Thesis Update!

I’m working on the final draft of my thesis project, which has taken up so much of my time in the past few years, and which is also the reason why there isn’t all that much going on around here. With that in mind, I’ve decided to share one of the shorter stories from the thesis (this is just a draft, and you had better buy my book anyhow when I publish it! — just kidding.) I’m also working on the business of getting married. I’ll be married in May with 140 or so people in attendance, which I think is quite a lot of bodies.

This story is about seasickness, which is probably also the feeling that I’ll get as the wedding gets closer.

Here you go! (P.S: Screw reformatting for WordPress.)

Seasick

 

Rose had closed her eyes momentarily to feel the sunlight on her eyelids, to see that lovely red colour that still filtered through, even with her eyes closed. Her cheek was pressed to the cool wet platform that she lay on, partially submerged in the water. She was having a good time, despite everything. She thought she could fall asleep here, straddling the line between “on a boat” and “in Lake Huron.”

When Rose opened her eyes, she stared at the horizon and lifted her head into the wind. The nausea was much less than it had been. Her fellow divers’ voices drifted in and out of her hearing. She half-heard the stories that they told each other about the things that they had seen, that they had done.

“…you’re wondering, ‘what happens if I have to take a dump?’ Well, let me tell you…”

It was Nick, a retired underwater munitions expert in the army. She didn’t turn around, but imagined his lanky arms waving around a bit as he told the anecdote.

On another part of the boat, one of her teachers, Libby, was talking someone through the dive plan for after lunch. “The wreck goes to about one hundred feet, but you do a flyover at about sixty and see the top of the ship. Now, I want you to stay…”

Rose sat up and the “first mate” (she thought of his job as “cute young deckhand”) noticed. “Want to come up?”

She nodded, “Yeah, but I can climb –”

He was already at the button and she felt the platform shift beneath her. Her stomach flip-flopped and she nearly sat back down again. Rose smiled at him and walked towards the back of the boat, which had a raised upper deck with an emergency life raft and a barbecue that the ship’s captain was no longer allowed to use. They had pastrami sandwiches in the cooler on the upper deck instead. She climbed up top and heard Nick continuing his anecdote below her.

“The Sarge wouldn’t let Tremblay out of his wetsuit. By the time that he took it off, the shit was halfway up his back.”

“Yark! Nick – conte pas ça!”

The waves were lessened in the shelter of Bear Island, and she was able to bask in the sun for a while, watching the scuba divers do jumps off the side into the water. She didn’t think she was all that afraid of heights, but staring over the edge, even though it was only about fifteen or twenty feet up from the water, she felt light-headed and had to back up. It was no problem from behind the railing, but the jumpers had to clamber over the rail and hang off the edge of the boat before jumping.

She sat on the bench and watched one of her older instructors, Pat, pull the zippers down on the wetsuits of those who were about to jump, just as it was too late for them to do anything about it. Their wetsuits flooded with cold water when they broke the surface of the lake and they let out high-pitched yelps of shock, much to the amusement of the upper deck.

Nick interrupted his anecdote to cheer, too. Then Rose heard his laughter – laughing at his own story, she guessed. “We called him ‘The Skunk’ for the rest of the training. Wetsuits are expensive. He had to keep the one that we painted with the white stripe.”

Rose heard laughter from the gallery as Nick finished up. She smiled. She had heard a lot of Nick’s stories.

Pat turned to Rose. “Nice to see you smile. Are you feeling better? The fish must love you here, since you’re always feeding them.”

“Yeah, a little better. Honestly, I’m torn. I want to lie on that platform all day but I’m on this trip to hang out with you guys. And scuba dive, of course,” she said.

Pat smiled back. “You’re good. You just have to get your sea legs.”

“I’ve gotten so much advice – I won’t be able to tell what works because I’m just going to do it all. The ginger, the aspartame, the full belly, no sugar at breakfast, putting my face into the wind, staring at the horizon…and of course, gravol.”

“Matt gets seasick,” said Pat. Matt was another instructor, much younger. “He uses that patch that you put behind your ear.”

“I can only stay away from that magic platform for so long though!”

The First and Only Mate was coming up the ladder behind her and heard. “Half the time the damn thing is broken, but it sure is handy for fishing tired divers out of the water.”

Her stomach lurched a little and she smiled a little greenly. Rose thought that she should eat something. Her stomach lurched a little more. She sat back down and propped her arms up on the railing, laying her head on her arms and staring out at where the water met the sky. She felt saliva start to build up in her mouth – a sure sign that her stomach wasn’t happy.

“Rose, do you want some trail mix?” Pat laid a hand on her shoulder and offered a ziplock bag full of mixed nuts. She didn’t want some trail mix, but she had to keep her stomach full. It might hasten the inevitable, but either way she could get out of stomach limbo for a while.

“Uh-huh,” she said, not even raising her head to dip her hand in the bag. She chewed slowly, her mouth drying up, her body not wanting to take more food. Pat held out a water bottle, and she took it. She drank small sips, eating a few nuts in between swallows. She tried to lie down on the bench but it just wasn’t the same as being in the water.

Before long, she climbed back down the ladder and pushed the button to lower down the platform into the water. Then, she stepped down onto it, the chilly water lapping the top of her feet. She willed herself to lie down in it, knowing that she would be fine once she was in. She was sun-warmed though. She knew what she had to do.

