Water by Ian Butterworth

I look back up as I sink, blowing silver bubbles, glass beads through the corrugate shards of sun to the surface, a skin. My senses are sharpened as I sit, arms across my chest. Striped, bright shoals flick, always away from me. There is no smell. The water fills my throat, salty as I sway towards the gritty reef and the ribbed sand. I do not panic. I have a grace which is new to me. Surrounding the reef is the greenest light, beyond that black, where I shall die. Can I hear or imagine the churn of the boat above, the cries of my family and the crew? There is a rushing in my ears, which must be silence. A glint of light catches my watch, a gift from him. An apology. Again. Time is mute and I gently laugh.

A weighted rope plunges close, uncurling like a lizard’s tongue. An orange ring bobs above, perturbed. The rope dances and I spread my limbs, shaping like a star. The sea brushes between my legs like a snake. Nothing, no one has touched me for so long.

The dusky hull hangs above me. The water begins to chill. The sea had been rough as I jumped and the clouds hovered. Rain will seep past me as I furl to the deep. My sternum presses hard and tight. Bilal, stone-crushed for his faith, comes to my mind. My throat constricts. The dull clunk of a body distracts me. It pulls towards me. Fish flee and burrow. The captain’s son, young and eager and frightened. I smile at his panicked eyes. His face contorts as I twist away and he bellows up for air.

Coral reels away as I veer into the darkness. I see my husband now. 'Love me,’ he says. I feel his hand clamp my face and I kick at him and spin over the void and I can’t cry out though I try from the soul of my being and I’m falling not sinking. And he looks at me or through me and his fingers dissolve and I float like a bird or the gentle snow in a soft country and all is peaceful and calm. From Him we come and to Him shall we all return.

And I see him again. His frown has gone and a smile has warmed his face. His hand is outstretched and he reaches out for me, through the pain. 'Love me,’ he says.


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