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Vol. 6, No. 1

Aristotle's Lantern
by Kim Edwards

     Phil gave the signal, his arm a swift blur in the heat-shimmering air. Pragna, her head tilted to catch the sun, dark glasses hiding her expression, lowered her book to her belly; at seven months pregnant, she couldn’t dive.
     “Go!” Phil called as his arm fell, and in the next instant Jonathan was over the edge, disappearing into that sea, so blue, so green, the water a liquid gem closing over him. Then, Gunnar, lean and tan, plunged into the sea and disappeared. I sat on the edge of the boat, adjusting my mask. “Go, go!” Phil called, and I pushed off, sliding after Gunnar into that other world.
     It was so quiet. Falling, I noticed this first. Light fell in shafts and then diffused, the water turning dimmer and more opaque and suddenly cooler. A school of tiny silver fish scattered before us like sparks. Below, Jonathan’s limbs were luminous against the ocean floor. I felt the water shift as Phil dove in, and turned to see him silhouetted against the clear, wavering ceiling of the ocean, a wide stream of bubbles in his wake.
     It was the fifth dive of the week. For me, the last. Tomorrow I would leave these islands, this resort built so unobtrusively amid the white beaches and jungled mountains. Jonathan’s research on current-wave dynamics often took him to remote places. He always went, eagerly—it was the bane of his existence that he taught oceanography in Minnesota, a thousand miles from any ocean. He had discovered this resort while wandering around archipelagos of the South China Sea on a grant. One morning I’d answered the phone in Minneapolis, heard static sweeping through the line like snow. Then Jonathan’s voice came, fading, clear, echoing itself.
     “Anna? Can you hear me?”
     “Kind of,” I said, sitting up.
     It was eleven o’clock in the morning and I’d been sleeping, a Minnesota winter sleep, the kind of sleep you sink into for a few weeks after a patient throws up on you and ten minutes later a doctor tells you off for a mistake that was his own, after you go downstairs and hear the receptionist arguing with a woman who’s maybe forty-five, maybe fifty, a woman who is clearly in great pain, and the receptionist is telling her that she can’t see a doctor if she can’t pay, but there’s an emergency room in a hospital across town that still takes the uninsured. I’m too sick to drive the woman says and she looks it. Pale, she’s leaning on the counter for support, like she might fall. She is well dressed, in a dark-red skirt and matching sweater, though her hair isn’t combed. Her hands are shaking, and she’s having a hard time catching her breath. Please, she says, and the receptionist looks grim and troubled; it’s not her fault that there’s nothing she can do, and you stand there in the doorway and hear yourself saying look, don’t worry, I’ll drive you there. Anna? the receptionist says, and the doctor, who moments ago was screaming that you were a bloody fucking idiot, totally inept because you didn’t notice the medication error he’d written on the chart, comes in and says, Anna? I need you upstairs right now. And everything slows down as you cross the room instead and take the woman’s elbow. She is puzzled but in too much pain to protest. There is a moment when your eyes connect, you see the fear in hers and you know it could be you standing there, your throat closing up, fear and pain making you light-headed, and that’s when you decide. You take her across the narrow swell of the Mississippi River to St. Paul and get her admitted to that hospital and then you don’t return to your job as a physician’s assistant. You go back home and fall asleep, waking at strange hours to eat cold cereal or watch TV, wondering what the next thing in your life will be.
     Jonathan, a world away, didn’t know any of that, of course.
     “How are you, Anna?” he asked. “You sound tired.”
     “It’s a long story,” I said, walking to the window. My breath clouded the frozen glass. Beyond, the suburban world was flat and white. Cars crawled along I-35W like bright-shelled bugs. Even here, in this clean midwestern city, traffic had multiplied; in the summertime, ozone alerts forced the very old and very young to stay inside. I’d treated them, the elderly gasping for breath, their heads arcing back to meet the plastic mask; the infants, limp and wheezing in my arms. That morning the cars were stalled, heat shimmering from their hoods into the snowy sky. I imagined the hospital, its regulated air and gleaming white walls and swarms of business managers in their cubicles, calculating and adjusting and maximizing the potential of every human resource. “What’s new with you?” I asked.
     “Look, cash in your vacation time, all right? Anna, I can’t explain any of it long distance, but please. Say you’ll come.”
     I didn’t answer right away. We’d been together for five years and had reached some sort of intersection: whether an ending or a turning we could not yet tell. But I heard something different, imperative and inexplicable, in Jonathan’s voice.
     “Anna?” My name traveled through dark space, echoed from satellites. Anna, na, na, like a song. “Are you still there? I’m having trouble hearing you.”
     “I’m here,” I said, and there was a pause as my words traveled back over the curve of the globe, over oceans.
     “Just come,” he said. “I’ve sent you a ticket.”
     “I’ll think about it,” I promised. But I already had—long beaches, deep seas, sun all over my skin. The minute I hung up, I started packing.
     Jonathan met me in Singapore and then we traveled for two days more, by incrementally smaller planes and boats, until we reached this remote chain of islands. They emerged slowly from the horizon as we approached: the white lines of beach, the tree-dense hills. The low buildings were teak and thatch in the style of old sultans’ palaces, their tile roofs the same dark red as the earth. Chalets, barely visible, were situated only yards from the sea. The resort was elegant, yet also an ecologist’s dream: the toilets were self-composting in bathrooms of Italian glass tile, and the electricity came from windmills on the hillside and solar panels on the roofs. The airy rooms had high ceilings; windows and doors opened onto shady verandahs. We slept to the sound of waves and waded each morning into water as clear as air.
     That sea: limpid around our ankles in the shallows, dense blue now as we dove. Gunnar, my diving partner, kicked his way down to a giant clam nestled in between two boulders. Gunnar was elusive, I’d noticed, prone to floating off in his own direction. Freedom first, he’d said one night over beers, after a dive, and Pragna had looked up, her eyes narrowing. Her dark hair was swept back in a clasp and long silver earrings brushed against her neck. She spoke intensely, her eyes flashing. Yes, but what frees a community must necessarily restrict the individual, she said. Gunnar waved his hand, dismissive. We will raise this child to be absolutely free, he insisted, and Pragna flushed, clearly angered by this old argument between them.
     Now, in the ocean winds, Jonathan and Phil drifted lower, examining anchor damage at the base of the reef, setting up the instruments that would measure tidal shifts and currents. I had done dozens of dives with Jonathan, in the weedy bottoms of the Minnesota lakes, to wrecks off the Florida coast, and in sinkholes in the Virgin Islands. I was struck, each time, by how happy he seemed in this world, isolated and self-contained, while I was always longing to erase the distance—to hear his voice, feel his touch. I ran my hand across the bottle brush coral. The fronds, waving red and yellow and purple like exotic flowers, pulled inside and disappeared, leaving only a stony, pitted brain. A manta ray flashed, scattering a school of butterfly fish, silver and striped with dark gold, each moving like the pulse of a wing. Chains of clear eggs drifted near my face. The rush of air, and some faint, distant clicking, as if the coral were speaking, or the stones. I hung suspended for a moment in that blue silence, watching the others, isolated and yet bound to them, the water around us a living thing, embracing and sustaining.
     I touched Gunnar’s shoulder and gestured beyond the coral to the field of sea urchins, their black spines waving like dark wheat in the currents. He smiled and waved me off.
     I swam low over the field, spines just inches from my skin. All week I had been fascinated by these sea urchins. Each was the size of a baseball and had a dozen spots, blue and orange set in white, like bulbous eyes. Clustered on the ocean floor, they seemed to watch me with an infinite and wary gaze. I was searching for a skeleton. The inner shell of a sea urchin is a hollow globe, scored in five curved sections that taper at the ends into a small hole at the top and bottom. Echinoderm echinoidea, whose shell is known as Aristotle’s Lantern. In the hushed lobby of the resort there was a sculpture, delicate, made of bronze: an Asian goddess with fifteen graceful hands, the shell of a sea urchin, white and cream and rust, balanced on each open palm. The dark spines of living sea urchins were quite poisonous_I’d seen a fellow tourist with an ankle like a grapefruit, downing Valium and gin to kill the pain. But this was my last day, and it seemed worth the risk: I wanted a souvenir.
     A glimpse of white. Mud bloomed from the ocean floor as I cupped the shell, a fragile sphere, in my hand.
     When I turned back, Jonathan and Phil had moved off into the gloamy distance, but Gunnar was still drifting by the bank of brain coral. A rush of guilt—I’d let him slip completely from my mind. And something was not right: Gunnar’s regulator trailed free. Air rushed in my ears; even from this distance I saw Gunnar’s pink lips, a wildness in his eyes. He waved, and then drew his finger swiftly, definitively, across his throat, the diver’s universal signal of distress.
     I swam to him, and he grabbed my arm with such force that the shell slipped from my hand, tumbling slowly back to the spiny field. The arrow on his oxygen gauge was in the red. His grip hurt. He was all desire, all desperate need, and yet I hesitated for an instant, taking one last, deep breath before I passed my regulator to him.
     Water moved against my naked lips; the taste of salt, the taste of panic. It seeped into me, became a slow welling, as Gunnar breathed and breathed, as my own lungs grew taut. Jonathan and Phil were still dozens of yards away and did not notice what was happening. My lungs began to burn. I touched Gunnar’s arm. He did not respond. I grabbed him harder. He opened his eyes, calmer now, and put one hand on my shoulder. He passed me the regulator, warm in my mouth from his lips.
     Together, then, with many pauses, we kicked our way toward the surface. A deep breath, a passing of the regulator, acts as intimate and essential and full of question as a kiss. I breathed, and then Gunnar did. It was a kind of dance, urgent and calm, full of fluid grace. One creature, with one purpose: the surface of the water far above, that invisible border where the water opened to the sky. It seemed to take forever, but at last we broke through, flinging our heads back, releasing each other. I drank in the air.
     “Anna!” Gunnar shouted, gasping. He ripped off his mask, sunlight in his dark-blond hair. “Anna, you saved my life, you did.”

