Everything's Blue in the End
(1214 words) A short story about a panic attack.
I was trying not to acknowledge the feeling.
To think about it would be to bring it about and, quite frankly, now was not a good time for having a panic attack.
I was floating in the middle of Indigo Bay with my face up toward the sky. The water was warm and I was without fins or a noodle, but I wasn’t alone. I could see Riley adjusting the straps to his snorkel mask, already having reached the metal structure that was sticking a few feet out of the water – the reason we had swam out here in the first place: to investigate what it was.
When Riley saw me he waved. Unlike me, Riley is a good swimmer. A surfer. He is also two years sober. I watched as Riley dove under the water, while I did everything I could to stay above it.
I looked back toward the beach where the restaurant appeared to me now as small and the jungle around it big. “It is a beautiful island,” I thought to myself. Let’s just hope the developers don’t agree. There was no sign of our friends anymore and I wondered if James had bitten the dog and ordered the Mai Tai he was debating before Riley asked me to swim to the metal structure. I myself hadn’t been this hungover in three weeks.
At the restaurant, the hostess told us there would be a short wait. She needed the bartender to return from his fifteen-minute break so he could clean and pull together a couple of four-tops for our group of eight. All couples, by the way. A few minutes earlier, I’d seen the bartender when visiting the restroom. He was smoking a cigarette and when I said hello to him he said hello to me back, only his hello came with a French accent. I noticed he was not wearing shoes.
Since there was nobody else at the restaurant and the tables appeared empty and already cleaned, Nate offered for us to move them ourselves. The hostess smiled. “It will only be a few minutes before Peter is back,” she replied with an accent of Dutch.
But there was no waiting area to sit in and I felt my legs did not have the few minutes this girl was speaking of. Meanwhile, my friends began to make plans for the afternoon. Something about a berry emporium – I’m not really sure. I only stood there and tried not to fall over, and it was at this time that Riley asked me to swim. Somehow I felt the water would be good for me.
It occurs to me now there’s too much room for thinking when one is floating out at sea without fins or a noodle. There is the sky which is blue, and then there is the water, which is also blue. Tell me: Do scientists have a measure on how much blue it is a mind can handle?
I dunked my head below the surface and opened my eyes. Whattya know? Blue. And also, where did all the fish go?
Something was wrong with my snorkel. Water entered my mouth, way too salty, and so I returned to the surface and removed the entire apparatus from my face. The wind had picked up and the water was choppy. Waves rolled over my head.
I heard Riley call out my name between the lapping of my ears. “It’s a ship,” he said. “You were right,” he added.
I opened my mouth and gagged. “Nice,” I yelled back.
I was upset that the adjustments to my mask did not work out as I needed them to. The shipwreck was no more than thirty feet away and when I finally reached the metal structure, I wrapped my arms around it tight.
There were no creatures below the surface to watch me—this much I knew—but I could not help feeling embarrassed and ashamed that someone, somewhere, was pointing and laughing at me. I hoped that person was not Elyse. Could she even see me all the way out here? A white flag on a pole.
Having made it this far, I decided to see for myself what exactly it was I was holding on to. I spit in my goggles as instructed by the rental folks and then I stuck my head back underwater.
The ship was a ship, all right—though categorically, I’d say it was a more of a cargo boat since its shape was like that of my pickup truck back home. Resting neatly on the bottom of the sea for God knows how long, the vessel was infected by a rustic plague, with the only barnacle being me. I wondered if this meant that I was hanging on to the mast—or perhaps it was some sort of crane?
It’s hard to say for sure. I’m not someone who knows much about a life at sea.
About halfway down the structure’s vertical length there was an opening similar in size to the flamingo pink inner tubes available at our hotel pool—and there, swimming through the middle of it, was Riley, kicking his legs as he tried to keep the bubbles inside his mouth and the rust infested rim off his back.
“So cool,” he said to me as returned to the surface. “How are you doing?” he asked.
“I think I’m going to die,” I said.
“Me too,” he replied. “I’m starving. Let’s go back.”
But when Riley began to swim back, I did not let go of the metal structure; nor did I let go when I finally saw him reach the beach and exit the water, transforming in size to that of a tiny, black ant.
Instead, I asked myself, "How did the restaurant get so far away?" And "Why are there no shipwrecks between here and there?"
It was after these questions that I saw a second black ant emerge from the restaurant and this I knew to be James by the glint of the sun reflecting off the glass in his hand. He must have asked Riley as to my whereabouts because the next thing Riley did was point in my direction, and then I think I saw the two of them wave.
Oh, can I tell you how happy I was to know they could see me!
I kept one hand on the metal structure and waved back with the other. But, my friends, they did not wait for me—and soon there were no black ants for me to wave to.
It seemed the time for me had come. I cleared the water from my snorkel tube and I tried not to acknowledge the feeling. Four counts in, four counts out. I let go of the metal structure.
I thought about my parents, my dogs and my friends, but mostly I thought about Elyse.
With my face up toward the sky, I saw a single, white cloud. It had not been there before and with the winds I knew it would not be there long, and then everything would go back to being blue.
I wondered if Elyse had already gotten something to eat. I sure hoped she had. She would have to eat eventually.