She stepped off the platform, dropping down into the water and scissoring her legs closed to send herself back up. There was a moment where she wondered why she did not shoot up, so used was her body to wearing fins and buoyant scuba gear this week. She choked a little on some water, the bright cold waking her entire body. She broke the surface. She noticed the first mate watching her, attracted by the noise. She understood why the jumpers on the second deck did their jumps.

She hung onto the platform, letting the water well and truly chill her, her entire body cooling until it felt like the cold came from inside of her.

“You’re nuts,” called Nick, spotting her. “Il est où ton wetsuit?”

“Water’s fine!”

Her stomach felt immediately better. She knew what caused seasickness: the small, overactive, overexcited nerve behind her ear that just couldn’t understand the motion of the boat, couldn’t be made to understand. The only thing to do was to force it to sleep or treat the symptoms. That was what the Scopolamine in Matt’s patches did. She didn’t have any of that, though.

Some jumpers clambered past her on their way back to the upper deck. She moved to one side. After a while, she climbed back onto the platform and lay on her side, dipping her face just below the surface, so that the motion of the water was a continual kiss on her face, soothing her.

She heard the yells of people jumping, heard the calls from the “peanut gallery,” as Pat called them. “Don’t try to impress the gallery,” she heard him call a few times, no doubt after some of the more daring jumps. She felt like she was listening to him through a door.

She heard the wet slap of a few belly-flops, cringing. From that high up, even with a wetsuit for a cushion, she thought that wasn’t too bright. She heard another wet flop. It was accentuated by the quiet that came afterward. She raised her head, her stomach suddenly nauseous all over again. It didn’t feel quite the same as the motion sickness.

“Eric!”

Pat’s voice, thundering. She had never heard his voice sound like this before.

“Get him to the platform.”

 

She realized that she ought to move, wasn’t sure where to move to – two divers brought Eric to the platform before she had the chance to climb up, so she grabbed the back of Eric’s wetsuit, helped them sit him on the platform. He was awake but dazed. They climbed up around him. Rose cleared the way as best she could, moving towards the right edge.

“Il a fait un blackout quand qu’il a frappé l’eau,” said Simon, still in the water. “Son oeil…”

Rose looked now. His eye seemed to be bleeding beneath the surface of the eyeball, not enough to distend it, but enough to cloud the rim of his eye. A little bit of blood was leaking from his nose, too, and she saw blood in his mouth.

“J’ai mordu ma langue,” he said. “C’a tu l’aire grave?”

Pat came over and pushed past Rose as gently as he could, standing on the platform and pulling Eric’s eyelids open wide. “Ton oeil saigne. Le capitaine est en train d’appeler le coast guard.”

Eric seemed to deflate, not responding. Rose was frozen on the spot, unsure where to move to, a part of this now, and she felt that she could not leave. So, she stayed still, sitting in front of Pat’s legs. Pat shifted. “Rose, I know you feel sick but can you keep an eye on Eric? Talk to him, keep him awake. I’ll see when the coast guard is coming.”

“Yeah, of course,” she said, putting an arm awkwardly around Eric, who was at least ten years older than her, as if he was a little kid, propping him up. His bloodied eye was shifting listlessly, fluttering. The blood spot moved around his eyeball.

He didn’t react when she started to speak, but at least he wasn’t asleep.

“Hey, Eric,” she said, knowing that he mostly spoke French. “Are you excited to dive on the Arabia? It’s a really old ship, you know.”

She waited a moment before continuing. Eric’s head dipped. She lifted it again. “I’ll be able to dive on it next year, after my deep diving certification. Do you know that they used to drag anchor to find her? Pretty stupid, right?”

Rose felt like the dead air might choke her. Eric was unresponsive, probably had a concussion. His bloody eye came to rest on her face. His lips were faintly tinged with blood from his tongue. She felt her stomach heave and returned her gaze to the horizon. “Sorry, I get seasick.”

The other divers were behind them. She could hear them talking in low voices, probably so Eric couldn’t hear, but she could hear them.

“He got fancy. Tried to do a flip or something. Pat told us not to get fancy.”

“Il a poigné un flat sur sa face. Ouch!”

“Son oeil va tu etre correcte?”

“He’s going to have one hell of a shiner.”

She straightened him up again as best she could while keeping her eyes on that distant line and kept talking. “So then some researchers wanted to find the ship but they thought it was pretty unethical to drag their anchor until it caught on the boat. They started to find fish with corn in their bellies. That’s what the Arabia was carrying – corn! And it was still good for the fish to eat, a hundred years after the ship sank.”

He turned his face towards her, a drop of blood in the corner of his eye near his tear duct. Rose recoiled but tried to keep her face expressionless.

“I…the fish…you know, they have corn at the welcoming centre that they keep under pressure from the ship.”

Rose couldn’t see anything yet, but she could hear the low drone of an engine. A small speedboat rounded the nearest island.

“It’s the cold…and the pressure…”

She stared distractedly at the speedboat. Pat came up behind them. “It’s not the coast guard, but these guys heard the radio chatter. We’ll have to clear the platform so that they can take him onto their boat, Rose. They’ll take him back to shore.”

She nodded, that feeling of cold radiating from inside her legs as she drew her feet back up out of the water, felt them grip the diamond grid of the platform. She grabbed the railing and climbed back onto the boat. Pat was holding Eric from behind as they raised the platform.

“Eric will have to climb into the speedboat,” said Pat.

