‘Yeah, but— I don’t know anything about—’
‘They want someone with your degree specifically, Jamie.’
Jamie rested her chin on balled-up fists and looked at her mentor with raised eyebrows.
‘Romantic Literature. On a submarine .’
‘Yes! I’ve said that three times. Would you like me to write it down for you?’
‘No, no. Thanks. I— I don’t know. Being underwater for months wasn’t exactly in my career plan.’
‘I didn’t think so, but it’s a wonderful opportunity. I’m worrying about you here, you need a change— something . You don’t have to take the job, but all you have to do is sign the form, and who knows? Maybe you’ll go on a whole adventure! I know this is something you’ll love. Just give it a try.’
He pushed the paper over to her, and she shifted to hold it in both hands, mouth moving along as she read. It seemed neat. Good pay, her own quarters and office, not that many other people around. She’d be able to wallow in self-pity. And maybe wallow in sea water when the submarine inevitably broke and she and the other 5 people on the ship scrambled for air until they drowned. The last bubbles of air bubbling to the surface, scrap metal on the beach, people in a little bar on the shores of Norway, or somewhere like that, sitting by a fire and talking about the tragic deaths of the scientists on that submarine. Oh, so sad. Jamie could just picture it.
Dream job, really.
‘What makes you think I want to be a philosopher on a death trap?’ She asked after reading it twice. When her mentor laughed, she stared him down. ‘Serious question.’
‘Like I said, a change of scenery.’
‘Bit drastic, though, don’t you think?’
Sitting on the floor of her apartment (she’d see it again in a few days, but boy , did she miss her couch), Jamie chewed on sticky toffee and stared at the wall. Above the gaping hole in her interior where the couch used to be there was a wall of pictures and posters and postcards and art. Book covers, pictures of Jamie and her , movie advertisements, bus and train tickets, the odd photocopied book page. Some random diagram of a seal skeleton she’d found in a classroom one time. Their first picture together, their last.
‘I wish you were here to stop me from making stupid decisions like this,’ Jamie said. Maybe to herself, maybe to the absent couch, maybe to someone who wasn’t there anymore. She didn’t often talk to ghosts. In fact, it was the first time in months that she’d done it. She was vaguely surprised that it didn’t feel the same as it did the last time. Instead, it felt exactly the way it should: like talking to air.
Jamie crossed her legs and leaned against the wall. She stuffed the toffee wrapper into her pocket. She wondered if there would be candy on the submarine or just dried seaweed and soup in those little vacuum packets. At least if there was soup, that meant there was some way to heat up liquid, so she could make tea even if there was nothing else. Maybe seaweed tea was delicious. Who knew? Certainly not Jamie.
‘If I ever find out whose idea it was to put an English specialist on a submarine I’m going to follow them around and scream all of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea at them until they sit down and reconsider their actions for a while.’
She scoffed silently at herself. She didn’t even expect replies anymore.
‘You know what I’m going to do when I get back? I’m going to get a cat. I’ll name it—’
If we’d get a pet, what would you like to name it?
‘—Kraken, or something. To remind me of the good times I spent underwater. Because they’ll be good times!’
She didn’t think they would be good times. She didn’t think so at all. But no harm in trying to convince yourself, right?
‘Good times,’ Jamie muttered. ‘So many good times.’
‘Oh, come on —’ Jamie slumped against the window of the airport’s entrance-and-exit hall, phone in hand and suitcase in the other.
‘What’s the matter?’ Rebecca said through the phone. Her voice was thin, genuinely worried, and Jamie smiled at the fact that everybody hated their mothers-in-law so much, but hers was more or less the nicest person on planet earth.
‘It’s raining. I had this whole soliloquy in mind about how this would be the last time in a while that I’m going to be dry, but now I won’t be.’
‘You’ll be in the submarine, though, won’t you? You won’t actually be wet in there.’
Depends on the state of the ship, Jamie thought. Depends on the people in it .
‘I suppose, yeah,’ She said. She looked out into the rain and wanted to cry a little bit. She adjusted the grip on her phone. ‘Hey, Rebecca, I think I’m gonna hang up now. I’ll— I’ll contact you. I don’t know if there’s cell service down there, or some sort of underwater postbox, but you’ll hear from me.’
‘I’m already looking forward to the soggy letters.’ Jamie smiled. ‘Goodbye, honey. Good luck!’
She made to hang up, but Rebecca already had.
