The Fiction

Snorkel

From the Summer, 2010, issue 

(No. 24)

Art by Matthew Daley
Matthew Daley

The sand was fuchsia, the water lapping at the beach was lilac, with silver highlights where the rising sun reflected off the gentle waves. Tyson waded waist-deep and announced, “Cool, but refreshing.” He dipped his hand in and sucked on a finger. “And not nearly as salty as at home.” He turned to where his wife of two days stood, twirling her mask by its rubber strap.

“Ready? ”

Behind her, pink sand dunes undulated into the distance, their curves broken only by thatched drink emporiums, souvenir vendors, and the odd tourist. Clumps of tough desert grass dashed down the sandy face of a nearby dune, and took up residence in a spot shaded by a deck chair. Tyson started for the beach to look the plants up in the guidebook, but Lizbet nibbled her lower lip, something that always opened a warm puddle in his heart, and he forgot all else.

“I don’t know if I’ll like this,” Lizbet said.

She put a hand on her hip and rested all her weight on one leg, something that always sent lightning bolts surging through Tyson’s stomach, especially in her new bathing suit, a narrow strip of white that spiraled from her neck to the tops of her legs, strategically covering certain areas while leaving the overall impression she wasn’t wearing anything. “Sure you’ll like it, honey,” he said. “It’s why we chose planet Aquaveeta for our honeymoon. Remember what the Fodor’s guide said: ‘A snorkelling experience unlike any other, where the lilac ocean teems with beauty and adventure.’”

She tapped a foot, drawing his eyes to where her black-polished toenails caught the sun.

“‘Snorkel,’” she said. “It’s such a funny word. Snorkel, snorkel, snorkel.”

“What’s that, sweetie? ”

Something brushed his leg and he fitted his mask on so he could look into the water and see what was there.

“Snorkel? ” said a voice from a clump of red bulbous leaves.

Lizbet shrieked. Tyson looked up and was glad to see her taking quick steps toward the water.

“That’s it, honey. You know you’re a brave girl. Don’t worry, I’ll be right beside you all the time.”

Lizbet ran faster. Behind her, a succulent plant rustled, its thick leaves waving wildly from side to side. Tyson noticed that not only were the leaves moving—the whole plant was. It waddled down the beach after his wife.

She screamed again and ran into the water, ignoring—uncharacteristically—the drops that made her hair wet. Tyson stood a little taller, proud that after only two days of marriage, his wife was already learning to be almost as tough as he was. She leaped into his arms and he held her tenderly against his chest, standing with his legs apart, easily holding her slight weight. He looked, he thought, like a tough guy from one of the old movies that you could still find on the Net, though they were illegal now because of all the violence. What was the name of the one guy, bare chest, bandanna around his head? Sly or Syl something, like the cartoon cat on the kiddie rerun channel. Syl, Tweety—no that couldn’t be right. Oh well, it didn’t matter, not when he had his trembling wife in his arms.

The plant reached the water and stuck a leaf out, as if testing the water temperature.

“Snorkel? ” it said.

Lizbet buried her face in Tyson’s chest, causing him to push his shoulders back even more, which made his chest stick out further. He heard a muffled “Ow,” and figured his manly breast must have pushed too hard on his lady’s nose, but there was no blood trickling down his firm abs, so he figured she was O.K. That was good, because he didn’t want to risk checking on her. His gaze stayed firmly on the plant.

It looked like a plant, a clump of leaves fanning out from a tight cluster at the bottom where the root should have been. It didn’t have a root, though, not that he could see, but it could speak, or at least say one word. Tyson didn’t know any plants that could talk.

“Isn’t this great? ” he said to Lizbet, setting her on her feet.

“No.”

“Hey.” He put a finger under her chin and tipped her face up to his. “We came here to be somewhere different. To have an adventure, right? ”

“The only excitement I wanted,” she muttered, “was having sex for the first time, and what an adventure that’s turned out to be.”

Tyson looked at her, surprised, but the plant, or whatever it was, waded closer.

“Snorkel,” it said.

Tyson held out his mask with the snorkel attached to one strap.

“Snorkel!” the plant repeated, and slapped one of its leaves against the water, sending a purple splash into the air.

“It doesn’t want the mask,” Lizbet said. “It doesn’t have eyes.”

Tyson wanted to point out that the plant didn’t seem to have a mouth either, but he knew that forging a strong marriage required patience, so he slid the snorkel off the mask and handed it over. The plant took it with two leaves and slid the snorkel, mouthpiece down, into the center of its cluster of leaves. Then it ducked into the water.

