The blackness found in the deepest parts of the ocean is impenetrable to light and darker than vastness of space. Captain Darius Morgan stood on the bridge of deep sea vessel TR5ZZR4 staring into the darkness through the transparent panel before him. He was a man deep in thought; a man somewhere else and yet nowhere.
“Shall we descend, Captain?”
“We’ve reached a divergence point on the seafloor, Sir. One way sloping up to the left and the other descending into a chasm of some sort.”
“Yes, I see that.”
“What would you like us to do, Sir? Shall we go deeper?”
“That is what we’re here for isn’t it, to ‘Explore the depths of the ocean previously unattainable to mankind’?”
“It’s the tag line that they used to get funding for this ship & this voyage. It sounds a lot of hot air now doesn’t it? Three months in a bubble of light, groping our way through impenetrable blackness — and what will we bring back to mankind: the message that loneliness exists everywhere, even in the direst depths of the sea.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“Mr. Arnold, guide us the rest of the way down and continue along this chasm. You have the bridge. I’m going to see my wife.”
The cold room of the ship’s medical unit was the one place in the entire ship that made The Captain feel like he was in a tin can under sea. And that metal feeling ran through his skin as he stood looking down at the body of his wife on the autopsy table. Doctor Leroy Traja sat at his desk only a few feet away, moving papers from pile to pile as a way of allowing the Captain the illusion of privacy which he could not allow.
“No need to busy yourself, Doctor. There won’t be any weeping today.”
The Doctor kept his back to the Captain.
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“I said I will not prostrate myself over this woman’s body, so you need not feel that you are intruding.”
The Doctor turned toward the Captain.
“She was your wife.”
“A man’s wife does not sleep with a young machinist under his command. A man’s wife does not simply kill herself. The cruelty of those acts removes all intimacy.”
The Doctor lowered his head.
“You don’t believe that, Darius.”
“The hell I don’t! You tell me something, Doctor. Do your medical degrees tell you more about the human heart than the rest of us know? I don’t mean about the timing of the thing or the strength of the muscle. I mean, does it tell you about the complexities of the heart? Does it tell you how a woman can be so loved and attended to, yet still seek to destroy that love? Does it tell you how a woman can swear her love with earnest eyes while reeking freshly of infidelity? Does it tell you how she can be be so callous as to leave without ever giving me a chance to forgive her?”
“I’m sorry, Captain. It was not my place to speak.”
“If a doctor cannot speak over a body, then what place has he?”
The Doctor nodded his head somberly. The silence of the moment was quickly broken by the ringing of the line from the bridge. The Captain turned his back to the room & answered.
“Yes, Mr. Arnold. Speak.”
“Captain, there’s something strange going on.”
“Yes, sir. They’re surrounding us.”
The Doctor attempted to break in, “Captain!”, but the Captain simply waved his hand without bothering to look at him.
“Sir, it seems there is a crack in the sea floor and these bubbles are spilling out of it and the ship is engulfed in them.”
“What is our visibility, Mr. Arnold?”
“Aye, Captain. All stop.”
There was a slight jolt as the engines halted. The doctor again attempted to break in, “Captain!”
“Not now, Doctor. We have a situation. Mr. Arnold what is the status of the engines?”
“The engine room reports everything in working order, sir.”
“And our hull integrity?”
“100% and holding, sir.”
“There are stories of methane bubbles from the sea floor disrupting the buoyancy of vessels but being that we are already at the bottom of the ocean in a vessel made to be submerged at these depths, I’d say we are pretty safe from methane, if that’s what those bubbles are, wouldn’t you say so Mr. Arnold?”
“Our real danger is the lack of visibility. We don’t need to be crashing into anything.”
For a third time the doctor broke in. This time more urgently. “Captain! It’s your wife, sir. She’s…”
“My wife? She’s what?!”
Agitated, the Captain turned toward the Doctor.