 

The speedboat arrived and they started to ask questions about the accident and load Eric onto their boat. Rose felt nauseous and leaned out over the railing to feel the wind on her face. She felt saliva flood her mouth. She knew that the platform would be busy for another few minutes yet. Rose wondered why she had come here. At home, she could be lying in her bed, reading a book. It was hard to remember what it felt like to be well.

Rose closed her eyes tightly and the nausea nearly overtook her, so then she opened them wide and fixed the horizon again. Everyone on this boat had seen it happen now, but not these strangers. They would think that her diving group were incompetent, apt to injure themselves and unable to handle the Huron. She retched.

 

 

 

The Chapel Builders

Today I have some non-fiction to share with you.

My grandfather is now the last of the chapel builders. I don’t know if that means anything to anyone but us now – his family. Hell, even the chapel is gone.

There were four of them: Charlie Normando, Jimmy Twerdin, Eddie Camden – he was a fireman – and my grandfather, Paul Marcotte. They undertook the building of a chapel for St. Ann’s school sometime in the sixties, before St. Ann’s church was destroyed in the early seventies and the school was closed. There’s a park where the church was now, very thoughtfully designed with rows of benches set out like pews, and the foundations of the church poking up amid the grass.

Jimmy died last Tuesday, and he was buried this Tuesday. Tuesday is the day of the Mother of Perpetual Help devotions, which were his favourite. He was 87 years old. My grandfather is 93, and I’m scared to lose him, too.

It’s harder and harder for him to form new memories. We visit and dwell in the old ones. Like the chapel builders. Like the time he fought Trudeau in a snowball fight. If he’s happy when we’re there, does it matter if he remembers? So long as he’s happy in the moment?

I imagine them running into each other, the chapel builders, that quiet bond of having created something together pulling them in for a handshake, a smile. There’s at least one picture of them all together, later, as old men with those younger men (and they weren’t young even then) still inside, ready to build again, ready to create anew. For all that gets destroyed, for all that’s lost in a lifetime.

Jimmy gave his life to one church and then another. He seemed ageless, grumping at generation upon generation of altar servers, including my father when he was a kid, and then me. In his eulogy, Sister Diana told us that he loved children and cats.

I never saw their chapel. In my mind’s eye, it has the domed ceiling of the Sistine and it shines so white and clean that I can hardly stand to look at it.

Questions

Another snippet that was born out of a question that I got asked the other day. 

“Do you ever pretend that you’re in Outer Space?”

Sometimes, when I hit that buoyancy sweet spot and I can propel myself effortlessly through the water, I think that I am in Other Space, a space where mortal woman can be the womb and be in the womb forever. I forget that I am wearing anything and that there is such a thing as touching bottom. I spiral. I undulate.

A Snippet

Here’s an untitled snippet from my thesis work.

I wake up in what feels like the middle of the night to silence the alarm. It is three forty-five AM and I have until four to be ready. My clothing has all been set out the night before and I roll out of bed directly onto my feet. I give my bedmate a shove, making sure that she’s actually awake. She has a talent for sleeping.
I pull on my clothing and put on my glasses – once I’m sure that I’m awake for good, I’ll switch them out for my contact lenses. I look out the window, expecting to see the red Jeep Patriot already waiting. Our lift is always early – but not this early. He will appear when my back is turned, during the one time that I am not on the lookout for him. I am drowsy but my stomach is a tense ball of excitement. I am ready now – too early, which is still better than too late. I am the reliable one – the one that our driver never has to wait on.
I have a glass of water and look out the front window again. He’s here.
“He’s here!”
I call up to AA, hoping that she’s dressed. I swing the door wide open and wave to make sure that he knows that we know he’s here. I start carrying out our gear to the truck: two large bags filled with scuba equipment, two weight bags, one backpack filled with snacks, and one backpack filled with everything else – sun cream, books, our dive logs, my contact lenses, a first aid kit.
“Good morning,” he calls out cheerily.
“Morning!” I answer, just as cheerfully even as my eyes droop. The air is cool and moist, but I can already tell that it will be a hot one in Montreal.
I pack the car and take my place in the front seat just as AA comes out onto the stoop, locking the door and getting into the Jeep. She sprawls in the back and is practically asleep before we start moving again. She’ll sleep until we reach the meeting point, then sleep some more until breakfast. After breakfast, she might manage to stay awake for a few hours, but the car lulls her – and she can find a comfortable spot no matter how much gear seems to be digging into her spine. It’s a gift.
We start to drive, BB’s window down and mine open just a crack at the top. The neighbourhood is dead quiet, and I take off my glasses to rest my eyes. The streetlights are haloed and I can feel the tiredness behind my eyes just waiting to draw me in to sleep. BB has the radio going, but it’s a quiet murmur, like someone were playing music in another room. The rush of the wind in the window is soothing. We come to leisurely stops at the lights and we do not see a soul.
The autoroute is the same – the lights pass at even pace, and my eyelids start to droop. I listen to the sound of the radio, playing Sixties on Six – I think it’s a Beach Boys tune but I might be imagining it. The more I try to focus on the lyrics and figure out the song, the more I can’t discern any sense from it at all. I notice BB glancing over at me, just before my eyes close for good.
“You two are always such good company,” I think I hear him joke, but it might’ve been the wind, or it might’ve been a dream.

Dancing in the Moonlight

A small vignette that nothing has yet come of that I’ve been holding onto for a while. Unedited.

