Thursday, December 16, 2010

"In This Light So Dim" by James K. Bowers

Dedicated to the memory of the men of the Kursk - August 12, 2000.

The light here is very dim and the cold makes it difficult to write. The air is stale and smells of salt and smoke and blood and urine, but mostly of fear. We try hard to conserve our electricity and air. Since I am not an officer, I can only guess that we lie on the bottom of the sea somewhere in arctic waters. It has been an eternity in the near darkness and it has grown cold over the hours. Icy water is slowly leaking into section nine where we have been forced to take refuge and if help does not arrive soon, our rescuers will find nothing but death here. I believe we have no hope of escape and little hope of rescue, but still I pray I am mistaken.

Knowing the truth of our situation weighs heavily on us all. Twenty-three of us are likely all that remain of the officers and crew. There are many faces remembered from my last meal that I cannot count among the survivors. The silence of their absence gnaws at us for we could do nothing to save them. And the moans and whimpers grate on our nerves. There is very little we can do to comfort the wounded. Some have gone forever silent since we were trapped here and no longer must endure the pain... the cold... the fear. For them I grieve, but I find it necessary to focus on the living. It is from them that I must draw what little hope I can. And this is, indeed, a most difficult task.

Some have resigned themselves to death and sit unresponsive, as if already dead. Only their steady breathing marks them as living beings as they stare blankly from their solitude. Perhaps this is a good thing, for enough have already buckled under to panic. The boat’s doctor has no sedatives to spare for them... some were beaten to unconsciousness as they screamed in terror. Better this savage silence than shrieks of fear. Hysteria cannot be tolerated. We must remain calm or we are lost.

Others have chosen to ignore our plight. Only two meters away a cook, a sonar operator, and two aft torpedomen are engaged in a card game. How they are able to play cards, huddled together as we are for warmth, is a mystery to me. Their hushed wagers make their way to my ears and I am amazed as the cook bets part of next month’s pay. Perhaps he has a good hand, or perhaps he is bluffing. Perhaps none of them can see what cards they hold and play only to defy reality. Given the opportunity, what would he now buy with his winnings?

Still others dream of escape for, at this depth, they have no hope. The pressure of the sea would crush their lungs. If somehow they could survive the pressure and reach the surface, they would succumb to the bends to die a horrible and painful death. Even if able to avoid both of these hazards, they would soon die of hypothermia in these frigid waters. So, it seems, none of us can reach the surface without aid.

No, it is much better to sit quietly and write. It is much better to dream of summer days with you, Ekatarina... a small boat on the lake... hopes for our future carried on your sweet voice as I row... a future that perhaps shall never be. But in this light so dim I can close my eyes and see your face. Your smile becomes my warmth. The memory of you brings me comfort and gives me a reason to fill my lungs yet again with this heavy air. If I do not return, my love, know that my last thoughts were of you.

©2000 James K Bowers

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