Oh god, she thought. Oh god oh god oh god oh god ooooohhhh god .
The taxi driver was very blonde and very talkative, and Jamie wanted to hit his head with her books. The thought surprised her. She wasn’t one for violence, really, but it must be the stress.
‘So I did try to study it, but you know how it is, right? The system is rigged. You’re meant to fail college, they just take your money and your will to life and tell you to go read some fucking Dickens , like you're some sort of pretentious little heir to a piece of land sitting in your uniform with your Union Jack-patterned tie—’
‘I quite like Dickens, actually,’ Jamie couldn’t help but saying politely. ‘I studied him a little while working to get my doctorate in Romantic Literature.’
The driver glanced up at the rearview, and Jamie smiled at him.
‘Doctorate?’ He muttered.
And so there she stood, on a surprisingly and terrifyingly rickety dock. This job was going to be so easy. She wasn’t even on (in?) the Amphitrite yet and she was already feeling so small, so existential-dread-y, so ready to philosophise about the vastness of the blue ahead and how it probably wanted to eat her.
‘Are you cold?’ Asked the woman preparing the little boat that was supposed to take her to the place where she’d be brought down to the Amphitrite.
‘No,’ Jamie said, well aware she was shaking, though not because of the cold. No, her coat was thick enough to smother a giant, that wasn’t the problem. ‘Just anxious.’
‘Ah. I understand that,’ The woman said, smiling and shaking her head to get her hair out of her face. She continued without trying to reassure Jamie at all, and Jamie was, frankly, a little bit annoyed at that, even though this woman’s only responsibility was getting her and two others from point A to point B.
She waited, shivering, until the woman said they could get into the boat, and Jamie was the last to do so. It rocked like a swing . Jamie yelped.
‘Hey.’ Someone who’d introduced herself as Beth put a hand on her shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, okay? We’re all professionals here, nothing is going to happen to you.’
The woman manning the boat grinned.
‘And if something bad does happen, we’ll pay a dear price for it. You’ll be avenged.’
‘Thanks,’ Jamie managed. She folded her arms, fingers digging into her coat. ‘That really helps.’
‘Welcome,’ The woman said cheerfully.
Beth squeezed Jamie’s shoulder once and let go. ‘So, I saw on the papers you’re a doctor. What in? Studying the wildlife, the water? Medical doctor?’
‘I uh—’ Jamie looked for a way to phrase it. She’d gotten used to people who knew what her degree was in asking why she was going to work on a submarine, not the other way around. ‘...Literature? I’m supposed to be writing a paper on the philosophy of it all.’
‘Wow!’ Beth said. Her companion raised an eyebrow at Jamie, but said nothing. ‘That’s exciting.’
‘Yeah,’ Jamie said.
Jamie Macmillan-Barrie’s list of least favourite places to have an anxiety attack (updated edition)
- In the middle of the classroom during your final exam.
- ON A TINY LITTLE FLOATING PLATFORM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GOSH-DARN OCEAN, ABOUT TO BE SUBMERGED INTO THE WATER FOR WEEKS, PERHAPS THE LAST TIME YOU WILL SEE DAYLIGHT BEFORE YOUR INEVITABLE DEATH BY DROWNING.
- In a closet at a party when a couple is busy breaking up outside said closet.
‘I’m going to die, aren’t I?’
‘Probably not,’ Beth said.
Jamie tried to smile at her, but it felt like she wasn’t doing it right. Trying to breathe, trying to breathe , she turned away from everyone and looked out at the clouds, swirling in singular, never-seen-before formations, and the flat, endless sea. She began to understand the wine-red epithet, because this came closer to a deep purple than the sky-blue she was brought up to associate with the ocean. She understood why one might be terrified of it, or enthralled by what lay within.
Her heart rate seemed to settle a little, and when someone cleared their throat she knew it was time. She turned and saw the boat woman scratching her chin.
‘I have a rather tight schedule, so if you don’t mind, I’ll get going. Good luck, doctor, and I’ll pick the two of you up in an hour or so.’
Beth and her colleague nodded, and Jamie thanked her. She stepped back into the boat, turned on the engine. They watched her go, the water foaming behind the boat like whipped cream.
‘Ready?’ Beth asked Jamie.
‘No, but I won’t get more ready.’ Jamie rolled her shoulders and tried to breathe like a normal person. It was so difficult she was almost offended.
‘Let’s get this the hell over with.’
The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.
Oh, she was absolutely going to die.