THURSDAY: Beautiful Air


Copyright is held by the author.

SANDI AND Kay were 70 feet under water and nearing an hour into the dive when Sandi signaled they should head back. She had forgotten to check her air and noticed she probably had just enough to make it back to where they had taken off. It was that crab she had chased a while back. It was fun, but she had foolishly burned up too much oxygen and the crab had gotten away anyway. Still they had five crabs between them and had decided to look around and see who was out tonight. They stopped by the cave and said hello to Myrtle, the huge octopus that lived there. Sometimes they brought her fish. Tonight they just said hello and watched her slow leaden movements in their headlamps and looked at each other like they sometimes did when the realization hit them suddenly like it sometimes did — hey wow, we’re breathing underwater.

Sandi made the low air sign, pumping a raised fist in front of her chest, then swirled her index finger in a circle to signal the turnaround. Kay touched her thumb and index fingers together. Sandi returned it and took the lead. That was their rule; the one lowest on air always took the lead. Kay was a fish; she could stay underwater for more than an hour and still have half her air left. She had mastered the art of minimal movements, but she also just needed less air than other divers. She had clocked more than 500 dives in all kinds of conditions and was the most experienced diver in the club. They had been dive buddies for three years now and had almost a hundred dives together, all at night, where they could see fish that do not come out in the day, weird looking creatures with luminescent eyes and odd-shaped bodies. On moonlit nights they could see schools of fish floating above them as if they were flying through air. The night water was unusually peaceful and beautiful even though visibility was less than in the day. They had both headlamps and hand lights, but they had dived this part of Puget Sound often enough that they had it virtually memorized. Something passed them in a flash and they smiled at each other, recognizing the water seal who had been trailing them, playing hide and seek.

Sandi was checking her air and depth, following the graded bottom as it ascended toward the pier when she looked behind her and did not see Kay’s light. She realized she had broken an important rule between them, never to lose eye contact with each other for more than a minute. She could not remember how long she had been swimming without looking back for Kay; she was preoccupied with her near empty tank. She raced behind her, fanning her light left and right, looking for Kay’s headlamp. She made circles in the water, but didn’t see her. She swam back further, trying to see through the low visibility and the darkness. There she was, her headlamp making little erratic motions in one spot. Sandi raced to her and made eye contact. Kay gave her a forward fist pump — danger — and only then did Sandi see what it was. There was netting in the water and Kay was caught in it; her arms could not reach the scissors strapped to her wetsuit. Sandi reached her own scissors and attacked the net, slicing it away from Kay, and, just when she was done, realized she was not sucking air. She gave Kay the I need oxygen signal, pointing to her regulator. Before Kay could get reach her spare octopus, Sandi panicked. She clutched Kay’s regulator and pulled it out. They fought over it as it bubbled wildly between them in the semi-dark. Kay swung her elbow around and hit Sandi in the face, stunning her, but calming her down. Kay grabbed the regulator, stuck it in Sandi’s mouth and inflated her own BC, hanging onto Sandi as they both shot upwards. Kay held her breath while Sandi took a few good pulls and regained her senses, then made the I need air sign and pulled the regulator out of Sandi’s mouth and put it into her own. Sandi understood. Her eyes were clear again. She made the OK sign. They spiraled up towards the surface, glowing high above them in the silvery moonlight.

  1. A nice, short story which kept me reading to see what would happen next. I especially loved the descriptions about the creatures and water 🙂

    My favourite line: On moonlit nights they could see schools of fish floating above them as if they were flying through air.

  2. I’m not sure that this was as much a story as it was a passage from a underwater survival manual.

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