“Awake. She’s awake, sir.”
The body of the Captain’s wife was now sitting upright on the table, clutching to her breast the white sheet that covered her body.
“Bridge, await further instructions.”
The disbelief of the situation made the subtle motion of the ship suddenly noticeably again, as if all the cells in the body were realizing for the first time the millions of gallons of water surrounding them on all sides. The Captain eased toward his wife’s body as if it were a mirage and a footstep too large would ripple away the illusion. He looked to the Doctor for confirmation and the awed look in his eyes told the Captain that he was not alone in seeing this.
“Darius? What is going on?”
The Captain froze as the corpse spoke and his shoulders pulled back, reclining him just few inches further from it.
“Darius, why are so frightened? And why am I nude?”
“Why I am down here?”
“Annie, you’re alive!”
“Of course I am.”
“But you weren’t. You were dead.”
The body of Annie Morgan stopped, thought a moment and then a sad recognition changed her face as she began to remember. A tear collapsed out the edge of her eye and broke its way down her face and into nape of her neck. The Captain moved closer, driven by the impulse to wipe her tears away but found he could only move slightly, repelled more by horror and fear.
“Is it real, Doctor?”
The Doctor blinked his eyes in amazement but gave no verbal response. Annie’s body reached out her arm to run her fingers through the Captain’s beard but he instinctually pulled away in disgust.
“Darius, it’s me.”
“It’s not possible.”
“If it’s you, then tell me something.”
“Why did you do it?”
“Because…because I knew that I had destroyed it; destroyed us. It was like a crack in glass. It wouldn’t just stay there. It would grow and everything we saw through it would be scarred by my mistake and all the mistakes we would make because of it. I just wanted to leave some of the beauty still visible. I wa—“
The body of Annie Morgan fell back into an inanimate state with the sound of air spilling out from her lungs. The Captain lunged forward and hovered his hands above her head, still hesitant to touch her.
He settled his hands on the crown of her head and the feeling of her hair made him queasy. He looked up at the Doctor like a wounded child.
“What’s happened? Where has she gone?”
“I…I don’t know, Darius.”
“But, she was just here!”
“That was her!”
“Annie! Annie, that wasn’t the why. That wasn’t the why that I meant.”
The line from the bridge rang again. The doctor took Annie’s head from the Captain’s hands and gently laid her body down onto its back.
“I’m sorry but she’s gone now…and you must answer that.”
“But she was just here.”
“The bridge, Captain.”
The Captain picked himself up and made his way to answer the line.
“Captain, the bubbles have ceased. All systems check out and visibility is at 20%. What are your orders?”
“The bubbles…” The Captain looked over at the body of his wife. “I wonder…”
“Wonder what, sir?”
“Mr. Arnold, the crack that these bubbles were exiting from, is it still visible?”
“Does it continue on?”
“Yes, sir. It continues beyond our field of vision.”
“Fine, then. Follow this crack & keep me appraised of anything unusual.”
The captain turned back to see his wife’s head and body covered by the white sheet.
“Why have you covered her, Doctor?”
“Yes. Yes. Of course.”
“What are you doing, Captain?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ordering the bridge to a follow a crack. I don’t imagine that’s on the list of directives for this mission.”
“I don’t imagine that anyone foresaw bubbles that bring the dead back to life. You saw that as well as I did!”
“What I saw fantastic, yes. I saw your wife’s body spring back to life. It’s nothing that I have ever seen before. But what I did not see was proof that these bubbles had anything to do with it. There are thousands of possibilities and with no evidence they are all equally plausible. Yet you have just arbitrarily chosen one and sent us all to into the unknown chasing after it.”
“I’m well aware of the scientific method doctor. What I have is a hypothesis. Correct? And what do we do with a hypothesis? We test it!”
“Is it for science that we bound into the darkness, Captain?”
“It is never is, Doctor.”