~

     That night, in the darkness of our chalet, my bags already packed, I lay next to Jonathan. We had eaten grilled fish with the rest of the group and had drunk a lot of beer in celebration and farewell, watching the sunset flare the world pink and gold. The manager had walked down the beach setting coconuts on fire, leaving them to blaze like skulls against the sand. Now it was late, the fires had died, and we were alone with the moonlight and the waves, but even though I was leaving in the morning with nothing settled, what Jonathan was talking about was the dive.
     “I was right behind you,” he said. “I know it must have been terrifying, but it was also beautiful to watch, Anna. You were splendid.”
     I shifted, turning to lie on my side. What went unspoken between us had always seemed like its own sea, full of mysterious shifts and currents. Jonathan’s dark hair brushed my arm. He placed one hand lightly on my hip. I wondered when he was coming home to Minneapolis. When or if.
     “I didn’t want to be splendid,” I told him. “It was awful to be without air. I was afraid every time that he wouldn’t give it back.”
     Jonathan looked at me, his expression so intent, so focused, a sort of intimacy he didn’t often allow. “Still, you did it,” he said. “You didn’t miss a beat.”
     I remembered the shell then, its slow, tumbling fall through the dark-blue water. And I thought of Pragna, how she had stood up in the boat when we broke through the surface, leaning to help Gunnar in, her arms slender and muscled, his hands running down the swell of her belly, his cheek sliding down to rest there. An intimate moment, so passionate, so spontaneous; I’d paused in the water, watching, glad to be alive, yet struck with yearning.
     “I’m a little bit in love with those two,” Jonathan observed, as if he’d read my mind. We often had the same thoughts at the same time, a fact that had comforted me when Jonathan was gone or distant, distracted by his work. That night, though, for reasons I couldn’t name, his comment made me restless and annoyed. I went to the dressing table and sat down.
     “In love?” I asked, turning on a lamp and reaching for a comb. “What are you telling me? Are you in love with Pragna?”
     “No.” Jonathan sounded surprised. “With what they have between them.”
     He came and stood behind me then. He took the comb from my hand. We studied ourselves in the mirror, blond and dark, blue eyes and brown, the perfect twinning of opposites. What they have, I thought. And what we don’t.
     “You’re not coming back,” I said, meeting his gaze in the glass.
     He shook his head, slowly. Then he surprised me again. He leaned down and kissed my neck, just at the point where my hair brushed the skin.
     “You don’t have to go tomorrow,” he said, kneeling beside me, resting his chin on my shoulder. “You don’t have to go at all.”
     “Not go?” I echoed, puzzled.
     “Anna,” he said. “There’s something I want you to see.”
     “A secret?” I asked. The ceiling fan clicked. Jonathan put the comb down. Gently, he massaged the base of my neck, my shoulders.
     “Yes,” he said, his hands moving up then, through my hair. “A secret, yes.”

