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.


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.


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.


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