The ship dips beneath the waves as the Sun dips below the horizon.
At first, the water is nice and cool against your sore, red skin. You’ve spent a lot of time exposed to the elements — especially as the Seven Cs began to take on water. Shelter in the shade. Refreshed layers of sunscreen. Proper, regular hydration. These are the sort of things that take a backseat when a hole opens up in the hull. And so, the gentle lap of the sea soothes the quiet grumble of your frayed nerve endings. A wince flickers across your face — the blisters and peeled flakes settle to a dull throb. Allow yourself to enjoy these small reliefs. You have, after all, survived the sinking of a ship. Others didn’t make it. Consider yourself lucky.
You gasp as you plink into that black brine, and your lower body disappears beneath the waves. It’s cold, but not unpleasant. At least, not yet. Who knows how you’ll feel about it in ten or so hours? Will you shiver with pneumonia? Will your teeth chatter, lips blue? Will your extremities be numb from the cold? But best not to think about it. Positive thoughts, and all that.
You look down into the ink and see nothing. Well, almost nothing. Your hands and arms — pink like uncooked chicken — are visible beneath the ripple of the water. Almost. You squint down at where you know your legs to be, and you think you can see them. Something dark and blurry wags there, at any rate. You pray that it’s your movement you observe. You think about ducking your head below the sea’s polished veneer, then think better of it. You wouldn’t see anything, anyway. At least, not anything you’d want to see. You’ve never known the ocean to be this black.
A glance around reveals endless waters, stretched on into the horizon. Off into infinity, they plunge on forever. Fuzzed-out silhouettes shimmer on the horizon. Could be coastline, could be wishful thinking. Which way to the nearest landmass? Take your pick. Never eat shredded wheat. Fancy a doggy paddle in your chosen direction? It could take you a while. And if you pick wrong, then you could only be swimming further and further away from rescue.
About you float bits and pieces from the wreckage. A splintered piece of wood here, something twisted and plastic there. Random personal items bob, scattered to the winds. A t-shirt. Some underwear. Pages from that novel you planned to read but never got around to. None of it big enough or buoyant enough to support your entire body. You wish for Jack and Rose to sail on by, if only to kick that selfish woman into the brine, to join her love. Whatever happened to You jump, I jump?
A shredded wooden fragment nods on the waves, within arm’s reach. It looks rather sad, now removed from the whole. You grab for it and pull it close. Damn the shrapnel and splinters. You need something to ease the burden. The Seven Cs did have lifejackets. But, by the time you realised you were bound for the seafloor, you didn’t manage to don one. You’ve kept your eyes peeled for that splash of neon orange, told yourself you’ll swim for it if you see it. But no luck. Nothing. Nada. They should have risen to the surface. Unless they became trapped in the submerged cabin. It’s only been five minutes, and already you feel the ache of treading water. How much energy have got inside? You can’t do this forever. But the section you’ve snatched helps. A little.
You look at the amputated fragment. It could be from a door or the deck, from the head or the hull. How intrinsic it all seemed, back when the Seven Cs could call itself ‘seaworthy’. Now it’s all unrecognisable trash. Impossible to differentiate between the bones and the brains. Well, no matter. It helps, and that’s the important thing. You hug it to your chest as if made of diamonds. Keep me safe, you don’t whisper to the piece of wood. Insanity still at arm’s length. Keep me safe.
You watch the Sun stain the firmament into a bloody pink. Streaks of red and orange give way to a navy blue. The colour splash in the smudged partition reminds you of late-night cocktails. Laughter, inebriation, good times, good music. It won’t be long before the stars are out, and the boundary between sea and sky becomes blurred. Can you remember which of the stars and constellations lead the way home? Can you even remember their names?
Behind you, something splashes at the ocean surface. Quick and quiet, as if only a tiny fish. Or part of something bigger, which breached the veneer of the glass. Say, an eye or a snout, a fin or a tail. Small ripples roll past you, slow and lethargic. They have all the time in the world. They are in no rush. Stay for the show, you’ll love the finale. You turn to look, but — ah — there’s nothing there. Would you prefer it if something had been? Some gaped maw, some toothy grin? A dorsal fin to slice through the waves, a disturbance in the brine? You focus your eyes, as best you can, on the depths below. But all you see are blacks and greys, navy blues and shadows. The surface is calm once more, save for the steady to and fro of the ocean’s swells. Nothing to see here, nothing at all.
A biological fact comes back to you. Either from your high school classes or one of those nature documentaries. You think it’s from the latter, the intonations far too wise to come from the mouth of any teacher you had. The words whisper through your mind, uttered by a wise old gentleman. If you’d been anywhere else, that husky rasp might have been some comfort. But not whilst you’re here. Neck deep in the ocean. These words beg the question: of those aboard the Seven Cs, who was the luckiest? You, the survivor of the wreck? Or the others, who died in an instant?
The voice croaks from behind, and you shiver as though the breath chills your nape.
Sharks are more active at dawn.
And at dusk.