Just Breathe

Water Portal via Flash PromptThe hardest part, as the water fills your mouth, nose, lungs, is not to struggle. We’re drilled on this when we start the program. “If you struggle,” they tell you, “you could choke and die.”

Instead, we were told, we must stay calm, relaxed.

I start my mantra, chanting in my head before my feet leave the deck. “The ocean is the cradle of life. The ocean is the cradle of life.”  I imagine the sea as a great mother, her blue-green arms keeping me safe from harm.

I plunge backwards into the water. They always push you overboard in the split second when you forget to anticipate the shove. The theory is that if you can’t see the waves coming to greet you, you’re less likely to panic.

But I never panic.

I let myself fall into the ocean’s embrace, and I’m struck by the beauty of the bubbles rising up around me toward the expanding rings of my entry-point. It’s my air forming those bubbles. The former content of my lungs.

The first time I did this, I was terrified. Humans only breathe liquid when they’re in the womb, after all, but once I got past the initial disconnect, the fight against my own instincts, breathing water was as natural as… well, you know.

I feel the gill-slits behind my ears opening and closing – it tickles a little. They pass their undulating movement down my neck, to the two other pairs there. With the bottom one responding to the pressure of the water, I can feel a sort of current in the back of my throat.

The next set of gills – four pair – are on my sides, between my ribs. Those are larger, and just the first one kicking in helps me shake the rapture that is caused by weightlessness, low oxygen, and the salty indigo that surrounds me.

It’s experimental, the body-mod I’m using now, but I’ve been fascinated by mermaids for as long as I can remember, and when I saw the ad in the back of a science magazine, I had to volunteer. Initially, I thought the gills were going to be some kind of external apparatus, but no. They triggered a t-cell here, massaged a little-known gene there, and within a few months I was essentially amphibious.

I move in the water, my nude form completely at home. My gills are functioning exactly as they should. I consider the blue world surrounding me, and feel a pull, a longing to go deeper, to swim further, to stay here in the ocean that has always been in my blood.

The watch strapped to my wrist vibrates. My fifteen minutes are up. I’m supposed to return t the surface, to the boat. Reluctantly, I begin my upward swim, hoping beyond hope that the next trip will be a longer one.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Just Breathe by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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