The bubbles flew all around him as he sank in the warm water. With the jets on, the water in the hot tub took on the opacity of a snowstorm. Derek liked to wear his goggles in the hot tub for this very reason. If he simply closed his eyes, he knew where he was, he felt as he sank that he was in the hot tub, submersed in hot water, getting pounded by jets. Being able to open his eyes and see himself surrounded in white, though, made him feel lost. The roaring noise of the jets drowned out the sound of the world and the swirling mass of bubbles, painted it away. For the briefest moment while he sank, before touching the bottom, after leaving the surface, he felt truly alone with a single moment. There was nothing but warmth and comfort.
Of course, he eventually needed to breathe and, even if he didn’t, the hot tub was small enough that he was bound to hit the bottom or get pushed to the side by one of the jets before long, shattering his perfect moment of solitude. His moment without the world or worries. His moment without the constant barrage of nagging emails, nor his girlfriend’s whining about how nothing was ever good enough. It was a moment of pure bliss because it was only about the moment.
He came to the surface, fighting his bodies urge to gasp and gulp frantically at the air, knowing that long, slow, deep breaths would be more productive. It got easier the more he practiced.
“That was a good one,” said Nicole, looking at her watch that sat just outside of the tub, she always had to know exactly what time it was, “Two minutes and fourteen seconds.”
That’s what Derek pretended he was doing down there, trying to improve his ability to hold his breath, she wouldn’t understand if he told her he was trying to escape for the briefest of moments, lost in a cloud that was opaque to all senses where he could quiet his mind for a moment and forget about everything. Everything including her. He looked at her and smiled. He really did adore her, and the getting away wasn’t about leaving her behind, but he knew that she wouldn’t understand. It was personal, it was something that was his and his alone. Something that no one else could touch, not even her.
Derek grabbed the water bottle and took a deep drink, the cold water made his throat ache.
“We should probably get out soon, I’m feeling adequately poached,” she said.
“Alright, one more,” he said and started his ritual of three deep breaths before taking in the one he would hold. He looked at her smooth, tan skin glistening and reddening. She was chest deep in the water, but there was a wet line just a few inches higher than that, that she had submersed to at some point. Anything above that was sweat. There was a good amount of sweat and she was looking pretty flushed, she was right, they had been in too long already. He knew, too, that the Germer account wasn’t going to settle itself out, he needed to get back to work.
One more moment of bliss, though – he wanted one more.
He took his last slow breath in, nice and deep, then turned around, pinched his nose and dunked under the surface. This was the hard part, he wanted to be able to stay down there for a while, but he would never sink if he didn’t let out a bunch of air. Letting out just the right amount was key. He faced toward the surface, breathing out, watching the torrent of bubbles from his mouth get lost in the snowstorm. He felt his body start to sink and stopped exhaling, it was time to clear his mind.
He drifted slowly downward, letting his arms trail behind in his gradual descent thorough the white cloud of bubbles. He let his mind slacken and everything faded away. It wasn’t like he decided that the Germer account, and Nicole’s discontent were unimportant, but they simply ceased to exist.
He drifted down further and further, everything disappeared, the car payments, the student loans, the suspicion he had that Nicole was getting railed by her muscular secretary every Tuesday after work, it all just melted and beaded off of him, absorbed into the white noise and the white water, warm and opaque everywhere.
There was nothing, nothing but the moment.
He would have known he was still drifting downward if the word “down” meant anything, but there were no longer directions, there was only the moment.
His mind starting to reboot as his lungs tensed, he released another short spurt of bubbles and his lungs relaxed again as he felt himself start to sink a little faster. He tried not to think, but the moment had passed and he was coming back, he had been sinking for a long time. Had it been a long time? Had it been longer than normal? Usually, he thought, he had hit the bottom by now. He tried not to let anything concern him, he pushed it out of his mind, trying to keep the moment as long as he could, but it had passed. He drifted down, downward, further down.
Suddenly, he started, his mind snapping back into a rigid form, it was getting darker, and he was pretty sure the temperature was changing. It felt like he had been under for a long time, had he been? He looked around, it was definitely darker than it was just a moment ago. He pushed his arms out to his sides, knowing the surface should be just right there, but it wasn’t. All he found was that the water had become even darker and colder. He swam frantically upward, working his arms and legs as fast as he could, panicking now. Every bit he moved up, the water became colder and darker, but also a bit clearer. He paused momentarily and looked around, had he gotten turned around? Could he be swimming down instead of up? Why would there be so much down and cold at the bottom of the hot tub? Nothing made sense. He blew out a few more little bubbles. The slightly less opaque water didn’t hide the bubbles immediately. They drifted in the direction that he had originally thought was up, so he swam on.
Eventually the water temperature dipped to something Derek would call frigid if he was really thinking about it, but his focus had shifted. He needed air. His lungs had begun to spasm, trying to pull anything in that they could.
Suddenly he burst through the surface into cold, crisp, twilight air. This time he couldn’t control the gasps. He swallowed as much air as he could get. The air was cold and it stung, but it was good to feel it pouring into him by the bucket-load.
As he gasped, Derek looked around. This wasn’t right. He looked around to see the flat surface only disturbed by his movements. Deep, dark, cold water all the way around. Above the surface he could only see a few feet before the fog obscured his vision. Was it fog? He wondered, the air was even colder than the water, it looked like steam.
“What the-” he asked between gasps.
“Nicole?” he asked, then yelled when he could muster the breath.
There was no response, actually, there was nothing. The only sounds were those that came from him. He had no idea what to do. Where was he? Why wasn’t he in the hot tub? The water that trickled into his mouth as he gasped was salty, was this an ocean?
His body was shaking violently now from the cold, and as he was losing feeling in his extremities. He dove down as deep as he could, looking for a flurry of bubbles that might lead him home, but all he found was a dark depth that didn’t seem to end. He swam down until the pressure on his ears felt like it would splatter his eyes out of his head all over the inside of his goggles, but there was no sign of anything but that cold, dark salt water.
He returned to the surface, picked a direction and swam until his arms could barely move, but there was nothing above the water to hold onto, nothing but the mists and the water. He swam until his stroke turned into a pathetic, limp flopping of his numb arms to the sound of his ragged breathing. He swam on until he could no longer keep his head up, then he started to sink. He held his breath as long as he could while sinking into the inky blackness below, but that wasn’t very long. There was a moment as he sank, that he looked around and saw nothing but black, felt nothing but cold, heard nothing but silence and he smiled briefly, trying to turn off his busy mind.
There wasn’t much of a question as to what had caused the man’s death. The coroner pumped enough water out of his lungs to be sure thrice over that he had drowned. He noted that it was salt water and, with a raised eyebrow, looked back at his chart. It didn’t say anything about it being a salt water tub, but that wasn’t unheard of. He grumbled about the incompetence of the reporting officer as he jotted the note down.
The hot tub for Peaceful Willow Apartments was closed for a few days, but once it reopened, there was a sign fixed next to it that read, “Warning, use hot tub at your own risk.”