A Story About Marriage in Heaven

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Once upon a time, the whole world was covered in water. No islands poked their palm-tree fingers into the sky; no boats bobbed on the ocean swells. Just water. Only the birds lived in the air, but even they dove into the depths to catch dinner and then rested on the surface of the water. Where they were occasionally eaten by sharks.

Even all the people lived in the water. Great cities rose from the coral shoals. Highways ran the length of strong currents. The people lived in the water their whole lives, protected by scuba gear and neoprene suits and goggles that fogged up no matter how many times they spit on them.

One day, a baby boy was born to a couple who lived in the suburbs west of the Neptune Trench. They named him Kai. As soon as he was born, the doctor stuck a regulator in his mouth, and the nurse fitted him with a little wet suit. His dad cut his umbilical cord and, instead, fastened a strong lanyard that ran from a harness around Kai's little body to this dad's belt.

Kai grew, as most boys do. With every growth spurt, his parents good-naturedly complained about the expense of a new suit. As his strength developed, they gave him larger and larger air tanks. When school started, his mom unlatched his lanyard from her own belt and attached it to his teacher. When he was twelve or so, she let him hook onto a few friends and swim around their neighborhood. His dad taught him how to fix a broken regulator, and his mom scolded him every time he lost a pair of goggles (which was frequently). Finally, when he was eighteen, he unlatched from his parents permanently and went on his way.

He quickly discovered why his parents had been so diligent about keeping him securely fastened. While swimming around a blue hole, he nearly passed out from the gasses. And, more than once, he barely escaped the clutches of a giant squid.

Eventually, he found a bunch of friends, and they all latched onto each other. It was much easier living this way. Someone else was always there to check Kai's tank's air levels or help him repair a hose. Together, they free-dived into 200-foot deep water and finally caught that squid. Kai even set the record for longest time without a regulator, although he saw spots for a couple hours after.

His group of friends were always changing, depending on where they were and what they were doing. At day's end, Kai would unlatch from the group and swim home to his one-bedroom apartment in the dodgy end of Coral Reef. One night, he'd forgotten to ask a friend to check his tank levels. Fortunately, a fierce headache woke him before he could suffocate. After that night, he always kept a spare tank near at hand.

About a week after the St. Elmo's Day Parade and Sushi-Feed, Brook brought her cousin to the weekly spear-fishing group. Her name was Nixie. Kai got to talking with her, and the more time they spent together, the more he realized this was someone he could spend the rest of his life with. Finally, after a simple ceremony followed by a seafood buffet, they latched their lanyards to each other's belts permanently.

His single friends joked that Kai was now forever hooked to "the ol' storm anchor," but he loved it. Nixie was always there to remind him to fill his tanks. And he was in awe of how deep she could dive to look for pearls. She appreciated his ability to fix a broken regulator in the span of one breath and more than a little impressed that it had been he who took down the giant squid.

One particularly calm day, Nixie gave him a little smile and a littler nod and lazily swam to the surface. Kai followed, wondering what she was up to this time. To his surprise, she breached the surface of the water and bobbed up and down with her head in the air. He took a deep breath and followed her.

The sun was so bright. The nearly ever-present clouds had disappeared to reveal a field of blue wider than the sea itself. Kai squinted at the light—and at the tiny figures circling overhead.

"What do you think?"

Kai heard the voice, but almost couldn't make out the words. They were so clear, not muddled by water or current. He looked over and almost choked when he saw Nixie smiling, her goggles above her head and her regulator floating beside her.

His eyes grew wide.

"Go ahead," she said. "It's alright. My parents used to bring me here all the time."

Kai trusted his breath more than his sight, so he cautiously took out his regulator.

Nixie laughed. "You can breathe, silly. It's just air."

He took in a breath. It felt lighter, richer than the air from his tank. Spots grew in his eyes.

"Not so fast," Nixie said, taking hold of his shoulder. "You'll hyperventilate."

