Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Prompt: Remembering Three Sisters

Tara taps my arm with her long fin. I look up and she points to her other side. A young barracuda, maybe three feet long, hangs motionless within her arm’s reach. We still and watch it for a long moment. It sort of wriggles the length of its body, and then it’s simply gone. Not swimming away. It's nowhere to be seen in the crystal clear water surrounding us. I turn in a slow 360 to see if anything else is around. Cuda? Dolphin? Turtle? Remora? Shark?

Nothing. I relax, but now I have to surface again. I envy Tara’s ability to stay under for so long as I push up and drink in deep breaths of the warm air. We’re exploring the Three Sisters, three tiny islands poking out of the water—grey blue today, not the bright aqua of our our first few days in Bimini. The tide is low enough we can see all three, barely large enough for two or three intrepid mermaids to perch on, if they were so inclined.

I find the snorkel more frustrating than useful for this kind of diving up and down, so I leave it flopping against my jaw. Deep breath, back under. As soon as I push down into the water and level out a few feet under, my heart stops crashing in my chest and I can hear…everything. It’s unbelievably noisy, like a New York City street. Click-click-click. Grrrrrind. Slurp. Splish-splash-slat. Creeeeaaaak. Chitter-chitter-chitter.

There is so much motion and color, it’s hard to focus on any one thing. The floor is littered with shells and detritus. Coral and anemone wave above it all. Fish dart, shrimp tuck into the coral, hermit crabs lumber awkwardly, flopping their shells on top of them. I float, hanging in the water, and wish I could stay like this forever. Well, for hours, anyway.

But I don’t have long until I have to go back up for more air. So I focus on the shells, looking for one to collect. There, a bright yellow bivalve. Even as I lean down, everything shifts, and it’s gone. How did it completely disappear so fast? I try to focus on another, but I’m out of time. My lungs throbbing in my chest and I feel the compulsion to take in a breath becoming stronger. I have to surface. Now.

Tara’s waiting for me, and she suggests we swim around the Three Sisters. There might be larger fish or a turtle on the other side from us. We swim around, taking our time to dive under and explore the fan and brain coral that litter the seabed. I keep looking for a shell to collect, but I come up empty-handed again and again.

The middle island has a tunnel through it. Tara says it’s about four feet wide and ten feet long. We can see through it to the other side, and some other people in our group are challenging each other to swim through it. Tara encourages me to take the dare. I think about it, and I really want to. I’ve already made a deeper dive than any of the other guests. My competitive streak is deeply buried, but seems to come out at inconvenient times, like when someone is pointing to a conch 17 feet below. But I have enough claustrophobia that I think being stuck in a four-foot-wide tube does not sound at all appealing. If I panic, I’ll bump the walls and scratch the heck out of my back, arms, legs. Great, blood in the water. Remember the barracuda? I don’t think so. I shake my head and applaud all those brave enough to swim through.

I’ll regret it later, I think, not trying, but I’m not quite that brave today. I’ll have to be satisfied with my conch shell, and aching eardrum, hundreds of photos from my brand new underwater camera, and a thousand memories.


Now, years later, my first memory of Three Sisters is always Tara pointing to the barracuda. I remember looking through the tunnel, and I still feel that vague regret. But honestly, if I ever get the chance to go again, I’ll challenge myself to successfully retrieve a beautiful shell instead. Leave the tunnel for braver, or more foolhardy, swimmers than I.

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle

February word count:

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