The regulator was clamped firmly in her soft mouth, her fingers splayed gently across the transparent mask as she slid backward off the bobbing boat into the warm azure waters of the Caribbean.
Easy pulls on the mouthpiece filled her lungs with air from the scuba tank snugged against her back, as she drifted downward. The blue green waters swirled over her head. Thirty feet. Forty feet. The coral rising up to meet her at fifty five feet, confirmed by the dive computer, told her she had reached near bottom.
Masses of multi-colored fish turning as one never ceased to please her senses. Blue Chromis and Smallmouth Grunts, Indigo Hamlets and Creole Wrasse abounded. She smiled, breaking the seal and flooding her mask with salt water. Minor problem. She smiled a lot, so she flooded her mask a lot. With movements that come only with practice, she deftly tilted her head slightly, and while breathing out her nose, lifted the bottom edge of the mask to let the water out.
The pain struck hard and fast and sent her mind reeling toward blackness. As she turned, confused, she saw a rising cloud coming from her arm. Blood. It was then she saw the shadow of the shark overhead, returning. A scream caught in her throat, for no one could hear her.
Jayme Haler sat up with a start, breathing in heavy short gasps, her heart pounding, vivid green eyes wide. She shook her head to clear the recurring dream, struggling with the remnants of sleep that refused to let her go. Pulling on the strength of logic, she assessed that her feet were tangled in the sheets, not seaweed, and sweat, not salt water, drenched her thin pajamas.
Jayme swung her long, trim legs over the side of the king sized bed, and stood, testing the strength of those legs, not sure if they would hold her, shaky as they were. In three short strides, she stood by the window, taking in the snowy landscape before her. Feeling the coolness of the tinted glass reaching out to her, Jayme laid her forehead against the pane, welcoming the chilling shock. It helped to clear her mind even further. She sighed, staring at the icicles reaching down from the eaves sparkling in the moonlight.
It had been a while since Jayme had had The Dream. Funny, she always thought it in capital letters, The Dream. The therapist she saw after the accident said it was her way of feeling guilty. In The Dream, Jayme died from the shark attack, not her husband, Donald. That had been five years ago, five very long, lonely years.
Donald had always wanted to take up scuba diving. Although Jayme loved to swim, she was apprehensive about the sport. She took the required classes with Donald and together, they PADI certified that fall, two years before the accident. Apprehension not withstanding, Jayme grew to love diving as much as Donald did, and together they took many of the advanced training classes, both becoming Master Divers. As a surprise for their 20th wedding anniversary, Jayme took Donald on a dive vacation to the Bahamas. It would be their last. The day before they were to leave, a freak shark attack took Donald from her. The guilt lingered on still.
Staring out at the swirling snow, Jayme knew sleep would be a long time returning, if it came back at all that evening. 3am, she might as well stay up. She slipped her tiny feet into shearling lined moccasins and reached for her soft terrycloth robe. She was half way out the door of her bedroom as she slid her arms into the sleeves of the pale green robe and tied the belt loosely around her slim waist. Pushing her shoulder length auburn hair away from her face, using her fingers as a comb, Jayme padded silently down the carpeted stairs. Although blind in the darkness, she knew every inch of the way and headed for the kitchen.
Her hand paused over the light switch, then left it off. Tonight was a night for shadows, and Jayme felt comfortable in the darkness. She opened the side-by-side refrigerator and spotted the half empty bottle of Chardonnay. One glass of wine with dinner makes a bottle last a long time for one person, she thought laconically, as she poured a juice glass full.
“No!” the word echoed in the stillness. “You’renot being fair to yourself!” This was a familiar argument with herself, one her sister had started. Jayme set the glass down on the creamy beige ceramic countertop and walked into the entertainment room to the wet bar Donald had been so proud of.
This time, she flick on the light without hesitation. Crystal goblets of varying sizes sparkled under the lights. She selected a long stemmed one, suitable for white wine, turned the light off and with long graceful strides, went back to the kitchen.
The Chardonnay splashed and swirled around the goblet edges as she poured the wine from the juice glass into the crystal. Taking a long sip, Jayme let the wine linger before swallowing. Her mind replayed the familiar scene.
“You’ve got such beautiful things, Jayme. Use them!” her younger sister, Pam had scolded her one day. &You’re drinking vintage wine out of a Flintstone juice glass! And at cousin Michele’s wedding last fall I saw you wearing that old corduroy coat instead of one of your furs! You’re not being fair to yourself. You deserve to use all the fine things you and Donald acquired over the years. He’s dead, not you!”
The words had been bitter, had cut at her like shards of the crystal she refused to use, but Pam was right. Jayme wasn’t being fair to herself. She was only forty years old and acting like she was ninety. Donald had been gone two years and his clothes were still in his closet. That was when she decided it was time. Past time.
“You’re absolutely right, Pam, Jayme mumbles, her voice had quivered with unshed tears. “Will you help me? There is something that needs doing and I don’t want to face it alone.”
“Of course,” and Pam wrapped her arms around her older sister and let her cry.
Three hours later, they were still packing Donald’s clothes into boxes and bags for the Salvation Army. Emptying his dresser drawers was harder, but Jayme insisted on doing it herself. By the end of the day, the only thing left to go through was Donald’s jewelry box.
Jayme sighed. “This really has been good therapy. Going through his things, I mean. I feel as if I’ve put a lot to rest.” Pam glanced at the small box in her sister’s shaking hands. “But this is one thing I’m leaving alone. I think Alan should have the chance to bury some memories, too. I’m sure he’ll want this, but maybe not just yet. He’s still hurting, even if it doesn’t show.”
“When will he be home?”
