By Mark Jabaut
A school of fish exploded around her, looking to Sarah like an underwater rainbow. Remora borealis, she thought. She snapped a few shots with her waterproof camera as they bent and curved away as one.
Sarah checked her wristwatch and saw that it was time to head back up to the boat. She trailed her bubbles slowly to the surface and emerged a few feet from the faded wooden hull. Sliding her mask to the top of her head, she doggie-paddled to the ladder and hauled herself up. She felt as if she had gained thirty pounds, moving from the buoyancy of the sea to the gravity of her world.
Phillipe helped pull off her equipment and gently stacked it on the deck. She removed her dive suit, then quickly found a towel and wrapped it around her waist. Phillipe was a handsome young man, and Sarah, a good twenty years his elder, was embarrassed to have him see her in only her bathing suit. Over the past decade her body had morphed into something from the deep—lumpy, fleshy, a creature that had lost its shell. Invertebrate-y. The curves and hard muscles of her youth had been replaced with fat deposits and gristle. Her hair had thinned on her head, but not her arms. She felt like a beast in front of Phillipe.
She told herself that she shouldn’t care—he was merely the diving aid, hired for this series of exploratory dives. After she was done mapping this coral reef, she would never see him again. She would return to New York and he to his father’s fishing boat. Sarah didn’t know if his father had a fishing boat, or if Phillipe even had a father, but she enjoyed imagining him leaving before dawn on an old trawler, the salt air seasoning his hair, the spray from the ocean making him as slick as an otter. It was more likely that Professor Grimes had hired him from the local college, but as she didn’t speak French and Phillipe didn’t speak English, she told herself she would never know. She resolved not to ask Grimes. Personal relationships in these types of situations were never a good idea. Not that that could happen anyway.
The boat’s captain started up the engine and they began puttering back toward the marina. The sun began to ease itself into a nest of low clouds and the western sky shimmered in waves of peach and salmon. The air suddenly felt cool, so Sarah pulled a weather-beaten sweatshirt over her head and lit a cigarette to warm up. The smoke she exhaled vanished immediately into the breeze.
“Sarah,” said Phillipe. He had come up behind her as her mind had drifted in the sunset. She felt an intimate tickle in the pit of her stomach as she turned to look at him. His expression was pointed, curious; his head tilted slightly. She felt her pulse quicken as he smiled. Sarah tucked a seaweed-y strand of hair behind her ear and felt for a moment as if she were in a television ad. Phillipe held two fingers out to her and snipped them together. He wanted a cigarette.
Sarah smiled stupidly and handed him the pack and her lighter. He shook one out, placed it in his mouth, and touched the flame to the end. Smoke billowed around his chin and Sarah noticed that his face was youth-shiny and almost beard-free. How young was he really? Too young to even grow a beard? Sarah felt even older than usual.
“Merci,” he said. He smiled at her through the smoke.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “De nada.” She knew that was Spanish, but she was flustered and couldn’t think of the right French words.
Phillipe laughed and repeated “de nada.” He moved closer to Sarah and leaned against the gunwale so that their elbows touched. The boat slowed and swayed as they neared the marina. Sarah reached to steady herself and her hand found Phillipe’s shoulder of its own accord. He smiled at her again and said something that she completely missed.
I’m old enough to be his mother, she told herself. Almost, she added charitably. She felt like some bored housewife reading a romance novel and imagining herself within the pages. Nothing is happening.
The boat gently bumped the dock. Phillipe shook four or five more cigarettes out of the pack and returned it to Sarah. Then he deftly leapt to the dock and secured the boat with the stern rope. He did the same at the bow. Then, turning to Sarah, he smiled again, waved at her, and trotted up the dock and disappeared into the busy marina.
She noticed that the hand that he used to wave at her still held her lighter.
The sun had dropped below the horizon and left a plum gauze in its wake. The cold air raised goosebumps on her arms as Sarah offloaded her equipment. She stood on the dock and stared at the marina, the city lights behind it glowing like bioluminescent jellyfish.
Within her chest Sarah felt her heart beat—not fast, but slogging along, slow, steady, dull. Small waves lapped at the boat’s hull in pulse-like counterpoint. Her immediate future was preordained: she would store her equipment in the diving shack, trudge back to the hotel, order room service in lieu of showering and eating alone in the café, and fall asleep to foreign language television. Tomorrow would be another dive.
Mark Jabaut is a playwright and author living in Webster, NY. Mark’s plays include In The Territories which premiered in May 2014 at The Sea Change Theatre in Beverly, MA, and Rochester Key Bank Fringe Festival entries The Bridge Club of Death, THE Hatchet Man, Damaged Beasts and Colma! Mark’s fiction has been published in the print magazine POST, The Ozone Park Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spank the Carp, Defenestration, and Uproar. He can be found at www.markjabaut.com.