he had no fear of the bubbles. They caressed her skin more softly than she guessed as she sank deeper. The cold burned at first, scalding her arms, cheeks, ears, yet she dove farther under the surface and into the frigid water. The current stripped her sweater off her arms as she swam, the black knit escaping the scene unfolding before it. If she were a bystander, she would think the sweater was a fluttering dark jellyfish or a prowling stingray; she’d be amazed at the closeness, unaware of its truth. The denim of her pants plastered to her legs. She kicked harder, bringing her closer to the fading shape below, falling away and away.
The shape lost form faster than she liked, becoming another blur against the ocean scape. She struggled to keep the blur in her sights, diving deeper, more determined.
She screamed, emitting a hollow, silent sound. The bubbles poured from her lips and made their escape. She pushed deeper, intermingling with the bubbles from the formless shape below that had long since vanished. Fear crawled through her limbs. Pressure grew with her descent, squeezing her like an unwanted hug. Salt stung her eyes, but she kept them fixed on her darling little brother.
The light of her days.
The one too young to lose.
He was sinking fast, invisible forces bound around him, sending his little arms and legs flailing. He fought the invisible currents dragging him down.
She was always telling him not to fill his pockets to the brim with cars. She never imagined that this would be the reason why.
She kicked. Lungs burning, legs flailing and weakening with each yard. She surged forward, strength lacing her moves, and her fingers brushed his arm.
Another push forward and she caught his hood, bunched together at his neck. His face turned toward her in panic as he, so young, so free, so destined for something better, understood the severity of what was happening.
She dragged herself closer to the pest she loved and hated and would do anything for. She ripped at his sweatshirt, fingers numb, and pulled the zipper tab. His limbs floated, and she pulled them out of the tight, heavy sleeves and freed him.
As if cut from a tether, he soared away, the heavy weight of his precious toy cars finally unburdened from his torso so he could escape to the light wash of sea above. His legs found new strength and kicked faster, faster, propelling him toward the fuzzy sky.
She watched, treading water with trembling legs that slowly stopped moving out of pain and exhaustion, weighed down by guilt, and still holding the sweatshirt that would have been his death.
It ate at her.
The guilt of not checking his pockets.
The guilt of not keeping him away from the rampaging waves.
The guilt of having chatted with the girls on the beach and not immediately noticing he was gone.
The guilt kept her there, along with her pain-filled limbs from exertion, watching as he broke the surface far, far above and gasped for breath. She sank down deeper, clutching his sweatshirt, feeling the cars pressed firmly against her abdomen, grateful she’d have a piece of him with her as she became another sunken treasure.