~

     At dawn, rather than leaving, Jonathan took me out in a small boat, pulling away from the resort into the pale white mergence of the sea and sky. The sun rose, becoming oppressive as we traveled through the chain of islands. At last Jonathan pulled the boat up to a narrow dock. Here the beach, crushed white coral, was sharp against our feet. A few yards into the trees we came to a single bright-yellow car of a funicular railway.
     I looked at Jonathan, who simply smiled. “You’ll see,” he said, fastening the door behind us. “Just wait and see.”
     The car lurched and we climbed high up the face of the cliff, the rock raw and rough behind us, the beach below sliding beneath the clear smooth water. I don’t know what I expected to be shown_a fabulous view, a virgin jungle. But when the car came to a stop I stepped out into a clearing, lush with tropical foliage, coconuts and palms and swaying mango trees. A group of children played with a rattan ball on the grass at the far end, where a wide gate, like those outside Japanese temples, opened onto a village street. We walked on a path of finely crushed shells that caught the light and gleamed. Hundreds of people of every race, every age, were carrying baskets or babies, ringing the bells of their bicycles, hoisting packs with rice or bread on their backs, holding hands, pausing to talk beneath the shady casuarina trees. We passed one simple building after another, made of teak or covered with clapboards painted in pastel blue, yellow, peach or mint green. Hibiscus and bougainvillea flamed by the doorways and the white fences. These buildings housed restaurants, coffee shops, stalls for fruit and vegetables. People sat at tables, drinking tea, cats weaving around their ankles. We passed a community center and a sign for the health clinic. After that the path narrowed and the buildings became small chalets, scattered amid the trees and overlooking the ocean.
     Jonathan was known; people kept stopping him to talk. Don’t go, he’d said, and I’d imagined some kind of nomadic life, just us, some place where we might become slightly different, better, people. I kept glancing at him, his long tanned arms and the familiar line of his jaw, trying to understand who he was. Just beyond the community center we turned down another path. Tropical flowers brushed my arms. There was a fragrance, dense and heavy as the heat.
      “Here,” Jonathan said as we came to a low teak building. He held the door open for me, and I stepped into an astonishing room.
     It was circular, half of it set into the cliff, half cantilevered out over the ocean and framed by high, curving walls of glass, filled with light. Filled, I saw as I drew closer, with a view of the sea. The room was vast, a full three stories high. People lounged on sofas, read newspapers, chatted by a fountain in the center. Gunnar was there, and Pragna too, sitting at a small table, empty cups before them. They smiled and waved. Jonathan and I crossed the room and sat on a sofa by the glass wall. A hundred feet below the waves slammed in, seething into a white spray flung skyward.
     Nets of light, reflected in random and chaotic patterns from the waves, played over people as, one by one, they came to join us.
     “Where are we?” I asked Jonathan.
     I spoke softly, yet my voice filled the room. Everyone laughed. Pragna sat on the sofa opposite.
     “This is the atrium, Anna. We’ll explain.”
     She began to talk, then, and others broke in, telling me the story. Ten years ago this chain of twelve islands had been purchased by a consortium of investors. They planned a development of high-rise hotels, the jungled hills denuded and flattened for airstrips, a restaurant built over the fragile coral reefs we had explored all week. I knew just what this meant and how bad it could be: Jonathan and I had spent a week on the southern coast of Thailand, where the beaches were littered with tourists and trash, where raw sewage poured into the sea and chunks of dead coral, loosened by anchors, washed up on shore. The villagers, fishermen for untold generations, had taken jobs waiting tables, their black shoes slipping against the sand. Nights were neon; young girls, lured from poor villages, flickered on the corners until dawn, and when the sun rose it was reddened by the haze, pollution from logging fires raging in Borneo. It was more hell than paradise, but it was profitable in the short term. The developers here had envisioned the same thing. The plans had been drawn: bulldozers had been lined up on the mainland like orange and yellow insects, set to invade.
     Then Yukiko Santiago intervened.
     Yukiko Santiago. I had never heard of her, but the people in that room spoke of her with something close to reverence. She was daughter of a Japanese samurai family, whose grandfather had supported the imperial army and committed seppuku, whose father had rebuilt the family fortunes in the wake of the Second World War. Yukiko, as a child, had witnessed both the horrific machine of the state and the devastation of war. Half of her mother’s family had died in Hiroshima. She had grown up to marry a wealthy Peruvian businessman, and when he was killed in a plane crash she had taken his considerable wealth, coupled with her own inheritance, and set about philanthropy. Reclusive, generous, she had a simple philosophy: she had seen the worst that human beings might do, and she wanted now to see the best. She had flown in to buy these islands, offering the investors cash settlements greater than the returns they would have seen for twenty years. Then she had turned the development plans inside out: the high-end ecotourist resort where we had stayed would preserve the coral reefs and island jungles, all the while funding her real interest, a global coalition of research stations known collectively as the Sea Earth Institute—SEArth.
     “All right,” I interrupted. “But there’s a village out there. A town. Schools and a community center. Restaurants.”
     “Yes. We are a community.” The woman who spoke was thin and strong, a sarong skirt tied at her waist. Her name was Khemma. A Cambodian, like many here she had been a refugee, a survivor of war or other atrocities. She was now the community librarian. “In the beginning this place was simply for research. The growing happened very gradually. Very organically, as researchers brought their families. There has never been any plan imposed. But once it was clear what was happening, Yukiko Santiago appointed a board to assess and guide the evolution of the community. To provide what came to be needed. To see, in essence, where this other, new, experiment would lead.”
     “Yes,” Gunnar said. He was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped. I remembered his fingers on my shoulder. “It is Aristotle’s idea of entelechy, applied not to biology but to our human community. Entelechy—it is the science of the possible, of unlocking what is otherwise merely potential. As we see it, Anna, the ideal is like a vessel, with which a community may select those possibilities suitable to its own nature. Those which promise to further human development. We do not impose here. We discover.”
     I turned to Jonathan. That sensation I’d had on the path, that this man I’d known was suddenly strange to me, returned. I watched the way he spoke, his fingertips tapping on his bare knee. I couldn’t believe we’d ever stood side by side at a counter, dicing vegetables, or that these same hands had reached for me last night.
     “How long have you been here?” I asked, remembering the long Minnesota nights, his infrequent e-mails from what he said were Internet cafés.
