Volume 15 • Number 1 • Spring-Summer 2023

Nicholas Howard


You are alone and inverted.

Upside down and submerged, plus deep enough that maybe a toe or two on your longer leg is poking above the surface. Certainly a sight for anyone standing at the start of the water slowly making their own way in. Maybe a marker for anyone as to how far they should go out. It does not matter from your viewpoint.

You are in an episode of fleeting equilibrium. Breath held in your cheeks and chest, you paddle around with your hands to hold off the pull to the surface. It is about maintaining your position. The water does not work against your fingers as they find themselves, in their newfound utility and the delight this purpose brings, feeling like flippers. The water does not pay them any mind if one hand quicker in its flicks or the other is more methodical. It welcomes them as a way of keeping you level and vertical.

All the while you look around, searching through the murkiness, achieving a passing clarity. The brown of the ocean floor coming into focus as you get within an inch. The green of small plants filtered but not washed out. Seaweed not staining the water’s color but adding an effect normally stepped through or thought of as muck. You are captivated and recognize you can only get glimpses. More paddling or you’ll be pulled away.

But you have to acknowledge that this space is not natively yours. You are a visitor, and your clock always runs out.

You are careful about what you reach for. Once in water as shallow as six inches, you reached for what you thought was a rock. The crab’s claw on the base of your thumb proved otherwise. You were cautious for the next few weeks that summer. You have let that fear go but admittedly you still get a little spooked if you spot a fish any larger than a guppy fluttering about.

You once tried to dive into a school of guppies as they darted in several directions. You have learned how to be a better guest.

Before you get ahead of yourself, you are not the ocean floor’s sole champion or saver-in-chief. You simply love diving under the water to look around, and it affirms you can summon all your strength to keep you down there longer than most folks care to. It is about unlocking ability that, if you lived in a landlocked portion of your country, you may never have discovered. There is something thrilling about that.

Even if it does not feel like a clock is officially running, you know you cannot do this forever. You would not want to know exactly how long you have been down here. Once you do feel the pull to go back up, you can fight it for a while before having to acknowledge the truth, that some spaces can be entered but never permanently claimed.

Before today’s immersion must end, you scratch the ocean floor with your fingers. It is clay-like to the touch, and you find a rock flat, wide, and circular. It is smooth. Did someone skip it out once and it sunk here, slowly getting buried with each tide? You quickly toss it out of your bubble of vision. Maybe it will be carried toward the shore in the pull of a massive wave gifted from a faraway storm. Today you are given a gentle pull back up. You flip onto your back and see a circle of light. It is the underside of what bounces off the water. As you get closer, you struggle to keep your eyes open. You close them just before resurfacing.

On instinct, you lower your legs to find your footing and take a few quick breaths before returning to your normal rhythm. Once you stand for a few minutes, the roar of chatter coming off the beach slides into white noise.

You feel the pull again.

Nicholas Howard is an English Teacher who aims to say, “could you kindly please” at least twenty-five times a day. His work has appeared in The Citron Review, Wild Roof Journal, The Normal School, and Tupelo Quarterly.

When not reading or writing, he can usually be found cooking mostly from scratch, taking time to watch the light leave the sky, or listening to local radio. A good day involves all three.

He dabbles in the art of Twitter @Nick1845Howard