ANOTHER KIND OF BREATH
Sarah had heard stories about the lake. It was hard to find, and it was reputed to be extremely deep and dangerous, with powerful currents. But she wanted to find it anyway, whatever happened: “full fathom five thy father lies”, and all that. Or perhaps she would throw something that she valued in the lake, and an arm would come up and catch it and bear it away.
The lake was supposed to be in the middle of the forest, and so she decided to be systematic in her search. Every day she followed a different path. Finally, she came across a clearing so large that it looked like parkland, and in the middle was the lake. The water was blue, with little waves round the edge. This was odd, as there was no wind that day. It smelled slightly peaty. Sarah felt as though someone was watching her, or perhaps she was expected. In any case, she had long wanted to find this casket of darkness and open it. And here it was.
She undressed and waded in. Toes, feet, knees, right up to her chin. She was soon out of her depth, and swam towards the centre of the lake. She dived down, and saw the sea-grass waving in the sand, saw the little fishes about their business. Suddenly she felt that the current was too strong for her, and she was borne away by it. The odd thing was that the current was warmer than the surrounding water, and she felt comfortable as she was forced down and down. But there was no air here.
Summoning all her courage, Sarah breathed in, and the water flooded into her nose and lungs. She panicked for a minute, her whole body struggled and then everything changed. She was living from the water now, and not from the air. She felt lissom and sinuous. This was like flying; but in another element.
She frolicked in the warm current for a long time, plunging and rearing. But she was no longer as she had been, and she wanted to find out how. She swam to the shore, and to her surprise, after the same brief struggle as before, she was able to breath the air again, even though the water had now become her true element. She dressed and went home.
Looking at herself in the big mirror was a shock. Sarah’s skin was covered in silver scales, which glistened in the light. Like metalwork, like a fine suit of armour, it coated her breasts, her face, everything. She held up her hands, and saw that webbing had grown between her fingers. Her feet too: the long toes were now webbed. She would be able to shoot through the water now. But she’d need to avoid the fishermen. She’d be a catch for them. What to do?
In the end, concealment was easy enough. From that time, she always wore gloves, sleeves and long socks, and she rubbed powder over her face to reduce the gleam and the shine. But more was at issue. Sarah did not have to breathe the air of others. Her blood was cold. And, if she felt a little discommoded at social events, she could simply plunge her head in a basin of water in the bathroom, and breathe in what she desired.
Every so often, she went back to the lake. She hoped to meet others like her. Perhaps they would twine and bask in the current, perhaps they too would know the rush of water inside and the new way of seeing. But there was no hurry. They would arrive some time soon. Perhaps.