     He nodded, acknowledging his lies. “Ever since I left. Remember that trip, that conference, a year or so ago? I met Pragna there. Phil and Khemma, too. They invited me to visit. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you, Anna. I couldn’t. But from the beginning I wanted you to come. And after yesterday,” he added, “you’re more than welcomed.”
     Everyone smiled. Understanding flashed through me, sudden and harsh.
     “It was a test?” I said, too shocked to be angry right away. “That emergency was engineered?”
     “My air was gone,” Gunnar told me. “But the event was planned, yes.”
     I remembered my guilt at forgetting him. My fear and panic when I saw his air was gone, what it had cost me to trust him. And all the time they had known, they had been watching me.
     When Jonathan touched my arm, I pulled away. I couldn’t speak, but my feelings must have been working on my face.
     “Is Yukiko on the line yet?” Ahmed asked Khemma, softly. “Can you get her? Because she will explain it best,” she added, turning to me. “Of course you are angry, Anna. We would not expect otherwise. We have all been through this, and we have all been angry too.” She flashed a slow smile. “You might even say that getting past the anger is the most real test.”
     And then Yukiko was there, flashing up on a screen against the rock-faced interior wall, a diminutive woman in a pale-blue dress, her dark hair falling loose and streaked with gray.
     “Hello, Anna,” she said, and I was startled to be addressed so warmly and directly. She smiled, and her smile was kind. “You were tested, yes. Perhaps that was not very fair. But since you are in love with a scientist, I hope you will understand. This is not simply a community here, and it is not only about the coral reefs. We are engaged in a greater research, which involves charting currents and wave systems. We wish, ultimately, to harness the latent power of these forces. To find an alternative form of energy. It’s important work, and many here are political refugees, whose lives could be endangered if their whereabouts were known. So we must be careful. We recognize our interconnectedness, and our own fragility. Not everyone suits. And not for everyone would this be a good place.”
     A skeletal light played over the array of faces, and the room filled with the muted crash of waves.
     “You can talk normally,” Pragna said. “She’ll hear you.”
     I was still stunned, but at Pragna’s voice, anger shattered through me like silverfish. She had reached for Gunnar as if he were returning from the dead.
     “Everyone in that boat lied to me,” I said, and then I turned to Jonathan. “Including you. Especially you.”
     “Jonathan was your very strong supporter, Anna,” Yukiko said. “He went through a similar experience on his arrival. He did not wish you to go through it also. Yet we had no choice.”
     “Anna,” Gunnar said. “We were taking a risk, also. We did not want to lose Jonathan.”
     I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to take it all in, what had happened, what was happening.
     “Take some time, Anna,” Yukiko said, and I opened my eyes to see her smiling at me, one hand lifting, as if she might reach through the air and touch me. And I wanted that suddenly, to be a part of this, to please them, and yet—and yet—so much had happened so quickly. “Take your time,” she repeated, and then her image disappeared.
     “Here,” Jonathan said after a few minutes of silence. “In case you think I wasn’t paying any attention.”
     He handed me the shell I’d lost, or one just like it. Aristotle’s Lantern, round, slightly flattened, the surface rough, pierced with tiny holes.
     When he spoke again Jonathan’s voice had an urgency I recognized. This, I knew, was a moment he’d been imagining for weeks.
     “Anna, the word ‘test’ comes from the Latin testa, meaning shell. In the Middle Ages, a test also was a kind of vessel, in which experiments were done. You just heard Gunnar say that the ideal is a kind of vessel, too. He’s right. In some sense, every day here is an experiment. Every day, a test.”
     I turned the shell, so delicate, nearly weightless. I understood that he was offering me, in his oblique way, in the only language he could use, another way of seeing what had happened. And in that moment I saw how the curve of the glass wall swelling over the sea mirrored exactly the shape of the shell in my hand. I held it up on my palm, looking from shell to wall and back again.
     “Yes,” Gunnar said. “Good eye, Anna.”
     “But not good enough,” I answered.
     He looked up, sharply, at the bitter edge in my voice. Then he cleared his throat and went on.
     “As you know, Aristotle classified the animals. He named this shell. You can see how the shape is like a lantern, how the light could flow out of the pattern of tiny holes. These urchins are indigenous, and beautiful, and so we took their name for our community. But Aristotle is important to us for another reason. He was the first to challenge Plato’s ideal state. Plato’s utopia was many good things, but it was also static. Plato did not allow for growth or change or self-transformation, and in some sense this flaw_of fixation_led very naturally to the dystopias we have all seen, and which many of us have experienced and have fled.”
     “Is that another test for admission?” I asked, glancing around the room. “Surviving oppression?”
     Gunnar, unamused, shook his head.
     “It is not. But people with such histories tend to understand our purpose. You see, while Aristotle’s view, too, was flawed, for him the community was alive. He believed it could grow and change, like every living organism. For Aristotle, politics was the science of the possible. That is what we believe. And this belief sustains us.”
     I cupped the shell and remembered Gunnar’s eyes, his finger making that frantic slash across his throat, the bubbles flowering from his lips.
     “I risked my life,” I said, still angry.
     “Yes,” Pragna said. “You risked your life for a man you hardly knew. Precisely.”
     That night, as Jonathan slept, I lay awake and listened to the pounding of the surf. If I stayed, as they had asked me to, I would become the community health-care specialist. There was a doctor who came three times a month whom I would assist, and in her absence I would oversee the clinic. And once a week I’d go to the mainland, to a community there, and work training nurses and midwives, treating patients, giving vaccines.
     I dressed and walked to the park, where I sat on a bench above the vast ocean. The stars were vivid, near, and the darkness was filled with sounds I didn’t recognize: birds and insects and the rustling of unseen animals. I’d never felt so unsettled, so unsure of what to do, the world unmoored, swimming. I wondered how my life would be if I stayed, what I’d gain and what I’d sacrifice forever.
     Footsteps, then, on the crushed shells. Gunnar passed through a small pool of light from the community center. I remembered his voice, his passion, as he talked about this place. I remembered, too, the feeling I’d had on the dive, when we all swam, isolated from each other yet so intimately connected. I was flattered to have been chosen, it was true. And I wanted to explore the possibilities with Jonathan. But as Gunnar disappeared again into the darkness, as I made up my mind to stay, it was yearning, finally, that compelled me. A yearning to know what Gunnar knew, to understand this place at its unmoving center. A yearning, too, for that brief moment of connection, as elusive and beautiful as the changing color of the sea.

