by Christina Kapp
When Diana's return was nearly silent and without Allen, I withheld my welcome until I had heard the kiss of our refrigerator welcome her with a Diet Coke and the soft sighs of her shoeless feet coming into the living room. As she headed for the couch, her left hand fumbled with a pack of Marlboro lights and I saw the flash of the ring. She was engaged. Things couldn't be all bad.
"I want to hear every detail," I said, jumping over the arm of the couch and landing heavily on our ancient red velvet couch. I snuggled into a pile of pillows we had purchased to disguise the hideousness of our only joint piece
of furniture and helped myself to a cigarette from her pack. Diana lit both hers and mine. Then she frowned, as if contemplating whether it might be better to go to bed and deal with me later. I reached out and took her hand,
pulling it toward me to get a closer look at the ring.
"Oh my God it's gorgeous," I gushed, as appropriate.
Of course, I had already seen it. Allen had shown it to me before they left. To be honest, I found the diamond's assertiveness a touch shocking, both then and now. It had seemed much more opinionated than Allen, and was not
the object of affection I expected from his rather well camouflaged personality. However, Diana would love it. I suspected she had chosen it herself.
"Thanks," she said, withdrawing her hand from mine. "I think it's perfect."
"I can't believe you're getting married!" I exclaimed, falling forward across the couch to hug her. Her body stiffened against mine as she held her hand out to protect her cigarette.
"I know," she replied, looking at the ring. She took it off and, holding it between her index finger and thumb, smiled at it, but she seemed exhausted and her expression was weak, like a new mother examining her infant after a long, arduous labor.
"You must be tired from the flight. Just tell me how it happened and then I'll let you get some sleep."
"Yeah," she said, and put the ring back on her finger. "Well, Hawaii is gorgeous. Just like you would expect. And the trip was great. We took a helicopter ride all around the island, watched the sunrise from the top of a
volcano, and we went scuba diving, of course. Allen had set it up so we would be going on dives nearly every day. You know how he is; he loves being submerged."
Diana took a long drag from her cigarette. Smoke floated upward in soft gray currents around her head. I said nothing and waited, noticing that she was avoiding my eye. She was probably preparing to tell me when she was moving out. She would move into his place, of course. He had a doorman and a sunken living room. We had roaches and a view of the New Day Korean Market.
"Anyway, one of the dives was at night."
"In the dark?"
"Well, how was it?"
"It was strange. It's one of those things you don't want to remember but can't stop thinking about. We went out with a group at sunset. It was a gorgeous sunset, like nothing I have ever seen. There wasn't a cloud on the
horizon, so you could see the sun slipping like a giant drop of light rolling down a glass sky. The color was incrediblea flat gradation of pinks and blues that melted together and reflected off the ocean. The whole ride
to the dive site was so peaceful. I just stood at the railing and watched the sun slip away. Allen was tinkering with the equipment at the back of the boat and missed the whole thing. By the time he came to find me it was
almost completely dark."
"Too bad he missed it. Sounds very romantic. How did the dive go?" I asked as I ripped loose threads out of the couch cushions. Her ring winked at me and my eyes were drawn to it in spite of myself.
"As soon as we anchored, we suited up and the dive instructor sent us down in pairs. Allen and I dove together, and once we got underwater, away from the light above, it was unbelievably dark. The surface disappeared, and we drifted like heavy bubbles, sinking slowly downward into the dark. I held Allen's hand nearly the whole time because I felt blinded by the water. Then he shook loose and pointed at something, I guess somewhere we were supposed to go, but I couldn't see anything. I followed, afraid to take my eyes off him for a second.
"We swam to this little coral shelf and Allen has this light he starts shining around, which picks up little particles in the water that glimmer like flecks in granite. Once we were at the shelf and the light was shining on it I felt better, and I eased up on Allen and started enjoying myself. When I looked over at him, he flipped a little dive slate up into the light. On it he had written, 'Watch for eel.'
"As if on cue, the coral in front of us started to move. It wasn't an eel though, it was a squid, and it swam around us, popping in and out of the light. Allen got around in front of it and it squirted ink at me, which bled black in the water, covering my face and tangling itself in my fingers and hair. Just then, as I floated in the black cloud of ink, I remember thinkingI was trying to figure out if squid ink was good luck or bad, because I knew it was one or the other, but I couldn't remember which."
Diana paused. She took a long drag off the short stump of her cigarette and put it out. As she did, she rolled the stone of the ring around her finger with her thumb and glanced at it the way a schoolchild would check an
elusive answer on the back of a flashcard. Then she chugged the rest of her Diet Coke and lit another cigarette before continuing her story.
"Anyway, the squid disappeared and we drifted sideways along the length of the shelf. Then, as I was watching the coral in the light, I felt something. Something touched my ankle. I don't know what it was, a squid or an eel
probably, but it wrapped around my leg, stroking my skin, and it felt so human that it shocked me. I grabbed Allen's arm. His skin was so cold and clammy compared to whatever had touched me that the warm caress of the thing became even more vivid in my mind. That's when I freaked. I let go of Allen and flipped around to look for whatever it was, but all I could see was the darkness everywhere. I held my arms tight against me and braced for it to touch me again, but nothing happened. That was almost worse. I mean, it was over so quickly that I started to think maybe it hadn't happened at all. I turned to Allen and he had this look in his eyesa look like he was
completely baffled by me. I pointed behind me into the darkness, but there was nothing. He held up his hands and pointed back at the coral in the light. Then he turned and started moving further along. As I watched him
drift away, I think I wanted to follow, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was blind and exposed down there. I had to get back to the surface. I think I was shaking. In any case, I rose as fast as I could.
"I didn't feel Allen grabbing at me until I was almost at the surface, and then it was as if his hands were made of water. I could see the lights of the boat shimmering on the watery ceiling above and I kicked away from him
and kept going. When I hit the air, I opened my mouth, the regulator fell out, and I gasped, feeling like I had been holding my breath the entire time. Then Allen popped up next to me.
"'Come back down,' he said.
"He didn't ask what happened, or how I was. He just said, 'Come back down.' I said no. He said please. I started to swim back to the boat, and he grabbed my arm. When I turned to pull it away, he was holding up the little
dive slate and it said, 'Marry me.'"
Diana stopped talking and smoked her cigarette. I watched her. I watched her thinking about Allen and marriage and the ring and all the celebratory details that must have been swirling through her mind, and felt oddly
unqualified to inquire any further. She had said yes, and she had a ring. She would no longer have to live with on overly inquisitive roommate, a Salvation Army couch, or a view of the New Day Korean Market. This was, of
course, what we both wanted.
"Congratulations," I said.
"Thanks," she replied.
I didn't take it personally.