/Dancing in the Moonlight/ came on the radio, and Sugar stood up and started moving. Her face felt warm, and she put her hands above her head, slipping from Andy’s grasp gracefully, pointing her toes so she wouldn’t kick him as she rose. Without a bra, her breasts bounced without gentleness as she threw herself into the dance.

“Dancin’ in the moonlight…it’s such a fine’n’natural sight…”

She lifted her blue polka-dot dress just a little and pulled the skirt of it from side to side – like she was doing her own rockabilly cha-cha with a little bit of swing. She shuffled from side to side, sliding her flats back and forth, the heels slipping easily across the concrete floor.

Andy laughed, watching her. His eyes were trained on her hips, her long legs, the curve of her side. She knew that. She shook her backside a little.

“Aren’t you going to come over here? I love this song.”

Her question made Andy bark a laugh. He got up, hitting the small crate that had served as dining and coffee table that night with the toes of his brown boots. “It’s by King Harvest, I think. Seventy-three or four.”

“It’s too short,” Sugar said. The song ended just as Andy reached her, hands outstretched to take hers and dance. Sugar began humming softly, half-whispering and half-singing the lyrics. “‘s Super-na-tu-ral de-light…dancin’ in the moonlight…”

“I don’t bark and I don’t bite,” said Andy, shimmying up close to Sugar, spinning her in a circle. He was graceless, but willing to play, and that made the difference. They sung the lyrics to each other, half-wrong and out of order, and they danced. A few times, Sugar took the lead and changed their direction so that they wouldn’t run into the furniture. Andy barely noticed. His focus was on Sugar’s lips and Sugar’s hips.

When they stopped, Sugar went over to the large industrial-framed window with its many panes of glass and swung it open. “It’s a warm night – all that dancing.”

Andy opened the top two buttons of his short-sleeve dress shirt. “Yeah. How about a beer?”

“Sure – I’ll get ’em. Where are they?” Sugar headed towards Andy’s kitchen, her behind swinging gently from side to side to the rhythm of /Dancing in the Moonlight/.

“I got a mini-fridge on the balcony just outside,” called out Andy. “Can’t miss it. Thanks, Sugar.”

Sugar opened the bottles in the kitchen using the bottle-opener that was screwed directly to Andy’s fridge. She took a swig of hers and headed back to the next room where Andy was still sitting on the orange and brown Chesterfield. The disc jockey on the radio was chattering about some upcoming nostalgia concerts. Andy lifted his eyes from the hem of her dress to her face, smiling as she handed him the beer. “Thanks.”

/Like a Rolling Stone/ came on, and Sugar smiled. “It’s one hit after another! You like Dylan?”

“Sure,” said Andy. “Except that ratty mustache of his.”

“It’s not his looks that concern me,” said Sugar, shrugging. She took a sip of beer.

“Okay,” said Sugar, walking over to the window. “Come over here, would ya?”

Andy walked unsteadily over and stood beside Sugar. “Funny – feel half-drunk a’ready.”

Sugar nodded, massaging the back of Andy’s neck. “That’s what I wanted to tell you about, Andy.”

Andy looked sideways at Sugar, his brow furrowed. “What, Sug?”

Sugar gripped Andy in a headlock, laughing playfully. He laughed at first too, but tried to break out of it. “Sug!”

“Andy, I spiked your beer. I’m sorry.”

Sugar grabbed Andy’s forehead, really grabbing his hair with her fingers. and kept a grip on his neck, holding it straight. She twisted fast and hard. Andy heard the dry popping of his neck breaking before he felt it – nothing. He felt nothing.

His legs fell out from underneath him.

“Sorry, Andy-Candy,” said Sugar. “Sorry.”

 

 

 

Wakefield Chapter 1

Hey guys, so I’m handing this out for workshop this week. I’m trying out a novel format instead of short stories for my thesis. Here’s the first chapter.

Wakefield, Quebec

Chapter 1

 

With the humidity, the beach must have been thirty degrees Celsius, and Molly was wearing somebody else’s winter coat. Her sweat was pouring into her eyes and she wiped at it ineffectually with the mittens that encased her hands like oven mitts and made her just as dexterous – also not her own. So maybe they weren’t like oven mitts: more like three-pronged lobster claws that left her thumb and forefinger free to move, but encased the remaining three fingers in their own private hell. The rental gear hugged her like a second skin, the wetsuit clinging just right to all the wrong places. Molly knew that she should stay hydrated, had been told several times that she should really make an effort to drink more water than normal at a time like this, but moving to go get a bottle of water was just too much trouble right then. She stood there sweating. They had been there since nine-thirty, driving the two and a bit hours from Montreal with a break for a truck stop breakfast in the middle. Molly had been up much earlier, though. She had woken up at four just to make sure that she had everything ready, her stomach already roiling with anticipation. Her lift had picked her up at five. They had been at the meeting spot at the Fairview Mall parking lot by five-thirty, signed papers with their instructors, and then their convoy had left together at six.

 

Molly had hoped that the wetsuit would highlight her curves and maybe hold in the parts of herself that she didn’t like to see, but she felt more like the Michelin man than a Baywatch babe. She was here for three reasons: because she had a crush on a boy, because it had sounded cool, and because she wanted to start saying yes to the opportunities that presented themselves in her life. Last year, she had met a guy named Mark during a CPR and First Aid course that the local Y was giving.