~

     The next day I went to work. The village was small_only 867 people_and relatively young, so I was surprised to find the waiting room full, even at that early hour. On my first day I treated three kinds of skin rash and diagnosed two cases of giardia, several minor respiratory infections, a broken finger, one case of pinkeye, one urinary-tract infection, and a pregnancy. I did three well-baby checks and tested the eyesight and hearing of one of the retired scientists. The pharmacy was well stocked, and I was to prescribe within my own comfort levels. I’d never had such autonomy, such a feeling of accomplishment. And I liked the doctor, a no-nonsense Vietnamese woman who had trained in Poland, who invited me over for sushi and asked difficult questions about English grammar, and who could find a vein in any arm with a single try and no break in conversation.
     There were, right from the beginning, crises: a septic infection, an ectopic pregnancy, an alarming lump in one woman’s leg. A botanist in his mid-fifties came back from a jungle hike and dropped dead from a heart attack. There was nothing anyone could do.
     The dives, too, involved risks. Much of the research happened underwater, and there was always the danger of a tank failure or an accident. One evening, just as I was about to close the clinic, Phil came in. He had been diving deep that afternoon, at a hundred fifty feet, working with a team to set up motion sensors, and as he worked he’d felt himself growing detached and dreamy. A slender white shark passed by; instead of fear he’d felt a surge of joy and reached to touch it. Phil was an experienced diver and knew what was happening: a kind of nitrogen poisoning that distorted reason. He knew he should rise to the surface—that getting out of the deep would restore the balance in his blood—but he didn’t. He swam on. After some time he floated over the shattered remains of a boat, where he thought he saw a human skeleton. He wasn’t sure if it was real or a hallucination.
     I was listening, making notes on his chart. When I looked up he was handing me a human bone, a femur. It was both smooth and porous, bleached deeply white.
     “Boat people,” he said, “that’s what I figured, people fleeing Vietnam in the eighties who hit bad weather and drowned. It’s not uncommon to find them. But the light was odd, you know, and I was narked. I knew I was narked, I told myself I ought to go up, but instead I kept floating by the boat. Little by little it seemed to me that there were people in it again. Alive, I mean, but underwater. I talked to them,” he added, and then stared at me, defiant.
     I put the femur on the counter. I’d heard these stories a lot over the years.
     “It’s lucky you had enough will to come back.”
     Phil nodded. “Gunnar saw me drifting off. He had to pull me by the arm, hard, because coming up was the last thing I wanted to do. I’m telling you,” he said, laughing at himself even as he spoke. “I felt New Age or something, as if I’d become one with the universe. Sentient and yet diffused. That sounds crazy, I know.”
     “The rapture of the deep,” I said, thinking not of Gunnar but of Pragna reaching to pull him into the boat. “There’s a reason divers call it that.”
     We talked some more—he wanted, mostly, it seemed, to tell his story. I gave him some Valium to see him through the next few hours. After Phil left I studied the femur, wondering about the life that had surrounded it, the dreams that had propelled it. Wondering what should be done with it now. In the end I took it to the deck off the atrium, where I leaned far out over the water and returned it to the sea.

~

     In this way the days passed with the fluidity and continuity of waves. I was very happy. Even as I rose in the middle of the night to a knock on the door, even as I helped the ill or injured, I felt a sense of peace, of purpose. Once a week I traveled to the mainland village’s makeshift clinic, where I taught the young nurses how to dress wounds, give shots, and disinfect equipment. Then I came back to swim at sunset in a sea as calm as glass. In Minnesota, Jonathan and I always had a hard time coming back together at the end of each day. Often, we’d sat together in the evenings, hardly speaking, each absorbed in our separate lives. Here, what we did connected us, and when we were together we talked as never before. In the distance windsurfers moved in slow lines, like the ever-shifting point of a triangle made from light.
     I found myself thinking of Plato and his theory of ideal forms: a triangle drawn on paper, no matter how precisely, is only a crude representation of a triangle’s essence. Plato believed in a framework of perfection hidden behind the visible; I believed we had discovered that framework here. Jonathan and I were determined to see what would evolve between us. There were details we would need to attend to—our house, our things—but we rarely spoke of them.

