little girl in the bathtub. I’d sink back underwater with my eyes open, tiny bubbles caught in my lashes, and the world would grow quiet but for the tinny gurgle of my escaped breath. My hair would swirl like a drop of food coloring in water. Now, without porcelain barriers, it drifted freely, like a mermaid’s would.
My breath rasped metallic through the regulator, an astronaut breathing underwater – ncuuuuhhh haaaaauuu. Breath and bubbles were the only sounds. The sea was cool on my tanned arms, salty on my sunburned lips, and turquoise blue in the Florida Keys sunshine. Rays of light streamed from the surface when I looked up, like sunbeams through a forest canopy, only instead of being inside an emerald, I was inside an aquamarine.
I was a young woman then – 20 years old I would guess – and after eight years of diving, of adjusting weight belts and vest bladders, I had tweaked my equipment to the point that I could control my buoyancy with my breath. If I sank towards the coral, I filled my lungs and I rose. If I floated toward the surface I exhaled until I sank. “You are cool as a cucumber,” the Jamaican had said on the dive in St. Ann’s Bay. It was the dive where I finally mastered buoyancy, and we had surfaced to the sight of a double rainbow over tropical mountains. A daytime moon hung in the top right of the scene where the sun would go on a child’s drawing.
Now, my future husband explored the reef – not unlike when we go to the beach and he walks while I sit – while I floated at a coral boulder and watched the industry of its community. Yellow gobies nipped at the coral, sand blennies popped their heads out of holes then backed back in, a ruffled lime green nudibranch like a tiny lettuce leaf fluttered over the brain coral’s ridges like a two-inch magic carpet. Lobster antennae waved below me like search lights and I sometimes waved my hand just above a feather duster worm to watch it retract into its hole. After a few seconds it would send the tip of a duster out to test for danger then unfold its full feathered fan when the coast was clear.
The salt water puckered my skin, and my fingertips wrinkled like the brain coral. The canned air was cold and dry on the back of my throat and I took the regulator out to push my tongue against my palate, stimulating spit. A Queen angelfish with cobalt-rimmed scales and lemon yellow fins glided by, and later, a boat wake rolled overhead. The wave effect pulled us up and pushed us down, as if the fish and me and my billowing hair bobbed on the surface above instead of swimming 15 feet below.
Then the water calmed again. I saw my future husband hanging upside down, peeking under a ledge where lobsters or maybe a green moray eel peered back. I hovered in the blue liquid world, quiet but for the bubbling of my breath.
This was my work for Writing 101, Day two: “We’re all drawn to certain places. If you had the power to get somewhere — anywhere — where would you go right now? For your twist, focus on building a setting description.”