The Captain sat on a chair near the table and reached down into his coat pocket. From it, he produced a pipe, a book matches and a small envelope of tobacco.
“Captain, you know that you can’t smoke that in here.”
“As well as I know that, you know this is the most well ventilated room in the ship. And I am still the goddamn Captain.”
The doctor shook his head and watched as the Captain slowly and meticulously packed black tobacco into his pipe.
“You really have taken on all the affectations of an ancient sea captain, haven’t you?”
“The bright eyed mariner.”
“Samuel Taylor Coleridge. You are full of surprises, Darius.”
The Captain lifted an eyebrow & smirked while striking a match & lighting his pipe. For several minutes the Captain took long easy pulls off of his pipe and let the smoke fill the silence in the room.
“You know, Traja, it wasn’t a bad marriage we had. I know that it appears that way but you musn’t extrapolate from tragic ends.”
“It’s not my affair, Captain.”
“You’re right, but whether it is or not is inconsequential as you are in the midst of it without choice. Something supernatural has lashed you onto it and the difference is not for you or I to say.”
“I suppose you have me there.”
The Captain smoked more while staring blankly at the sheet covering his wife’s body, as if trying to understand it. How was it that it raised and lowered in all of the places that she raised and lowered? How was this thin, white material strong enough to mimic her while erasing her from the room? She on one side. He on the other. Both so alone.
“She was so precarious when I met her. Fits of strength ground down into pits of fragility and built back up. I knew her the moment I saw her, as if everything she did was the score to music heard in my head. It took time for her to trust me & to love me. She did her best. I’m hard man to love. So like a rogue wave, sudden & without restraint. But I assure you, I loved her.”
The Doctor’s question cut through the smoke in the air and the Captain stared down into his pipe, tapping it on the table as if he had packed away an answer inside of it. The bridge line rang and the Captain walked over to answer. Before he did, he hesitated and turned to look at the doctor, his response found.
“It’s a cruel thing, the use of tense in a verb. It makes time so definite.”
He answered the line.
“Captain, we have found what looks like more of the same bubbles several meters ahead.”
“Good. Move the ship slowly forward into the bubbles and then stop all engines.”
“You have your orders, Mr. Arnold.”
With that, the Captain hung up the line.
“Oh, don’t start with me, Doctor. Don’t be a fool. If a man standing in the woods with binoculars sees a meteor crash into the earth a hundred meters off from him, would you not expect him to go see the flaming stone flung from the heavens? Would you expect him to just go back to watching birds?”
The Captain’s hands gesticulated wildly as he spoke and when he finished, the doctor found that he had nothing to say. Sympathy had unwound his logic and that logic would continue to unwind as the white sheet rose with Annie’s body underneath it.
“Yes, Annie. I’m here. Get this damn sheet off of her!”
The Captain yanked at the sheet without thinking and exposed not only her face but her breasts as well. The Doctor turned away.
“Shit. Sorry, Annie. Sorry.”
“It’s ok Darius. I think it’s a little late for modesty.”
The captain leaned forward for the sheet and Annie caught his cheek in her hand. When she touched him, he imagined that it would be cold, but it wasn’t cold. She stroked his cheek and lifted his head toward hers.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Darius.”
“No. I’m the one—I made you marry me. I loved you so much. I couldn’t see that you didn’t love me. I stamped this life onto you. I thought you were happy because I wanted you to be. But I never saw you. My love was tyranny.”
“Darius. No. No. That’s not true. That’s not true all. I do love you. Don’t you see that’s why—the window I broke, it was me. I was the glass. All anyone ever saw was transparency, until you, you saw the view.”
“Then why? Why did you do what you did with that—that boy? How do you love me when you do that?”
“It wasn’t because I didn’t love you. It was a mistake but it didn’t mean anything except through what it destroyed. It was a mistake and I made it and I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t make you—“
Annie fell limp onto the table.
“No! You couldn’t make me what? You couldn’t make me what?!?”