“If you do your chest compressions to the beat of ‘Staying Alive’, you’ll keep the right pace,” Mark had said, leaning over her dummy to adjust her hands.

“Really?” Molly had said. “Where did you learn that?”

“The Internet. Yeah, I looked up some tricks before coming today so that I could impress any girls I met,” he had joked. “So why are you taking the course?”

“I babysit,” Molly had said. “My neighbours’ have kids.”

“Cool. I want to be a rescue diver.”

Molly had liked Mark. She saw him around after that, and asked him more about scuba diving. That was how she ended up here, with Mark’s diving club. Mark was under the water right then, while she was standing sweating on the beach.

When the dive club was signing people up for their beginner courses one night, Mark had been behind the information table. Molly had she signed up on the spot.

When it came to water, Molly was a fish, but there had still been exercises that she dreaded practicing every week in the pool. Equipment recovery was the worst. It was deceptively simple-sounding: drop down to the bottom of the pool with some basic equipment in your arms, put the fins and mask on at the bottom of the pool, and clear your mask of water before swimming back to the surface.

Maybe it was because Molly wore contact lenses and couldn’t open her eyes underwater – or at least, was scared of doing so – but she always felt an edge of panic when she was underwater trying to do something blind. She always felt like she was running out of air down there at the bottom of the pool even though she knew better.

By the end of the course, she could do it well enough, and the feeling of panic had faded.

 

On the beach, the heat was grinding away at Molly’s nerves. She felt a sudden shock of cold water on her head that ran down her neck.

“Gyaaah!”

She whirled and Mark was there in his still-dripping wetsuit, smiling.

“You looked like you could use a refreshing cup of water.”

“Thanks. That was really lovely.”

“But seriously. You have to stay hydrated and…you really should be wearing a hat,” he said, plunking a baseball cap down on her head. “Even if it’s cloudy, the sun is coming through and having a sunburn on your scalp is pretty much the worst. How long before your first dive?”

“Uh, I think when everyone is ready we’ll be going to see the plane.”

“We’d better get you ready then, right? Then you can go help your buddy get ready – that’s what buddies do.”

Mark looked around at Molly’s scattered gear. Her fins were leaning against one of the picnic benches. Her buoyancy control device, a large black vest, and her bottle and regulator, were lying in the sand. The whole bundle of her regulator, with console, depth gauge and octopus, was gathered together and held by the BCD’s straps. Her mask was dangling on her arm and she was wearing the rest of the suit. It was like wearing someone else’s shoes. Her mask and fins, at least, were her own. They were the first thing that she had purchased on her student budget – the fins had been on sale for half-price and the mask, though inexpensive, had been the one that fit her the best.

In the pool, things were easier: without a wetsuit, Molly only needed about four pounds of lead on her belt to stay underwater, and she could carry that around on her hips indefinitely. Here, twenty pounds was already making for a sore back.

“Uh…what do you suggest?”

“Let’s carry it all over to the water’s edge. When you’re diving with newbies – no offense – you want to be ready when they are. If you get ready too early and aren’t able to get in the water, you’ll overheat and you’ll kill yourself with all the weight.”

Molly nodded, not wanting to appear like a newbie, knowing that she couldn’t help it. She had heard a few divers complaining about the “mudpuppies” that had kicked up the bottom of the quarry, how the visibility was poor now, etcetera. She knew that she was one of those mudpuppies even if she hadn’t hit the water yet. She felt her cheeks grow hot.

Mark picked up her tank, vest and regulator and laid it in the water right near the edge. He turned on the tank, checked her regulator and her backup, the gauge and the surpressure valves. Then he inflated the vest just a little. “Okay. Now you’re going to put that on as soon as you see your instructor putting his stuff on. Go find your buddy and see if he needs help. This isn’t the same stuff that you were using in the pool, so it’s going to be a little harder to get used to.”

Molly nodded. “Thanks for your help, Mark.”

She found Jean-Philippe, her buddy, underneath the wooden structure that dominated the right side of the beach. Jean-Phillipe was much older than her – he was somewhere in his forties – and his wife was helping him get on his equipment. He looked close to being ready, but Molly wanted to follow Mark’s advice. It was her job to help Jean-Phillipe, and his job to help her. Maybe she should say something about him keeping all his equipment on now? She didn’t want him to overheat. She knew that older people were more at risk for nearly every ailment in diving – they had learned about it in class. Their tissues were weaker.

As-tu besoins d’un coup de main?” Her question sounded dumb, thought Molly, when it was clear that his wife had already helped him with everything.

“No, but do you? You have barely anything on!”

“Ah, I don’t want to overheat,” said Molly, but she did feel like she ought to be doing something. Getting ready somehow.

“Well, we can go in the water once we have everything on?”

“Okay. When you’re ready we can go take care of my things.”

 

Later, Molly relaxed in the cold water, her fins bobbing up and down as she lay on her back with the sun in her face. She finally felt right. The water took all the weight of the equipment. She and Jean-Phillipe had finished getting their equipment on just minutes ago, and the water felt blessedly cold. A cloud passed in front of the sun and her arms felt suddenly full of gooseflesh. By the time that the sun was out again, Molly was almost dozing.

“Are you guys ready to go?”

