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Claire sat on the beach in her wetsuit. Her bare toes dug into rain soaked sand. The wind fluttered against the curly blonde/white hair that framed her face in a frizz. She held a kelp bulb in her hands, rolling it back and forth between her palms. Its long frond stretched back into the ocean.
The sea tumbled and foamed where it met the beach. The clouds glowered in the sky, insulating against the heat of the sun. Claire pulled up on the frond, careful not to break it. She reeled it into a large slippery pile, but still it receded into the ocean. She stood up, perplexed. She held the frond and walked alongside it, into the lapping ocean. She waded out, following the kelp. Bits of cedar and plastic floated on the wash.
Hip deep, she pulled again. The kelp slid out and ribboned up next to her, bobbing and dipping with the waves. She dove in. Under the water it was darker. The sea was very green and gray in the overcast light. The ocean gurgled and sang haltingly to her, as it always did. She followed the kelp further out. She passed over the jagged rock that gave her a heap of trouble when she was sixteen, forty years ago. It was also the spot where her son ran into trouble.
She surfaced and refilled her lungs. She glanced back at her house on stilts. It was many yards away, and the ocean frothed in between as if it were upset at something. She turned and dove and swam like a seal, her hand slipping alongside the impossibly long kelp frond. Finally there was sand again below her. She was almost at the break. The waves built up. She felt one coming. She ducked down under it. It tugged on her hair as it rolled over. She surfaced again, to swim over the shallow rim of rocks. White foam splashed and sucked at the rocks. Another wave came and she jumped up, careful to hold the frond with both hands. The wave passed and she descended, her feet landing hard on the rocks. She pushed off, and swam out over the dropoff.
The kelp continued. Claire bobbed with the building waves and harbored thoughts that this was a quest best left unquested. She followed the kelp out again. It started to angle downward into the deep. She sucked in and out a great lungful of air, then filled up again. She dove. below her was blackness. She felt along the kelp guideline, struggling to pull herself down. Her chest and ears began to ache. When she could bear it no longer she turned and kicked for the surface.
She spat out saltwater and rubbed her eyes. She stared out across the shifting, wobbling horizon, thinking. She started to pull. The kelp resisted a little, but gave in. She pulled and pulled and soon a pile many feet wide slithered next to her in the water. Then it snagged, resistant. She tugged as much as she thought she could without tearing the frond. Then she relaxed.
Claire watched seagulls circling high above her, aquatic vultures. She pulled again, and this time the kelp came up with ease. Soon something touched her feet. She dove in and saw that it was a great tangle of living kelp. She let it rise to the surface. She tried to force the knots apart but she couldn't get any leverage in the water.
She swam back to shore with the massive knot in tow. The long frond curled back on itself. Finally she wrested it to the beach. She flopped to the sand, exhausted. She realized the knot was giving off a strong putrid smell. She forced back a gag.
Hot from exertion, Claire sat up and unzipped the top of her wetsuit. She peeled out her arms, and sat panting. She stood up and pulled at the fronts, snapping them. She worked her way through a foot of kelp before she had to run to the treeline to vomit. She turned and wiped her mouth, eyeing the green mess.
She returned to the house and washed her hands, then changed into shorts and a t-shirt. She went back out to the beach armed with large shears and a painter's mask she still had in the garage from the remodel. She cut the kelp to shreds, until she uncovered something white. She stopped, then pressed into it with her fingers. It was faintly warm. She pulled at the fronds with her hands, widening the opening.
There was a navel. She pulled more revealing a body dressed in board shorts. It was her son. Hands trembling, she uncovered his face. His lips were blue, and his eyes were glazed over. He looked like he had been dead an hour, not ten years.
Claire stumbled backward, hyperventilating. She ripped off the mask and ran to the other end of the beach and stared at the disassembled knot. She sat in the sand, and put her head to her knees and shook her shoulders in a silent scream. She inhaled and exhaled and tried to stay calm. She stood, and walked back to the knot. He was still there, grayish white. She bent down and worked quickly to free him completely. She bundled up the kelp and threw it back into the surf, and most of the smell went with it.
She knelt beside his body. She ran her fingers down his arms. She leaned in close, and smelled his skin. There was little scent of putrescence left. She place a palm flat on his chest. There was a bit of warmth. Just as she was about to withdraw her hand, she felt a bump. She put both hands on his chest. A minute later, there was another bump, thudding from inside. Then there was another twenty seconds later. Then another ten seconds later. Soon his heart was thumping at a regular resting pace, but he was not breathing.
Claire leaned over his mouth, and pressed hers to his. She exhaled gently. His chest rose. She sat up. Slowly it fell again. Claire held her breath. Then his chest heaved, he gasped, then choked. Seawater gurgled up from his mouth. His eyes returned, clear. He blinked, pressed he eyes tight, then coughed up a gelatinous green mass the size of a tangerine. Claire helped clear it from his mouth even as she gagged at the sight of it. He sucked in a large lungful and coughed some more. He looked at her.
"Yes," she said. She wiped back hair from his forehead.
"That was epic," he said, sitting up.
"I gave up on you," said Claire.
"What?" he asked.
"Never mind," she said. She leaned in and hugged him deeply.
"Um, thanks, but you're crushing me," he said.
"I'm not sure you can be crushed," she said.
"C'mon. Get off."
Claire disengaged and leaned back, smiling at her son.
"How about some hot chocolate?" she asked. "There's a bit of chill in the air."
"Yeah, what's up with that? I thought it was sunny before I wiped out."
"It was," she said. She stood, and offered her hand. He took it, and they walked towards the house, hand in hand.