Bouquet from the deep

Have you smiled at yourself today? Have you outwitted danger? Has anything astonished you? Have you wondered where you belong? Have you brought a gift to your beloved?

If you can answer yes to all these pert questions, then I embrace you, my comrade in affirmations. For I too can answer yes.

Standing before my mirror this morning in my old diving suit, that collage of worn canvas, patches, scarred rubber, and rusty metal, I had to smile. This was the secondhand suit I bought one winter years ago, not to go deep-sea diving in, but to wear hitchhiking across the cold country. It kept me plenty warm, and I never had any trouble attracting rides. It also made a fine conversation piece with strangers. I could tell of heroic tiptoeings past sleeping octopuses; ferocious brandishings of my knife at snoopy sharks; cozy strolls along the sea bottom, my breath piping out like spangled soap bubbles.

Today, too, I had unorthodox plans for the old suit. I was going down to the bottom of a nearby ravine, to dive in it, to pick my wife, Annie, some wildflowers that grow there. Often she'd gazed at them, so taken by those colors , like sighs at their own beauty, that she'd looked as if she wished the flowers could just fly up to her like birds and come together in her hands as a bouquet.

True, just because the ravine was deep didn't mean I had to wear the suit. But there was a complication. Many bees buzz around the flowers, and those useful little stingers I can do without. Just let them try, however, to penetrate my armor, thought I.

Still, as I trudged to the ravine, wearing, in addition, the heartening smile of one who is not afraid of the fathoms, I found myself wondering if perhaps I was too strange for this world, or at least to that part of it that wasn't underwater. Perhaps I should be down there, I thought, using my suit in the orthodox way, deep-sea diving all my days. At least, many of nature's greatest oddities, that would affright dwellers up here, are accepted down there.

But then, I told myself, maybe nature had made me in some strange, whimsical way necessary to the workings of the world, and the world's eyes and understanding would simply have to forgive me.

Reaching the ravine, I made sure my diving helmut was set in place, yet not crushing the three straws reaching from my mouth to the sweet oxygen. Then down I dived, a few feet at a time, landing at last in a Renoir-colored profusion of flowers. Immediately, bees swarmed about me. They tried to scare me by making octopus faces and smiling sharky smiles, and a few tried to sting. But nothing daunted me. In leisurely fashion, I picked the prettiest flowers. Then, bouquet in glove, I rose toward the surface with great speed and made my way to the ground.

Poor Annie, at first she couldn't believe it when I came into the house and, removing my helmet and going down on one knee, I offered her the pick of the ravine. ''Here, my love, is a bouquet from the bottom of the sea.''

Then, accepting the flowers, she took a deep sniff, and all their colors filled her eyes.

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