When he could feel the wind above the surface he removed his mask and emptied it. He was near the boat. He could see Chrissie waving at him but no sign of Luke or Nora. The wetsuit around his head was like the inside of a balloon. He put his mask back on as Chrissie shouted something. He slipped back in and could see nothing again except the bottom of the Lady and the coral covering the ground. He checked his air and swam around looking for his wife. The ocean had been warm at first but now he could feel the coldness of the suit against his skin and the empty pressure of the water. He wanted to dig his finger into his ear. In the sky he could make out the sun cradled in the last puff of cloud, and then the fish again surrounded him, and what he wanted most was to rest his hand above his wife’s hip or feel the soft baby hair on her arms, and not remember these feelings but own them. He remembered her neck between his hands, the fear of himself somehow less than the fear of what would happen if he released her, how their marriage would break apart—what could that future possibly hold? Finally he looked down at the bottom of the ocean and wanted to sink himself all the way into the reef and let the coral take over his body like the splintered hull of a shipwreck. Yet he kicked his legs out, and again, and swam up to look for Nora.
He resurfaced and saw the motorboat approaching. She and Luke glared over the yellow rubber. “What were you doing?” his wife asked as he climbed in. “Where were you?”
He let all the air out of his BCD to take the weight off and lay against it with the tank behind him. The water dripped off the suit and the neoprene clung like someone else’s skin. He peeled off the hood. He looked at her and said nothing. His eyelids came slowly together and relief dripped down like the melting of diamonds in his calves.
“You look happy,” she said. “You saw all sorts of things down there, did you? A giant clam, a shark, a sea turtle? Yes? A couple of whales?” She clenched the rubber siding. “We came back up for you, you know—surfaced and you were nowhere—got back on the boat. You saw Chrissie calling you and headed back under to see more. I didn’t even get to see the damn famous reef. I just saw some stupid—waving—coral.”
excerpt from The Lady of the Reef by Matthew Salesses, published in Pitt’s online literary magazine–Hot Metal Bridge. I love the way Salesses creates a scene full of misunderstanding in this story. The guy is sad and lonely and his pride is bruised–he is a huge mess, yet his wife sees him as selfish. He can't seem to find the words to tell her otherwise.