You never checked out of your hotel room. The manager gathered your things into a black bag, left it behind the desk in case you came back. Eventually, the bag got moved into a closet. Five years later, in a clean-out effort, it was rediscovered, dumped in a pile for the charity shop.
You never checked in for your return flight. An empty seat traveled back to your city. The regulars at your local forgot you were going to get that fossil. Sometimes one of them remembers and says, “I know this guy who goes diving in underwater caves. Crazy shit.” Briefly he wonders how much time has passed since then and if you’re in National Geographic yet before forgetting to look you up.
Your brother believes you became a hippy. Dropped out. Joined a cult. Drugs. Brain injury. Amnesia. Kidnapped. Murdered. These ideas cross his mind, but really he thinks you’re still out there drinking too much on some beach.
Before all this, you spotted Cousteau in an island bar. He was the only man there wearing a shirt, the only man drinking wine instead of beer or spirits. You approached him. He looked bored and let the conversation die before it could get going. From then on, whenever someone mentioned him, you said, “Jacques Cousteau is an asshole.”
So you went alone to the blue hole. Parrots keened from the trees as you zipped your wetsuit, laid out your gear on the jungle floor. This dive would make you. A museum-quality skeleton would pay back your brother. Biographers would forgive everything. Once ready, you took a moment to steady yourself. The air buzzed with the rattle of cicadas. You mouthed your regulator, leaned back, fell tank-first into the water.
You plunged through streams of red bacteria and sank four-hundred feet to a place too low in oxygen for fish. You swam through a channel, gently probing the silt for bones. Passages led to rooms of stalactites until a narrow vein suddenly opened up into a large chamber. You swam up cliffs where once birds flew, found an owl’s roost with mummified pellets. Time didn’t move here, but your watch said turn back.
Retracing your route, the tunnel you came through wasn’t where it should have been. Then it was there, but it turned wrong, or maybe it didn’t. You swam faster, fins churning up silt that blacked out your flashlight’s beam. Hands groped the ceiling for an exit while bubbles from your regulator sank. In the dark, up and down lost all meaning.
Your skeleton still wears that 1970s orange wetsuit with diving mask wrapped around the skull. Other divers have come across your body over the years. The authorities are aware of it, but there’s nothing that can be done. It’s too risky to dislodge the remains. They don’t know who you are.
Marcella O’Connor is currently writing a dissertation on Elizabeth Bowen at University College Cork. Her stories have appeared in Ambit, Cyphers and Crannóg as well as on Litro Online. In 2014, she won the WOW! Award for fiction.