~

     At the end of the hot season, near the advent of the monsoons, many people left the islands, either to escape the tedious weeks of rain or because they feared that rough seas and skies would make travel impossible. Pragna, now at the end of her eighth month, would go to Singapore and wait in an apartment near the hospital. Gunnar would join her near the due date. At the boat Gunnar put his hand on the curve of her stomach and I saw it again: something invisible but real passing between them, the glimpse of another country, a place they inhabited alone. I felt pierced with loss. Jonathan was standing next to me, and I reached to take his hand.
     A week later, the rains began. I woke to what I thought was thunder, rain so loud that Jonathan, lying next to me, had to shout to be heard. Laughing, we went outside and stood in the deluge, the water hitting the earth and bouncing high again, already filling the dry gutters and sliding in sheets from the roofs. By noon the island was transformed, water standing in shallow places and dripping from leaves, the flagstones of the paths small islands in the mud.
     Over the next days, mysteriously, the clinic filled up with crickets. When I came in the dusky light of early morning they were singing, and when I opened the door they jumped beneath the tables and onto counters, their narrow legs humming. I swept them out with a broom, great leaping piles of them. All day I leaned close to hear my patients, their breath against my ear. When the rains eased, momentarily, or for a few hours, we all relaxed, as if silence were a kind of space that had opened up around us. Our sheets and clothes grew damp. Mildew erupted overnight on Jonathan’s huaraches. One morning, I found toads nestled in my shoes.
     The rains were excessive, the worst they’d ever been. In meetings at the atrium the sky and sea were indistinguishable. Just a few hundred miles away in Indonesia whole towns flooded, and a wedding party was washed away when a temple collapsed beneath a tidal wave. In the Philippines, an entire season of rice was destroyed. We left these meetings sobered, but sustained by Yukiko’s vision, imagining these powers transformed into energy, into light, by the ways we might change the world.
     Three weeks into the monsoons, the resort, emptied of its tourists for the season, began to flood. This was not supposed to happen. The work Jonathan had done on current dynamics and surface-wave prediction was supposed to have averted any major disaster on those beaches. We listened, helpless and disbelieving, to the reports the manager sent up. Jonathan couldn’t sleep. At night I’d wake to the scent of kerosene and find him at the table, poring over his charts and graphs beneath a flickering lamp.
     On the first calm day all of us boated over to view the damage. In places the beach had been totally resculpted. Two chalets had been swept away, the ceiling fans and Italian tile and comfortable deck chairs all carried out to sea. The main building had escaped damage, but its grounds had been flooded, and the receding water had left behind lakes of mud and debris.
     We silently walked amid the beauty and the ruins, picking up trash, skirting new lakes. Generators ran everywhere, fueling the electric pumps and vacuums. Jonathan was silent, his face as shattered as the landscape.
     When we reached the sunken garden behind the main building, Phil, his beard three days old and stubbled with red, stepped down off the stone fence and waded between the ornamental bushes. Fish were swimming in the grass, a strange and joyous sight that cheered us all. Laughing, Phil reached down and caught one in his bare hands, holding it up, a flash of white against the gray rain dripping from the sky, the leaves, our clothes. We were still laughing when we heard the soft crack, the rush of falling branches in the air. I stepped into the water, looking in the wrong direction, thinking the rushing sounds were coming from the beach. Then someone, shouting, pushed me so hard I staggered. My foot slipped in a low ditch and I felt my ankle turn. So slow, it all was, I struggled to keep my balance and yet even as I fell I saw the branch floating down, taking wires with it. I saw Phil see what was about to happen, the line writhing like a snake and then dropping into that lawn where water was not meant to be, where fish swam. Electricity traveled through the new lake like lightning, traveled through Phil, who dazzled us all for a terrible instant, sparks flying from his hair, his fingertips, like the flash of silverfish in the air. Phil, who was dead before he could even gasp or scream.
     Khemma started toward him—he had fallen face down by the bougainvillea—but Jonathan grabbed her arm. The line was still alive in all that water.
     “Someone shut off the damned generator,” he shouted, his voice hoarse. And when no one moved, he went to do it himself, walking backward, his eyes caught on Phil. Already fish were beginning to rise up and float on the surface of the water. I stood up slowly, enveloped by the scent of burning flesh, singed hair. The generator ceased, and we all waded at once toward Phil, poor Phil. We pulled him out of the water and I leaned close to do CPR, though his skin was blistered beneath his new beard, and I knew it was hopeless. Still, I held his face in my hands and pressed my lips against his, remembering his conversation with the dead at the bottom of the sea. They let me work for a while, and then there were hands on my shoulders, my arms, lifting me up.
     “Anna, that’s enough, Anna. Anna, look, you have to stop, you’re bleeding.”
     It was only then that I noticed my leg, the gash on my shin from where I had fallen, streaming blood.
     Jonathan tore his shirt into strips and he wrapped my leg. His face was taut, a muscle jumping in his cheek. His eyes kept running over the ruined beach, Phil’s body. I tried to touch him, but he shrugged me off. When the rest of us left the island he refused to come, determined to see where he’d gone wrong. Besides, he said grimly, someone had to stay with the body. When the hydroplane reached the other island, Khemma helped me all the way back to the clinic. At the doorway I paused, remembering the day not long ago when Phil had come to me, excited and disoriented, full of visions.
     “What will they do with him?” I wondered.
     “I don’t know,” Khemma said. Her smooth olive skin was pale, and she was shivering, her arms folded tightly across her chest. “Find his family, probably, send him home.”
     “I was about to step into that water. Someone pushed me.”
     “Yes,” she said. “That was Gunnar.” She helped me onto the examining table and brought me a light blanket. “I need to step out for a minute. Will you be all right? I have to call Yukiko right away.”
     “Go,” I said. Alone in the clinic, surrounded by the hum of crickets, I held my leg out straight and unwrapped the layers of Jonathan’s shirt. When I got to the wound, a neat dark slash against my shin, blood welled up at once. But not before I had glimpsed it, the flash of white bone beneath the flesh. Bone that had never felt the air.
     I pressed the cloth back down, applied pressure. For a long time, I just sat. When Gunnar appeared in the doorway, I was weeping.
     “Let me see,” he said gently, pulling the cloth away. “It’s deep,” he acknowledged.
     I nodded, wiping at my eyes with the back of my hand.
     “It’s cut to the bone. But it’s clean, fortunately. If you could get me the medical kit in the cupboard. And hold my leg while I do this, please.”
