This rickety fishing-boat-turned-dive-charter stinks of fish guts and flowery aerosol. Planks around the wheelhouse are freshly painted—maybe yesterday, maybe last week. Nothing ever dries in this humidity. A glob of grey paint on the baseboard tells me there is a serious lack of attention to detail on this boat. I needle the paint glob with the tip of my nail until the outer skin bursts and hot grey paint oozes out. Underneath, stuck to the weathered baseboard, a dried fish eye stares at me.
Even here on this boat and in this ocean breeze, the stench of a tourist-trap market lingers—fruity alcohol sun-baked into rubber soles, spices mingling with kettle corn, coconut sunscreen. At least here, there aren’t the people—the pattering vendors, the bawling children, the souvenir hoarders sweating and shoving, sunscreen sliding off their faces, squinting out over the open sea right next to a sign boasting: You can see Cuba from here! Of course, the boat seemed like a great idea at the time. Why wouldn’t I pay the charter to go along with my husband and son, even if I wasn’t diving? So I slapped down my credit card for the three plastic tokens which let us board this sorry boat. I notice all the other globs of paint rippling along the baseboards. I have time to puncture them all if I want to. Then, at least, I could reveal this boat for what it is, not what it pretends to be.
I stand on deck, squint. The skipper behind me chuckles.
Not trying to see Cuba, old man.
Snorkeling to the reef now, nine divers—four strangers, two instructors, my husband, and my son. I am what the dive charter calls a “non-participant.”
I sit along the edge of the deck, remove my stinking shoes, hang my head over the rail, breathe in some genuine tropical air. The skipper coughs. Hacks. Spits something green into a handkerchief.
It’s just the two of us.
I have a long wait.
Before we boarded, one of the other divers offered motion sickness patches in that silent, affirming way strangers thrown together in close quarters offer each other strips of chewing gum. I refused. I never get seasick. Not unless you count that time my husband and I boarded a ferry to visit Ellis Island and I barfed before we even left the dock, but I don’t count that. That was a fluke. My husband had laughed at me because, on any other given day, that would have been him with his head inside a citrus-reeking toilet in the ferry latrine. My husband still recounts that oddity with a snicker. We didn’t know it, but I was pregnant at the time. My equilibrium was off. I hadn’t yet learned to compensate for the extra skeletal mass knitting itself inside me. That was eighteen years ago. Now I can sit planted on the deck of a diving dingy in the heaving ocean and feel more at home than if I were asleep in my own bed. I can do this while other passengers, including my husband, hang over the boat rail, their sick spilling into the pitching waves.
Patches don’t help anyway. One other diver had slapped on two patches, but as soon as the boat smacked its first open-ocean wave outside the bay, he tossed his breakfast.
For a diver he doesn’t know much about air. That’s what equilibrium is all about. Air.
More to come in issue 44.1