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.)
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?”
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.
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.