• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 04
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The weight of water

‘New start, new challenges,’ I tell myself as I yank on the wetsuit. The rubber clings to my calves, refuses to stretch up to my thighs, as reluctant as a pair of tights after swimming. The instructor passes me the facemask. I’ve always hated the idea of assisted breathing. The thought of being reliant on a canister terrifies me. The seal around the mask makes a sucking sound against my cheeks and the air inside the mask tightens. Are my eyes bulging out?

His mouthpiece is already inserted; he checks my mask then sticks his thumbs up. He’s less attractive with the diving gear on. From prince to frog in five minutes. He passes me a pair of flippers and indicates towards the sea. The sound of breaking waves calms me, reminding me of the fountain in the gardens near my flat. Mothers park their babies up for a nap; there must be something womb-like in the tinkling noise of waterdrops as they dance against the pond’s surface. I eat my sandwich and listen to them complaining about sleepless nights and sore breasts, husbands that return too late for bath time, mothers-in-law who criticise them in subtle ways. I envy them their long days and heavy loads.

I sit down next to him at the water’s edge. We insert our sandy pink feet into blue, floppy replicas. There’s still time to change my mind. I try to distract myself by focusing on his rubber-hugged buttocks until they disappear beneath the waves, then I try to recall the colour of his eyes behind the mask. He gives the signal, and stupidly, I inhale a lungful of the saline air as if I’m planning to survive on one breath. He laughs and points to my mouthpiece. It already tastes of brine.


The weight of water

We’ve practised this of course. It’s no different to the hotel swimming pool, just a better a view. I take cautious, shallow breaths if as the oxygen’s already running out. I’m doing it wrong. I can’t do it. The instructor gives me an underwater thumbs up and I mirror him. The only way to overcome fear is to face it. My therapist’s voice echoes in my head, and I hate her and decide to find a new one, if and when I make it out of this ocean. I hated her from the start, but my husband insisted. ‘I can’t be the only one you talk to,’ he said, ‘it’s too much for one person to carry.’

Ten metres down and I notice how heavy the sea is. I am weighed down and sinking, like when they put the mask on me in the hospital and asked me to count down from ten, and I knew I wouldn’t make it beyond eight, and I’d lose control of events, and lose control of my body and of her body. I open my eyes and see that it’s different. I’m aware of every silvery fish as it flashes past.