The captain ran to call the bridge.
“Mr. Arnold, follow the crack. Find more bubbles immediately.”
“Sir, I didn’t have the opportunity to inform you during our prior communication but going into the last pocket of bubbles has placed us on the edge of a large precipice. In order to follow the crack any further, we would need to descend—“
The doctor bolted up from his chair.
“Delay that order, Captain!”
“You and I, we need to talk. And you damn well know that I can relieve you of duty. Don’t make me do that, Darius. Now please, delay that order. ”
The Captain swallowed hard, thinking of how many ways he knew to kill another man.
“Very well. Mr. Arnold, hold fast.”
The Captain hung up the line and scolded his jagged coral beard at the doctor.
“What’s the meaning of this?”
“Captain, we cannot go down into that cavern.”
“And why the hell not? This is an exploratory vessel, is it not?”
“Yes, Captain, but there is a line between trail blazing and outright suicide.”
“Suicide? Don’t be fool! Do I look like a man who wants to die?”
“You look like a man with nothing to lose. Nothing to give up. A man who needs answers and is willing to dive headlong into hell to get them. But that’s suicide. It’s suicide to think that out in that pitch; in that empty, that you’ll find any answers. A man’s life isn’t defined by discoveries he makes under stones and in puddles. A man’s life is determined by the understanding that he forces upon himself. You think what can’t be fixed in your heart, can be fixed out in that abyss? It’s a beautiful dream to think that four more minutes with Annie will make her death ok; that four minutes will make you understand what you refuse to accept. But it’s a dream, Darius, and dreams end. Reality is heavy, it feels like its pulling your under. But it’s your burden, and you can’t dream it away. Dreams end, that’s the cruelty of them. Beginnings and endings go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
“But it’s not over. There’s those damn bubbles. That has to mean something.”
“It does mean something. It means you got a second chance to see her face and third chance to touch her again. It was a gift, but you are the captain of this ship. Every life on this ship is your responsibility. If you go running from your grief by chasing bubbles in the nothingness then you’ll kill us all. Maybe not on this dive but on the next or the next. Would you really do that, Ancient Mariner, take us hostage and become the tyrant that you fear becoming?”
“I’m supposed to just let it go? After coming all this way?”
“Yes. That’s the way it works.”
The Captain slammed his fist on the table. He slammed it again. He stood, looking so lost that even time couldn’t find its way through the room in a straight line. Thousands of years may have stumbled through his furrowed brow while only seconds in the ocean passed.
“Mr. Arnold, to hell with my last order. Slowly begin our ascent.”
The Captain hung up and walked over to body of his wife. The Doctor had laid her back down and covered her with the white sheet, leaving her face exposed. The Captain was glad because he didn’t want to think of her lost and drowning in that endless white. He put his hand on her cheek. It was cold and he buckled onto the table, prostrate across her body, weeping into her neck. He wept for a terrible amount of time and the Doctor wept in watching. Then the Captain stood up and straightened his coat. He packed and lit his pipe and puffed away like he was sending smoke signals off into Hades after her.
“You know, Doctor, it’s the only thing that we never prepare for, a mistake that means nothing. We assume they all mean something. That they all have some secret message for us. And we live under that ignorance. We make it a rock that we grab onto in a storm. Before long it’s keeping us in place. And then its a wall when someone finds themselves on the other side of it. It’s big and its heavy and it stops us from seeing other people. We can’t even imagine them anymore. And before we know it we’re sinking to bottom of the ocean with a mountain strapped to our ankle. And the person we love is gone, because I couldn’t understand a goddamn mistake. Where do I put that? Where in my heart do I stow it?”
The Captain looked at the Doctor. The Doctor grimaced but he said nothing.
“Tell me, Doctor, how do you begin to say goodbye?”
“I don’t know. Gradually, like swimming to the surface. A little at a time until you get there. I suppose.”