He forced himself to slow down, then reached up and took off his goggles. The light stung. The air was cold on his eyeballs. But everything was so clear—the ripples on the water, Nixie's pale skin...he felt like he'd never really seen before.

"What is this?" he croaked.

"It's just the surface," Nixie said, gazing around. "I always imagined this is what heaven would be like."

"Heaven? But heaven's supposed to be paradise. How can you swim in this?" He waved his hand through the air. "It's too light."

"I don't know."

Kai looked down at the lanyard that connected him. "And, they say we won't be latched in heaven. I'll lose you."

She smiled quietly. "I don't know. But I think it'll be all right. It'll be a kind of place where we won't have to be latched."

Kai didn't say anything. From what the teachers had said, Nixie was right. But it didn't feel right. What would he do without her? Who would look after her?

She laughed. A spray of water flew into his eyes. "Your goggles, silly," she said, handing him the offending equipment that had floated away. "You're always losing your goggles."

"That's why I have you," he said. "To always see things clearly when I'm fogged up."

She kissed him, then replaced her own goggles and regulator, and swam back to the depths. He followed, very much unsettled.

One day, the seas dried up. Not all the seas; just enough that great islands of land stuck out into the sky. Strange green things, like sharp sea kelp, sprang from the ground. Giant posts with soft coral-like tops scattered about.

Kai and Nixie swam to the shallows, then slowly stood on the sand. As always, Nixie was the first to explore. She tossed her goggles and gear into the growing pile on the beach. To Kai's amazement, she casually unlatched her belt, letting it and the lanyard fall to the ground, then peeled off her wetsuit, to reveal light, flimsy clothes that danced in the breeze like kelp in the wake of a school. She shot back a big grin, then sprinted to a patch of green, dotted with multi-colored blooms.

"Come on," she called back. She knelt and wiped her hand over the green. "It's so soft!"

Nixie went all blurry. Kai reached around for something to push against, but met only air. His breath was harsh in his ears as every inhale and exhale rattled through the regulator. Just a rasp; no bubbles. He couldn't get air. Instinctively, he spit out the regulator and took a deep breath. The air was rich and soft. No hit of metallic aftertaste. He put his hands to his face; he could barely see his fingers.

"Idiot," he said to himself. "Your goggles are fogged." He took them off to clean them, but forgot to put them back on.

Everything was clear again, like that day he and Nixie had breached the surface. But instead of blue sky, yellow sun, and blue-grey water, a million colors he'd never imagined filled his vision. The stuff on the ground was greener than Nixie's eyes. The brown on the posts was rugged like mineral deposits near a vent, but the coral-like stuff above seemed to sway in the air currents.

Kai shrugged out of his scuba gear and tossed it with the others. A boy splashed out of the water next to him, shedding gear and clothing as he ran up the beach. He didn't stop until he'd reached an outcropping of rocks and had climbed up. He put a hand over his eyes and scanned the area, his eyes and mouth wide. What did he see up there? Kai unzipped his wetsuit, but jerked as the zipper caught on his belt.

He looked down. The lanyard was still attached to Nixie's belt. He remembered the familiar weight of her as the ocean currents tried to pull them apart. He recalled the one time when she had dived too deeply, and a whirlpool almost dragged her away. The line had held, then. But now it lay lifeless on the ground.

A laugh called out from the field. Kai looked up to see Nixie kneeling, pulling up bundles of color, a great smile on her pale face. He realized she was right. This was a place that had no need of lanyards. But it had no need of air tanks, either. Or regulators or hoses. Because they were surrounded by air. He needn't track the thermal vents—the sun shone warmly on the whole land. And he had a feeling he didn't need the knife strapped to his ankle, either. There were no bandits or pirates among the smiling faces drawing out of the water and transforming into land creatures.

Kai dropped his belt to the ground and shucked off the wetsuit. He thought he'd heard someone call the big coral-topped post a "tree." It looked like a perfect spot for a nap. He could always find Nixie later. All he had to do was listen for her laugh.

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Published 5-20-11