     Gunnar nodded and came back with the equipment. I filled a syringe with novocaine and took a long, deep breath before I injected the drug all around the gash. The numbness spread quickly, and after I’d cleaned the cut the blood subsided to an ooze. Still, when I put the first stitch in, catching my own flesh with the needle and then pulling the suture through, I felt a wave of nausea and was forced to stop. Gunnar reached up and pressed one palm against my forehead.
     “You don’t have to be so brave,” he said. “Lie down, Anna. All right?”
     “But I have to have stitches.”
     “I can sew,” he replied. “My grandmother believed it was an essential skill for all human beings, male or female.”
     “Well, that’s great,” I said. “I don’t suppose you practiced on human beings?”
     Gunnar, wisely, ignored me. “My grandmother is still living,” he said. I felt his fingers, and the pressure of the stitches going in. “She will be a hundred years old next year.”
     He told me stories of his country as he worked, the long tongues of glaciers reaching down valleys, the fertile rivers and charming cities. The interior of the island so rugged that American astronauts had used it to practice moon landings. Swimming pools filled by geothermal springs, where the snow melted in the rising steam as people swam. Every few months he went back to teach, and to collect data from the Icelandic seas.
     “All right,” he said, putting one hand on my shoulder. “Sit up.”
     The stitches were ugly, rough and uneven, but they were tight and secure. I dressed the wound and stood, testing my weight on my foot.
     “Oh,” I said, looking up at the pain, tears in my eyes. I was thinking of Jonathan, the lines in his face, but what I said was “Poor Phil.”
     Gunnar nodded, studying me.
      “Can you walk, Anna?”
     “Yes. Yes, I think so.”
     He studied me a moment longer, deciding.
     “Good,” he said. “Follow me.”
     We walked down an unfamiliar path, and arrived at a black sand beach. The sea was rough, but the setting sun had broken from the clouds and everything was vibrant in the sudden light. There was a shallow cave in the cliff, stairs opening into a passage lit like the aisle of an airplane. Gunnar saw me limping and put his arm around my waist, helping me down the steps.
     We emerged into a room under water. It was built like a greenhouse, with walls of glass. But in the same shape, I saw right away, as the swelling walls of the atrium. We were in the deep water before the drop-off, so that the dome—a pleasure dome, I thought, remembering some long-ago poem_stood as if on the edge of a cliff, fields of coral, the spiny dark sea urchins all around us, and then on the far side the drop-off_a sudden darkness, the edge of an abyss. Light fell in nets through the water and shimmered across the floor, across my skin, wavered on Gunnar’s face as he turned to me. His eyes were the same blue as the water.
     I went to the glass and pressed my hands against it, my face. My breath gathered and disappeared. A school of parrot fish swam by, an inch, no more, away.
     “We are about thirty feet below the surface,” Gunnar said. “The site was very carefully chosen. No coral was destroyed.”
     “It’s so beautiful,” I whispered. I felt as if I might cry, I wanted so to feel those fish brush against my hand.
     Even as we spoke the light had begun to fade, the sun setting far above.
     “It is a research station,” Gunnar said, gesturing toward the drop-off. “We take AUVs out of an antechamber to this room and travel half a mile down to the site. I am talking about a series of hydrothermal vents on the floor of the deep ocean. Near them we have discovered biological communities—novel, strange communities found nowhere else. And from these communities we are learning extraordinary things about the evolution of life. Unusual symbiosis we had never imagined possible. As a scientist, you must always ask yourself the same question, again and again: why this form, and not another? Why this path, and not any other?”
     In this short time the water around us had grown dark, and fish had begun to emerge, giving off their own pale light. Flashlight fish, shimmering blue-green, and bioluminescent plankton glittering in their wake. Gunnar was no more than a shadow beside me, but his voice, too, was lit with excitement.
     “It is not fixed, is what I am saying, Anna. The evolution of life. In these communities we are not studying fossils or shells or the dead artifacts of creation. We are watching life evolve, before our very eyes. You see these fish, giving off their own light? This phenomenon happens very rarely in the world. In freshwater, not at all. In fireflies, yes, and in some worms, but on earth, almost never. Yet in the deep ocean ninety percent of all animals are luminescent. The chemical process has evolved independently in a dozen different paths. In that same way, these new communities are seeking a different form from anything which now exists. Discovering their potential is the center of our mission here.”
     “And the coral reefs?” I asked. “Jonathan’s work on currents, on waves?”
     “Also important,” Gunnar said. “But not the center. Anna, do you understand? We are what we are, you and I. Our evolution has followed a particular path to bring us to this moment and no other. But imagine if another path had been taken, long ago. Imagine if a new evolution naturally occurred, so that an organism such as plankton, say, suddenly contained the chemical properties of fuel. Or of a perfect protein. Not something engineered by humans. Something natural, driven by evolutionary necessity. Imagine if these resources were plentiful and cheap, what this would mean.”
     On the surface far above, plankton glittered like a sweep of stars. I felt a surge of excitement, power, the thrill of possibility.
     “You would change the world,” I said, softly. I thought of the streams of cars back home, exhaust hiding the sun, starving children, struck by drought. “You would save it.”
     “Yes,” Gunnar said. “I would. I will. Perhaps it will take decades, but we will do this thing. Without Yukiko, of course, this would not be possible. Pragna knows, a few others here. But I would ask you not to speak of this.”
     “Another test?”
     “No,” Gunnar said. Medusa jellyfish hovered nearby, their light a translucent green. “This is me, trusting you to see what I am seeing. Sometimes I come here simply for the beauty. To remind myself of what is at the center. Of the mystery.”
     “You’re a scientist,” I said, trying to imagine this same passion in Jonathan’s voice when he talked about boundary-layer data. “I didn’t think scientists believed in mystery.”
     Gunnar laughed. “If there were no mystery, Anna, there would be no science.”
     I loved his voice, the way he spoke my name, as if there were waves running through it. We were quiet as we left, walking back through the passage and up the dark stairs. I had been given a gift, I knew this, a gift meant to ease my sorrow. And it had. I never spoke of that place to anyone, and yet I could not stop thinking of it. A rush of the surf and I might close my eyes, imagining the strange light of this other world, hidden beneath the surface of the usual. And sometimes, leaving Jonathan in his restless sleep, I returned to that silent room. I pressed my hands against the glass, plankton scattered high above like stars, fish moving past in their slow orbits, like planets, like strange moons.

