Shallow Breath - By Sara Foster


The question begins to circle her as she hangs in the freezing dark water. The surface is only a few metres above, and she kicks her fins hard. Nothing happens. She is still trapped. Alone.

The suck and rush of her breathing is too loud and much too fast. Calm down, she tells herself. She checks her gauge. Five minutes of air left. Five minutes to figure this out. She will not give in to her fears. Not yet.

Her scuba tank is caught on a thick piece of netting above her. She pulls her legs towards her body, and frees the knife that is strapped to her ankle. She reaches behind her, waving the blade through the water, hoping to make contact with something solid. But it is useless. She cannot stretch far enough.

It doesn’t matter. She can just squeeze the releases on her BCD and free herself from her snagged jacket. If she drops her weight belt, she can swim to safety. Her natural buoyancy will help her upwards. But she won’t do that until she is sure there is no alternative. She is terrified of what is hidden above, waiting.

Cold water creeps over her body, finds gaps in her wetsuit and settles against her skin. She is shaking now. It had been crazy, coming down here on her own, but there had been no alternative. And wasn’t she always meant to be alone, in the end?

Above the water, dawn is breaking. The light swims down to her, surrounds her, lends her courage. She checks the gauge again. Her air is almost gone. She goes for the clips of her life jacket, but finds her fingers still hesitate. This is her final moment of choice.


She wants to live. She takes a few deep breaths and watches the air bubbles spin away, forming a trail for her to follow. She summons all her strength, drops her weight belt, and pushes the clips at the same time as taking a final breath. Then she takes the regulator from her mouth, looks up towards the light, and begins to swim.



Thunder wakes Maya up at dawn, rumbling through the thin walls and into her bones. The rain has kept her semiconscious most of the night, an endless drum roll on the tin roof. It had begun as the sun went down, and she’d known Luke wouldn’t be visiting tonight. He never comes unless he needs her help.

She is sure she had been dreaming, but has forgotten the details already. Only the feeling remains – of something momentous. But then, today is not an ordinary day. Today her mother is coming home.

Maya hasn’t seen Desi for over a year. Fifteen long months, during which Maya has taken exams, broken her toe, cut her hair short, collected her P-plates, had her belly button pierced, been to her first music festival, and knocked back her first legal glass of wine.

Her mother has missed everything.

Maya throws off her thin cover and jumps out of bed. The caravan door squeaks as she pushes it open and runs to a nearby tap to fill her small kettle. She is usually good at keeping quiet – her grandfather gets irate if she wakes the paying guests – but the pipes groan as she shuts off the water, and she forgets to cushion the swing of the door on her return, so it slams loudly behind her. Despite the weather change, the temperature inside the caravan remains stifling, but the moisture on her skin renders her strangely cold and clammy.

She shimmies through the restricted space, puts the kettle on her small camp stove and sits down on the bed. She should go for a swim. It would refresh her sticky skin and damp hair. She considers heading down to the ocean now, but the sky is still a deep grey, and there have been a record number of shark attacks this summer on the west coast of Australia. She can all too easily imagine them prowling the slumbering seabed in the glum light, their fin tips glinting like slivers of metal, their eyes blackened hollows. Another roll of thunder makes her decision. She knows the statistics are on her side, but, still, she will wait for a little while, until it clears.

Instead, she makes herself a tea and fills a bowl with cereal. She has learnt how to use the features of this small space to maximum effect. Her belongings are all hidden away in a network