Tyson and Lizbet looked at each other, then back to where the plant was swimming. Its leaves fanned out on either side, moving together like the oars of a galley, the snorkel stuck up in lone splendor in the middle. The plant moved parallel to the shore, stopping from time to time, perhaps to examine something it had discovered beneath the surface. Since it hadn’t asked for the mask, and presumably didn’t have eyes, Tyson wasn’t sure how it was perceiving the underwater life.

Something brushed his leg again, and he remembered why he’d been putting on his mask in the first place. It must be a very daring creature to brush up against something so big and foreign as his leg. But while he’d be able to see them briefly with just his mask, how was he supposed to breathe without a snorkel?

“How am I supposed to snorkel without my snorkel? ” he asked Lizbet.

Still watching the swimming plant, Lizbet handed him her mask.

“Oh no.” He smiled fondly. “I couldn’t ask such a sacrifice of you, honey, but it’s very sweet of you to offer.”

The fish, or whatever it was, passed by again. It felt long and snaky, but Tyson was a man, and snakes didn’t bother him. Besides, its touch felt almost like a caress as it rubbed against his skin, curving back and forth as if twisting between the hairs. Tyson was a hairy man, thick curls on his chest and wiry dark twists on his legs. He’d read once somewhere that hairy men had higher levels of testosterone.

He heard a sort of whispering and, after finding that it wasn’t his wife cooing sweet nothings into his ear, realized the sound was coming from the sea. It was like the noise made by sandpaper against cherry wood. (Tyson dabbled in the manly art of woodworking, and had even made a spice rack for Lizbet as a wedding present.) He spun around to look. Out on the purple ocean was a smooth ridge of water, taller than all the other waves.

He reached to gather his wife into his arms, knowing how frightened she’d be when she saw it, but she was still watching the snorkelling plant. Meanwhile, the wave, or whatever it was, rapidly swept toward the shore.

The plant had changed direction and was coming back, hopefully to return the snorkel, although Tyson knew he couldn’t think about such things now, not when Lizbet was in danger from the oncoming wave. As it got closer, it showed no sign of rearing up and breaking in the shallower water. It was still a smooth ridge, and the sandpaper noise was louder. Tyson’s heart began to pound, and he was glad his body was responding with the adrenaline that would provide extra strength in case it was needed.

“We read about these in the guidebook, lambie,” he said, pointing to the plant. “Plants here can move.”

“The book didn’t call them plants,” his love angel said through gritted teeth. “I didn’t think they’d look like plants.”

Tyson wrinkled his brow, knowing his high forehead was a sign of intelligence, as he tried to remember what the guidebook said.

“Got it! They were called “flora fauna.” The book said the environment here is harsh, not suited to most life forms, and so the flora fauna evolved the ability to—”

“Great,” Lizbet muttered. “I’m in a place unsuited to my life form.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll protect you. And besides, Fodor’s said the flora fauna are not dangerous.”

He paused to look seaward and saw the wave was nearly upon them.

The plant had nearly returned to where it had started and Lizbet moved nearer to it. Poor innocent thing, she was still unaware of the danger that was almost upon them.

Tyson ran toward her, strong strides, and placed himself so she was between him and the wave, reasoning that if he was in shallower water than she, he’d be better able to pick her up and whisk her away.

The snake-like thing was back and now another rose out of the water and twined around his chest. He could see them clearly now. They weren’t snakes—they had no eyes and no mouth—they were tentacles.

The one slithering across his chest felt almost as good as Lizbet’s fingers. It was a lot stronger, though, and Tyson’s muscles swelled, ready for the challenge. He’d seen a movie once in which a guy wearing a hat had wrestled an alligator. Tyson had hoped to try this himself, until he learned that alligators were extinct. But here, at last, was his chance. Man against beast.

The snorkelling plant rose above the water’s surface. Lizbet reached out and softly stroked one of its leaves. A wave reared up, but not to break. But, it wasn’t a wave at all—it was a huge orange banana-shaped thing. Something brushed Tyson’s leg, lingered to caress his leg hair, and then wrapped around his ankle.

Lizbet held out a hand and the plant returned the snorkel, but she dropped it. Tyson, or rather Fodor’s, had been right. This thing was harmless. It just liked to look at fish. It reminded her a bit of Tyson, in fact. One of the things she had found attractive about him was the joy he took in small things.