“ I don’t know. He doesn’t know. That’s the army for you.”
“You’ve got a great kid there, you know. It’s hard to believe he’s twenty years old already, and you certainly don’t look old enough to be his mother. Do you think our youthful looks are in our genes, or is it because we’re so gorgeous that we look younger than we are?” Pam was now laying back on the king sized bed in a mock movie-queen posture.
Leave it to Lorna to change the subject so smoothly. Jayme picked up a pillow and threw it at her. “It’s in the genes of course. Mom doesn’t look her age either. But staying physically active doesn’t hurt. All those years of dance…”
… and Karate… “
“and tennis!” Pam finished. This was an all too familiar banter between them. People who didn’t know them had a hard time believing these sisters weren’t thirty year old twins. Pam was thirty nine and Jayme was forty. Both had deep jade green eyes, edged with thick dark lashes; lush auburn hair fell in heavy waves; and a creamy smooth complexion that accented finely chiseled features and high cheekbones. A perfect blend of their mother’s Polish heritage and their father’s Irish.
“How could I forget about your karate?” exclaimed Pam. “Whatever made you take that up? Weren’t you a bit ‘old’ to be starting that kind of activity?”
“In a way thirty-seven was old, most start a lot younger, but all the years of dance kept me agile and in good muscle tone and that was a key to keep from getting hurt!” Jayme laughed. “The karate was a physical and mental discipline that I wasn’t getting from aerobics. Dance was good physical discipline, but I could pirouette or cha-cha out of a touchy situation. Some of those remote places Donald wanted to dive made me nervous. Karate taught me valuable self-defense. Even though I’ve never had to use what I know, I’ve never been afraid to go anywhere since I got my first belt, and now that I’m alone….” .. she let the thought hang, unfinished.
“You’ve been taking karate for three years and you don’t have a black belt yet?” demanded her little sister.
“I don’t want it. At least not yet,” Jayme hesitated. “I don’t like the competition you have to be involved with. Staying at a red belt keeps me out of areas I don’t want to be in. Master Kuan said I have the training, the talent and the ability of a black belt, just not the testing. As long as I don’t enter tournaments as a red belt, which would give me a tremendous unfair advantage, no one objects.” Karate had actually been Jayme’s idea, and the only activity she had kept up since Donald’s death.
Jayme’s recovery from mourning began that afternoon.
Yes, indeed, Jayme thought, this is a night for shadows and memories. Taking another sip of wine, she realized she had finish the glass. Pouring another, she wandered from room to room, pacing, overwhelmed by a new, deep ache. Maybe, she thought, she was trying to assure herself that her life wasn’t as empty as it felt.
Her and Donald had remodeled the old house room by room until they had it just the way they would have built a new one. Built in 1906, structurally it was sound. They tore down walls, replaced windows, added much needed insulation, and updated the wiring and plumbing. They did most of the work themselves, Alan helping the older he got. All the renovations brought them closer together, and made for a very happy family.
Jayme paused in the kitchen with its adjacent dining room. She smiled. How Donald had fought her on that room! But Jayme won out, as she always did. Once it was all finished, Donald really liked the tropical murals on the walls, with a running water fountain in the corner, surrounded by lush plants. By the side of the fountain, a hammock chair hung motionless from the functional four-by-six oak beams that graced the extra high ceiling. In the center of the room was a modern glass topped Rattan table with ivy covered cushioned chairs. She had looked everywhere for the perfect set, and when she had located it, wouldn’t budge until Donald agreed to buy it. It matched the room décor perfectly. Now that it was n place, nothing else would have fit so well. Jayme had a sixth sense about colors and decorating, and once he realized that, Donald stopped disagreeing with her.
Jayme opened the door to the basement. The room always seemed to draw her when she slipped into a melancholy mood. She flipped the light switch to on. The many faceted globe sent prisms of light dancing off the walls, adding a gaiety not felt. The carpeted stairs muffled Jayme’s footsteps as she descended.
The basement had been finished as an exercise room for both of them. Mirrors covered half the wall space while gym mats, laid end to end, created a cushioned floor for Jayme’s karate workouts. A ballet bar, used for more intensive stretching, extended several feet on the wall opposite the mirrors.
A rowing machine, bench press and stationery bike occupied a large corner for Donald. The floor padding silenced her approach as Jayme headed for that long ago abandoned corner. She trailed her sensitive fingers along the chrome bars of the bike, feeling the cool hardness, noticing the wear of the grips. She slid her hand down the padded seat of the bench press, remembering the many times she would spot Donald’s lifting, and he would for her. Jayme felt Donald’s presence every time she looked in that direction. Someday, she thought, I must get rid of this equipment. Someday. But not today. Leaving the memories behind, Jayme climbed the stairs and closed the door behind her.
The last room Jayme came to was the spa. This was her favorite. It always had been. Donald had put it in to please her, and she had definitely been please. Jayme spent more time than Donald had, letting the hot bubbly water soothe her aching muscles. She surveyed the room now, with it’s creamy cedar walls and lush, green plants gracing every available niche.
Setting her wine glass well out of the way, Jayme tipped the hard cover up and off the spa tub in a fluid move. With a push of a button, the underwater lights shone blue through now pulsing water. Steam began to snake off the surface, calling to her, begging her to join. Jayme slipped her robe off and dropped it onto a nearby rattan stool. Her pajamas soon joined it.
Jayme slid her lithe, now naked body into the hot water and felt the liquid heat cover her ribs, full breasts, shoulders. She moaned, closing her eyes, and rested her head on the edge. The memories over took her once again. This time she let the memories come, not fighting them or the pain, or the tears. She let them all come and take her back five years.