Molly stood up in the water, her repose interrupted by the voice of her instructor. His Divers’ Alert Network ID tag dangled in the water off of his BCD. There were eight of them in the group, about to go out into the open water for the first time. Molly nodded and took her mask off her arm to put it on and realized that she forgot to treat the lenses to make sure that they wouldn’t fog up. The mask was already wet, but she shook out the water and wiped it as best she could. Then she spit in the mask, rubbing the lenses with her index finger – the only one of her fingers other than her thumb that had its full range of movement. Her mittens made her look like some kind of three-clawed lobster, Molly thought. Molly dunked the mask and put it on, unmindful of the hairs that were still trapped beneath it. Her instructor saw her put it on and waded over. He firmly tugged her hood away from her face and shoved the hair of her bangs back under it as gently as possible, still pulling the hair. Molly grimaced. He then resettled the mask on her face and placed the edges of her hood back over the rubber of her mask. “There you go. You had hair under the edge of your mask. That would have been flooding constantly.”

“Thanks,” said Molly.

“Do you feel ready?”

“Yeah, I’m ready,” said Molly, her stomach churning.

“Did you do a buddy check?”

They had. She and Jean-Philippe had checked each other’s equipment just as Mark had checked Molly’s before. They knew how each other’s emergency features worked and knew how much air they were both starting with: 2800 PSI for Molly, and 2900 PSI for JP.

“Yeah.”

Molly wouldn’t sink. She emptied all the air out of her vest and tried to go down, but it just wasn’t happening. She knew that she had on enough weight – probably too much, actually. Her instructor took off one of his ankle weights and offered it to her, but then looked at her for a moment. “Molly, are you breathing?”

“Uh…yeah…” said Molly, but she could feel a certain tightness in her chest. She was too nervous to empty her lungs entirely.

“Okay, Molly, I want you to take a deep breath, and then exhale as much as you possibly can. Understand?”

Molly knew that in a panic situation, the lung could become a sealed container. One that would expand and expand like a balloon if that container were brought up form under pressure – until, like a balloon, it reached the limits of its elasticity. They had learned about it in class. She tried to do what her instructor asked…and started to sink.

“Okay, Molly, good. Now when you want to go up or down, sometimes adjusting the amount of air in your lungs is enough to control your buoyancy. Just keep breathing, okay? And don’t forget to put your regulator in your mouth instead of your tuba!”

Molly acknowledged him with an “okay” signal, holding out her thumb and index together in a circle, the rest of her fingers extended.

They descended through the water, and Molly fancied that she could feel the pressure increasing on every inch of her body. Fourteen point seven pounds per square inch. But it wasn’t possible – they were only going down to twenty-five feet for now.

The instructor asked each student to deliberately fill their mask with water and then clear it. It was an exercise in technique, but also in will. Molly always had second thoughts about deliberately flooding her mask – and now, out in the open water, it took more willpower than ever. She broke the seal and accidentally took a little water up her nose. She coughed but then steeled herself, just slightly breaking the seal between the mask and her forehead and gently breathing out through her nose to force the water out. It worked perfectly.

After that, they got their first glimpse of the plane. It sat in only twenty-five feet of water, one of its wings just slightly hanging over the edge of an underwater cliff. The finish on the wings was mottled now, but still smooth.  Molly realized how much she had been affected by tunnel vision since getting under the water – now that they were at the bottom, with something solid beneath them, the world seemed to open up. She looked up, watching her bubbles race up to the surface, getting bigger and bigger with every foot that they ascended. They swam around the plane a few times, and their instructor encouraged them to touch the plane, to look inside. Although it had been gutted, all the doors and windowpanes removed, the controls at the front of the plane were still there, and Molly and the others moved the levers around a bit, reaching through the front window. Molly wondered what lever had done what, when this plane used to fly.

After a while, the instructor checked his watch and signaled for them to begin a safety ascent, which meant putting out their right arm with a closed fist above their head and keeping their left hand on their inflator hoses, then ascending while rotating in a slow circle to note any approaching danger. At the surface, they inflated their vests. They had just logged their first dive.

 

Their instructor took another group of students down to the plane while Molly and her group recovered and checked to see if they needed to change their tanks. The other group’s dive seemed to take no time at all. Soon, Molly and the others were on their way to their limit: sixty feet – the maximum depth for open water scuba divers. If any of them ever decided to take advanced and deep diving, they might be able to go as deep as 130 feet. As they descended, Molly began to feel cold. Her lips and cheeks, the only exposed bits of her skin, seemed to take over her entire being. And her feet. They felt like they were no longer a part of her body. As they headed over the edge of the underwater cliff to the next level below, Molly felt like she was stumbling down a steep hill, her fins kicking up silt and knocking rocks down the side. She knew that she could inflate her vest more to float down away from the edge of the hill, but she didn’t want to inflate it too much and suddenly shoot to the surface. She’d rather get a little tired and have to use her muscles than risk that. She’d just swim under her own power instead of relying on her BCD.

Apparently she wasn’t the only one with tunnel vision: Molly took a fin to the face from one of her fellow divers that knocked her mask askew. Molly panicked for a second and grabbed for the mask, but reminded herself that she had basically an infinite supply of air coming in from the regulator in her mouth, took a deep breath, and fixed the mask. She cleared it, and flashed the all-okay at her buddy Jean-Philippe.