Lizbet kept her hand outstretched, and the plant placed one of its thick leaves on her palm. The leaf was covered with thin bristles, but they felt more like fur than thorns. From somewhere beside her, Lizbet heard a watery sound that wasn’t exactly a splash, but wasn’t a kerplunk either. She turned to see her husband disappearing beneath the surface.

He wasn’t wearing his mask, and he didn’t have his snorkel, so it was unlikely he was looking at the fish that had so enthralled the plant. Then something eel-like slithered over her calf, but it jerked away before she could flinch herself. A wave bumped against her, pushing her toward shore. This was the first time a wave had been big enough to move her, and she looked out to sea, only to find her field of vision obscured by an enormous orange banana. The wave had been caused by the creature lifting its body to reveal an underside that was mostly mouth. A big mouth, filled with spiky teeth and small writhing tentacles. Without further thought, Lizbet flung herself at where she’d last seen Tyson.

Her searching hands found him quickly, the warm firmness of his chest, his flailing arms, and a tentacle slithering sensuously over the hair that coated his belly. She grabbed the tentacle and it jerked away from her touch. She held Tyson under his arms, jammed her feet into the sandy bottom, and pulled.

Gasping, both of their heads broke the surface, but Lizbet could see the tentacle once again twining about Tyson’s chest, pinning his arms to his sides. Using his shoulder to keep herself up, she pushed her feet between tentacle and husband. It likes hair, she thought, and made sure that as much as possible of her shaved and waxed skin touched it.

The thing had more than one tentacle, though, for while one pulled away from her, another grabbed Tyson’s leg and dragged him back under. Lizbet stood up just in time to see the banana, its two ends resting in the water, its mouth manoeuvring over Tyson.

Fur and warmth caressed her shoulder, and the plant pushed the snorkel at her. Then, thrusting all its leaves to one side in a massive scoop of water, the plant propelled itself directly into the banana’s mouth. Lizbet screamed. The tentacles rubbed the leaves and apparently found them hairy enough, because the banana’s mouth closed and the creature withdrew its hold on Tyson. It fell back on the water with its full length, sending a curved wall of water over Lizbet, filling her eyes, nose, and mouth. The world became nothing but lilac.

Time had passed, she was sure, when she opened her eyes and found herself carried in Tyson’s arms up the beach. “It’s all right, rabbitkins,” he said soothingly. “You’re all right. I’d never let anything happen to you.”

Lizbet stared at him, wondering if purple water had affected her hearing, then struggled free of him and dashed back into the water. There was no sign now of the banana or the plant. She fell to her knees and covered her face with her hands.

She heard Tyson splashing toward her, but before she could decide whether or not to let him touch her, something warm and furry brushed against her shoulder. She let her hands fall, and saw a single thick red leaf floating beside her. She cradled it in both hands. A spindly rootlet trailed from one end.

A root? she thought, and allowed herself to hope. Surging to her feet she ran through the purple water and over the pink sand to where the plant had stood originally. Tyson arrived beside her as she crouched and feverishly began digging a hole.

“What are you doing? ” he asked, and when she didn’t answer he knelt beside her and helped. Together, they stuck the leaf, tendril-end down, into the hole and patted the sand firmly around it.

They stood and looked at each other. “Thank you,” Lizbet said, “for helping.”

“I will always be there when you need help,” he said, and Lizbet was unable to stop herself from reaching out and hugging him tightly. All adventures won’t be as exciting as this one, she thought, but we will be together. And besides, adventure was simply not knowing what will happen next. Perhaps what would happen when they got back to their room would be just the adventure she’d been looking for.

A group of tourists who’d been staring wide-eyed at them now approached. “That thing wasn’t in the guidebook,” a woman said nervously.

“What’s it going to say? ” Lizbet asked. “Beware of giant bananas? ”

“And,” Tyson added, “the book does promise adventure. You can’t have adventure without challenge.”

As they walked toward their hotel, arms around each other, Lizbet glanced back over her shoulder. Behind the tourists, she saw Tyson’s snorkel bobbing on the water, a little way from shore. She thought about telling him, then shrugged. She’d leave it for the plants, so they could look at fish and the other wonders beneath the lilac surface. Then she faced forward, and walked with her husband into the unknown.

Judy McCrosky, when not circumnavigating the globe, lives in Saskatoon. She runs a creative writing program for Holland America cruise line’s world tour, and is the author of four books, with a fifth due this fall. Last updated summer, 2010.
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