The barracuda.

I was very aware of being not normal in the months after Henry died; grief had set me somehow about
half an inch out of my skin and everything looked and felt wrong wherever I was. I didn't want to kill myself but I didn't really have much life-force either. I had a constant feeling that if I stepped out in front of a bus and it didn’t stop, I wouldn’t have minded.
I certainly wasn’t paying very much attention to life. I didn’t see the point in anything which is a horrible way to be. And I was hoping that running away to Australia would help.
It was my birthday on the day after I arrived in Cairns. so I went out to the Barrier Reef to do some snorkelling. I had been planning to wait until Sarah and Pete arrived but there are only so many circuits you can make of a town when you’re miserable.
The ship that took us out was crowded with Japanese tourists so I could hide quite neatly in the crowd. I did listen to the announcements on where to swim and where not to go.
‘Just avoid the deep water,’ said the announcer. ‘You’re perfectly safe in the shallows and we keep an eye out for you. No one’s ever been hurt in the shallows but you must stay there because there are sharks in the deep water and we have reason to believe that two divers were killed by an giant barracuda only about six weeks ago. That guy wasn’t within 20 miles of here but it’s best to be sure.’
Into the water we all went and I floundered around for a while, hating it. My mind wasn’t relaxed enough to deal with all the shouting, giggling and photograph-taking all around me. What did I do? Yes, of course I swam round the boat. I had completely forgotten what the announcer said.
There was a very large fish in the deeps; lurking. It was enormous, with great black marks like portholes down its side. It was side on when I first saw it and, interested, I took a photograph with my underwater camera.

Of course, the flash attracted its attention and, instead of being just a large fish a long way away, it flipped in less than a second to face-on and came towards me so fast it was like a blur. It had very big teeth and there's no doubt that it was a giant barracuda.
It is true that time slows down in a crisis. I remember the terror — and I also remember thinking very clearly "I want to live." Until that moment, I hadn’t been sure.
A Voice cut in to my thoughts very clearly "Swim forwards and make as much noise as you can. When you get near, hit it on the nose. If it turns, poke its eye with your thumb."
So I did the complete opposite of what instinct wanted me to do — swim away as fast as possible — and obeyed the Voice without thought. I swam straight at the barracuda, yelling under the water.
It flipped away before I was close enough to hit it.
I lay there and watched it; it watched me. What did I do next? The Voice suggested “You could swim backwards.” I never knew I could do that but I could! When my legs touched the side of the ship I turned and swam round it as fast as I could. Out of the water, I vomited with fear and shook like a leaf.
I didn’t tell anyone on the ship; I was too scared of being told off and there was no one else who was about to be as stupid as I had been. But as I sat, wrapped in my towel, shivering, I knew: I wanted to live. Henry’s death was not the end of me and I would survive.
I still have the murky, slightly out-of-focus photograph of that barracuda on the desktop of my computer to look at whenever I’m feeling small or scared. It helps.


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