Her mask had begun to slowly flood again and she realized that there must be some hair that had snuck back underneath the seal. But with her huge lobster-claw gloves, there was nothing that she could do about it. She told herself that she knew how to clear her mask, and at least it might stop fogging up with all that water rolling around inside of it. She’d be practicing mask clearing a lot on this dive. When the instructor asked if she was okay, she continued to flash him that circle made of thumb and forefinger. She willed herself to be okay.

 

“Never hold your breath while ascending.”

That was what the training manual said, and Molly had read the training manual twice through. According to her console, Molly was sixty feet below the surface of the water and she was the coldest she had ever been. The world above her head was grey and silted as she looked up and cleared her mask for the umpteenth time. At this depth, Jean-Phillipe’s face was as white and pale as a fish’s belly. Her mask was filling up again and Molly found that she couldn’t breathe. At sixty feet, or with two atmosphere’s worth of pressure to contend with, she felt like she could feel those 29.4 pounds per square inch on her skin, on  her chest cavity. She cleared her mask and drew panicked breath. Remembered section 4.4.1: air embolisms4.4.2: mediastinal and subcutaneous emphysema4.4.3: pneumothorax. The pressure seemed to be squeezing her, the decrease in pressure of only four feet…squeezing her, caving in her chest until she would spit out the regulator, panic closing the glottis, causing the lungs to become a sealed container and she would drift up and…decreased pressure causing the lungs to collapse, and up, and …Stop. Breathe. Clear the mask. She told her buddy that she was fine, flashing the all-okay with a smile that she didn’t feel. Her face felt numb. She realized that she was not fine. Molly was sixty feet below the surface, and she knew how this had to end.

 

4.4.1  Never hold your breath while ascending.

4.4.2  Never hold your breath while ascending.

4.4.3 Never hold your breath while ascending.

 

Ice

A short story for my thesis that I’m having workshopped in class this week! Take a gander!

Ice

New ice. The most solid ice. It’s formed after a long freeze with moderate winds. It’s the clearest, even when very thick. Half-melted ice, or frozen snow, makes white ice. It is milky, and it can be soft. Broken ice. The thickness is very variable, but when it refreezes it can be plenty solid. Black ice. The ice is dangerously thin.

At eight centimeters, one person can stand on a piece of ice, but walking around is not recommended. At thirteen centimeters, the ice can support multiple people, and it is safe so long as one minimizes the weight in the work area. At fifteen to twenty centimeters, true safety is achieved. At thirty centimeters, the ice can hold vehicles.

 

The ice is a clouded mirror, a barrier in time.

 

Their tools are the same. On Molly’s side of the barrier, she imagines that they are actually the same instruments: their ice tongs were picked up from antique fairs, had seen hard use before they came to them, were streaked with orange rust. Somebody had used them once, why not the members of that ice sled, the one that had nearly wiped her out of existence? The ice saw is brown with age, and taller than she is. The divers bring it out of storage once a year, just for this one weekend – so long as they escape the thaw that most other people hope for. Otherwise, it hangs in the diving school office at the sports’ center, a storied relic.

The men of the ice sled would have used the ice tongs when they were still dark and sleek. Every day, they would have used them – not for a weekend of fun and polar bear escapades, but for their livelihood – for the business of filling iceboxes, saving food for summers before Freon, before Frigidaire. Their horse-drawn sled would have been full of evenly cut blocks, layered in-between with straw and stored in dark warehouses on the waterfront.

They are about twelve for the first day of ice diving. Molly and the other ice divers pile their blocks some fifteen feet away from the hole, and when they have finished they will push them back in, allowing the ice to refreeze for whoever shows up next, if the thaw doesn’t come first. Some other diving team has left one block standing upright in front of their hole – no doubt to mark it so that nobody will stumble across it before it had fully frozen. It makes Molly think of the ice truck, those men, that tragedy.

Seventy-some years ago, her grandfather had worked the ice truck. Maybe the ice made him think of his own father, who had broken through an iced-over brook in Gaspésie with cart and horse and froze there, arms broken from trying to push the cart back out again. Her grandfather had ridden the ice truck every morning during that winter, headed out from around Boucherville onto St. Lawrence River.

 

Molly takes pictures of everything – she makes her own hole using the dremel, which gleams, new, evenly spacing it ten feet apart from two other identical holes. The saw will connect them, forming the triangle that will lead them to the underside of this strange space above the quarry that is only accessible in winter. If the pictures are good, they will form part of a new ice diver’s manual, to be released in the summer at a time when ice will be something that you put in your drink. Not so, now.

The divers nail planks of wood with metal rings screwed on into the ice, trusting the cold to keep them there, but if the ice chooses to break, those planks will end up in the water with them. They have read the ice, its colour and thickness. This is a science, after all, and the ice will hold them. Molly only hopes that somebody has remembered to tell the ice about the physical laws by which it is bound. 

She is not concerned for herself – she has the surety of youth and a fourteen-millimeter wetsuit besides. The water, she knows, is warmer than the air right now. If the water were below zero, it would be frozen, and so she knows that it must be at least thirty-three – knows also that her instructor has already dipped his computer in the water and found it to be a balmy thirty-seven. They move confidently between imperial and metric. The air is minus fifteen Celsius. The water is thirty-seven Fahrenheit. Her wetsuit is fourteen millimeters thick around the core. They are planning for a maximum depth of sixty feet. She considers this, shouldering on her yellow safety harness, making a mess of it, and taking it off to do it all over again.