~

     People believed it was the shock of watching Phil’s death that had unsettled me, but I knew the source of my restlessness was more complex. Even as the rains abated and our things dried out and people began to return to the islands, I remained alive with secrets, changed by what I’d seen, and the act of not running into Gunnar became as deliberate as running into him would have been. Jonathan was distracted by his failures and his small habits got on my nerves. The rituals of my life and work, once so satisfying, seemed increasingly empty. More than once I stopped in the center of the clinic, halfway across the room to fetch something I could not remember. More than once I went to the cliff edge and stood gazing out at the water, that high wind in my hair, and the abyss of air just a step away.
     “This happens to everyone,” Jonathan said one morning, handing me a cup of coffee, but I knew it had not happened to him, not in this way, not for these reasons. “Why don’t you take a vacation, Anna? It’s a bad time for me right now, anyway.”
     And so I traveled by boat to the mainland, where I boarded a prop plane and then one jet and then another, all the way back to Minneapolis. I had been gone five months, and I felt like a ghost, returning to a home I’d never inhabit again.
     In the city, too, I felt this. Litter swirled, and sirens screamed through the streets. The papers were full of things I’d forgotten: murders and racial tension, car accidents and congestion. NPR did a story on a food shortage developing in Nigeria and the effects of drilling for oil in the frozen arctic sea, and I found myself sitting on the edge of my chair, gripping my coffee cup so hard my knuckles turned white. In this world, I was helpless. I fell asleep at all hours of the day, and dreamed of the waves, rushing one against the other on the shore. I dreamed of falling through the water, or of standing beneath it, my hand held flat against the blueness of that glass.
     I had planned to stay for several weeks, but when Jonathan e-mailed that Yukiko Santiago was planning to visit the islands, I changed my mind. It took just two days to clean out our lives in Minneapolis. I didn’t ask Jonathan about any of it—I just wanted it done. A few old pieces of furniture from his family I put into storage, but almost everything else I gave away. When the plane lifted off, I felt, for the first time in my life, completely free.
     When I got back, patients were lined up in the waiting room. I was so busy, and so glad to be back, that for several weeks I hardly thought of Gunnar. I glimpsed him now and then, standing on the boat or walking along the beach. Sometimes he waved across the distance, and I waved back. Pragna had returned from Singapore with the baby, and I saw them too, sitting on the verandah of their chalet or strolling in the park at dawn or dusk. It was a girl, named Analia. After no one, they said, a name they’d invented, a name without the weight of history. I held her once, so small and warm, when Pragna came in for a well-baby check, and sometimes I saw her in the nursery, when Pragna stopped in after work to use the treadmill or the pool. Pragna seemed restless to me, as changed as I felt. One night, walking home late, I saw Gunnar pacing their porch with Analia in his arms. In the distance, behind the sound of the waves, I heard Pragna, faintly weeping.
     The days slid by, one into another. The paths hummed with gardeners, painters, carpenters. Jonathan spent long days, and sometimes nights as well, on the other island, overseeing the installation of new drainage and wave-forecasting systems. He took the damage, and Phil’s death, personally, and worried that he might have made equally catastrophic errors in his greater research. Late at night, when he slipped into bed, I’d touch his shoulder and he wouldn’t respond. Jonathan, I’d say, are you all right? And he’d sigh and say he was tired, too tired to talk. Often, when I woke in the morning, he was already gone.
     Yukiko Santiago arrived on a brilliantly clear day. Diminutive, almost frail, with her hair swept into a severe bun, she wore a blue suit, black high heels, and glasses too large for her face. She walked among us in the park, Gunnar at her side, pausing to greet old friends. When she reached me she held my hand for a moment and said she was glad I had stayed. I was so pleased I could hardly speak. For several days I glimpsed her traveling along paths in a golf cart. I imagined her in secret meetings, or standing in that underwater room.
     I did not expect to talk with her again, but on her final day she came to the mainland to observe my clinic. I was nervous during the hydroplane ride, the wind in our hair and salt spray staining her glasses. But in the clinic she was warm, pragmatic, easy to approach. She prepared the plaster for a cast and held the boy’s arm as I applied it. She noted vitals, took throat cultures, and talked through an interpreter to the nursing students. At the end of the day, we sat on the edge of the dock with our legs dangling. Below, the waves moved over the white sand.
      “Gambate, Anna,” Yukiko said. I felt myself flush with pleasure. “Very well done, indeed.” She looked at me directly, taking me in. “Anna,” she said, “tell me honestly: is there anything you need?”
     I thought she meant the clinic and started to tell her about which supplies were running low, but she interrupted me with the wave of one hand.
     “Not that,” she said. “You. Are you happy here?”
     “Yes,” I said. “I am.” But to my own surprise I started talking about Jonathan and his worries, the way he couldn’t sleep at night, the growing gulf between us.
     Yukiko nodded, staring out over the clear water to where the hydroplane was now visible, a dot on the horizon.
     “His error cost a great deal of money,” she acknowledged. “Still, I am not so concerned with the loss itself, which may open up a new path, a better path. That is always the advantage of failure. But Jonathan’s reaction does concern me. He has not made much progress on the new plans. He’s become too afraid to be bold.”
     “He loves this place,” I said, dismayed, for I understood her implication, and the irony. Jonathan had brought me here; now he might have to leave.
     The wind swept at Yukiko’s hair. She took off her glasses and polished them on the hem of her shirt. “I know,” she said. “It would be a loss if he left. But the community will survive. It is only Gunnar, finally, we could not spare. His vision is essential to us all.”
     I nodded, feeling helpless as I remembered his voice in the underwater room, the sound of Pragna weeping.
     When I got back to the chalet Jonathan was sitting at the table, peeling a mango. We’d hardly touched in weeks, but now I put my hand on his shoulder.
     “I spoke with Yukiko,” I told him.
     Jonathan put the knife on his plate and stood up. He walked over to the window, and when he spoke his voice was bitter. “Great,” he said. “That’s just terrific.”
     And suddenly, out of worry and frustration and a sense of impending loss, a fierce anger rose up in me. I remembered Jonathan sitting beside me in the atrium on that first day, watching me apprehend all that had been hidden. I remembered him putting the delicate shell into my hand saying This, too, is a test. How disoriented I’d felt, as if the world were no longer a steady place, but something that swam and glittered and changed in every instant.
     “I know how you feel,” I said, trying to stay calm.
     “You can’t possibly,” he snapped, and something in me broke loose.
     “You’re right,” I said, preparing to be cruel and taking pleasure in it, too. “I’ll never know what you’re going through. After all, I passed the test.”
     I slammed the door and walked to the atrium, where a group was already drinking on the balcony. Gunnar was there, on his second beer, and I found myself watching him, remembering our time below the water, what Yukiko had said. There was a bright sheen of red on the water, phosphorescent algae that traced the waves. Someone suggested a night dive. I was a little drunk already, and I ran to collect the waterproof flashlights and our gear, then joined the others on the beach, where Pragna and Gunnar were arguing. Pragna was holding Analia, her voice rising above the waves.
     “Gunnar,” she said. “This is madness.”
     “It’s perfectly safe,” he insisted, and I remembered the play of skeletal light on his skin as we stood together in the silent dome, his fingers on my leg as he made his clumsy sutures. The others had already gone as he stepped into the waves, and when Pragna called to him again he did not stop. After a moment I followed him, swimming to the beam of light he held. The waves crashed hard against the rocks and the currents pulled at us. I touched his arm.
     “It’s Anna,” I said.
     “Anna.”
     “Gunnar!” Pragna’s voice came to us, broken by the waves, edged with anguish. “Gunnar! Please, Gunnar. You are frightening me. Come back this instant! Gunnar! Do you hear me?”
     “Ah, she is ruining it all,” he said, and there was anguish in his voice, too. “She wants to leave. She wants us all to leave.”
     “No,” I said, trying to imagine staying here without him. “No, don’t, Gunnar. You can’t.”
     Our hands brushed one another in the water and he reached for me. I couldn’t seem to help myself. I ran my hand along Gunnar’s leg. He did not speak, but faced me as he had on that other day, that last and first day, when we passed the regulator back and forth and each one, each time, saved the other’s life.
     We swam, breaking a path through the phosphorescence, past the rocks to the black sand beach, where we shed our gear, our suits. Sand gave way beneath our feet and then our bodies were on that sand, half in the sea and half on land, and with every movement the water eased from beneath my back, and his. Faint light from the plankton trailed across his skin and mine, glowing where we touched each other—the line of his jaw, the curve of my shoulder, our lips. For a long time after we lay there, touching length to length, fading slowly back to darkness. I knew, of course, that the future might evolve in a thousand different ways, but in those moments I believed Gunnar would stay. I believed he would stay with me.
     When he sat up, without speaking I knew what it meant. Freedom first he’d said one night, long ago. His lips were on mine again; his hands touched my face, leaving coolness in their wake this time. Anna, he said. You are so beautiful. And I—I am so sorry. Then I heard the splashing, glimpsed the momentary break in the phosphorescence—he was gone.
     I stayed where I was for a long time. I’d lost the flashlight. Also, my suit. Even my hands were invisible in that darkness. I felt my way to the edge of the path and began to climb, slowly, gradually, through dense foliage, feeling the air change, faintly, as the path rose. When I reached the ridge, the atrium was visible, swelling from the edge of the cliff and glowing softly.
     I stopped, suddenly afraid. Loss gaped like an abyss. For I understood that I would leave this place, and that my leaving had been seeded long ago, when I handed Gunnar my regulator, when the live wire had fallen, twisting, to the lawn where fish swam, when Pragna had called out, her voice laced with anguish. When Gunnar had turned to me.
     I gazed out into the darkness of sea and sky, thinking of that hidden room, the secret locus of all yearning. A faint wind moved through my hair. I thought of Phil, conversing with the dead, and then of Gunnar, swimming. I imagined the fields of sea urchins unfolding beneath him, their perfect, hidden bones curved to hold the light, their thorns repelling, interweaving. So beautiful they were, so strange. Echinoderm echinoidea, with a thousand eyes, all blind.

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