The divers take the saw in shifts, removing the blocks as they go, uncovering the triangular entrance that they will send divers and lifeline through. The triangular shape is supposed to make it easy to get in and out, but Molly wonders about the strength of her forearms, knowing that she will have to hoist herself and an entire set of diving equipment through that triangle.

 

Molly wonders whether, when the icemen fell through, the ice that broke beneath them flipped back over top of them like a trap door and froze in place, or whether that one piece slid under the blanket of ice and froze there instead. She wonders about the horses.

She imagines the truck sliding out onto the ice, rumbling along like a hay cart. She imagines their conversations, their shared cigarettes. They might be talking about what they were going to do with their pay, or maybe about their wives, maybe about supper. In the days leading up to that one, her grandfather would have been with them, probably talking about Colette, his then-fiancée. If he had married Colette, if there had been no war, if there had been no war brides… Molly tries to imagine a world where she does not exist, and cannot.

 

Molly poses with the saw like she was one of the girls on The Price is Right. Her instructor tells her that she looks like Joan of Arc, off to battle. Molly thinks of having an icy ceiling above her head, impenetrable. She has watched YouTube videos where divers in dry suits fill their legs with air and walk upside down on the underside of the ice. They make her think of astronauts, and she wishes that she could afford a dry suit…only not really. She is one of two people who will complete the day’s ice dives in a wetsuit – a point of pride for Molly. She does not need a dry suit  – she is more resilient, and walking around upside down is about the only reason she wants to try one.  

 

Did the men on the truck banter about their job, or was it matter of course? Molly cannot decide. She chooses to believe that they did not think about the danger, that there was no indication that the ice was unsafe. It seems less cruel to think of them being responsible for their own fates, for failing to take precautions. But if they had taken precautions, and misread the ice, then it could happen to anyone. Molly secures the karabiner to her harness, locks it, and slips into the water with a safety entry. The shock of cold makes her inhale sharply, exhaling in small, blowing bursts. She waits to stick her head underneath, waits to breathe on her regulator. She has seen three freeze today already, and they were by far fancier than her ancient winterized regulator, borrowed from the school.

 

She cannot imagine the moment that they plunged through the ice. She knows at least six ways to get into the water: the giant stride, the safety entry, the backwards roll, the jackknife, the back-or-sideways tread. With these entries, Molly is under control. Every action has its equal and opposite. Molly expects to end up in the water. As hard as she tries, she cannot imagine that plunge. She pictures it as a magic trick: now they’re there, now they’re not. An entire team of men with families, those two horses. She brings air with her – the shock must have knocked the breath from their lungs.

She wonders if any of them understood, or if there was only blind panic. Wordless shock. Needles pricking skin. The burning lungs that inhale involuntary poison. They drink when they should breathe. The spots start – sizzling flashes mixed with growing darkness. Hard to move, hard to scrape at the underside of a tomb that will be gone by spring. Need to go up and up, but the weight of it…the weight of clothes and boots that are trammels now, nets of lead that pull her downward…downward…

But it isn’t her. Molly is alive. She is beneath the ice, and has the luxury of three thousand pounds per square inch of air on her back. She is mostly warm, except for her toes and fingertips, with which she still manages to flash the all-okay signal with thumb and forefinger. Because it is all okay. Actually, it’s more than okay. The water is warmer than the air up above. The surface seems far away, but she is tethered, and there is the promise of communication. They tug signals to each other on the line. One tug: yes, two tugs: no, three tugs: coming home, four tugs or more: help.

Beneath the ice is clarity and surety. All the sediment in the water, so often kicked up in summer, has settled to the bottom for the winter. The visibility is one hundred feet in every direction. The underside of the ice has been carved by the water lapping up against it. The patterns are fanciful, mesmerizing, and the light that comes through glows diffusely. Molly inhales sharply and exhales slowly. Under the ice, they are just the three of them, attached together on a line. For the moment, the water belongs just to them. Molly ‘s chest swells with proprietary pride. The water in her suit has had time to warm against her skin, and it is a velveteen hug, layered with the coolness of the water beyond it.

In the water, the objects are all the same. They have sixty feet of line – just enough to visit the plane, which is right beneath them and the submarine on the cliff below. She cares little for these – she is fascinated by the sudden eagle sight that she has been granted, the patterns in the ice.  In places, they seem deliberate, like they were scratched out by somebody stuck underneath. Others have the careless artfulness of the accidental, of nature.

When they come back topside through the hole, one of Molly’s buddies unclips himself from their umbilical line and pulls himself up but barely onto the ice. He flops around, making seal noises – “urh – urh – hruurh!” He slaps his fins together and continues his noise. The instructors laugh and pull him away from the hole, hoisting him onto his feet. Molly is next, and does the same. They have completed their first ice dive. To celebrate and to keep warm, they drink poorly mixed instant soup out of Styrofoam cups, and Molly wishes they were anything but Styrofoam. It is all part of the rite of passage.

 

Molly does not think of those men again during the day. She does think, though, of her grandfather. She thinks of what he has lived with for nigh on seven decades. For most of her life, he has laughed at it – laughed at the luck that put him where it did on that day and so many others, the luck that kept the line from him to Molly intact. The last time that they talked about it, he wept. Because, the day before those men went through the ice, Molly’s grandfather found himself a new job. Because when they dropped by the next morning to pick him up, he told them, ‘no thanks’ and spent the day warm inside the kitchen at his new job. Because he survived, and they went through the ice.

 

Because of that, Molly is alive.