When you almost drown that time you wonder afterwards about what happened to your caul. In another century it might have been taken and stored in a box as proof against tragedies in rivers and pools, lakes and oceans. Your mother said that the hospital asked if they were superstitious, but that your father laughed it off and so they left it there, the caul discarded.
You keep dreaming of how it happened, stepping out in levels across the lake, the depth that opened beneath you, unexpected. It was like falling off a cliff edge. You dream of the aqueous view of the clouds above, the whole muffled sky. You could hear the beach, kids screeching as they played volleyball, shouts framed by the glottal lock of intervening water.
Each time you think of it or ask to hear the story of how this caul was lost, you picture it in your mind as a flesh-coloured swimming cap. This is how it is meant to work, you are sure. You put it on and, as with fairytales, it grants you unlimited buoyancy. Perhaps it even adds a spring in your tread on dry land. Sometimes, when you think of it for too long you find yourself resenting your parents. They were bestowed, ever so briefly, with a gift that might have granted you immunity from death by drowning. Instead, you wander the world as though it were a marshland, unsure of where to step.
In this dream, you keep waving your arms in the air like water weed, a preening merman. Of course, you are reaching towards the unclaspable latch where water meets oxygen. You claw upwards like a too-small kid jumping to reach a cookie jar. This is what you are reduced to. You are like someone begging favours for a leg up over a wall. You can’t help but think that swimming bareheaded is a diminishment. Each time you wake surprised by the silence of your room, as though you’ve reached a cave beyond the pressure of the water.
You hear from your grandmother that one of your cousins still owns her caul and keeps it in a jewellery box beside her bed. More impossible resentment brews. Monica seems, from this distance, to have led an enviably inflatable life. She floats through it, you are sure. Her heels fail to graze the ground. You ask your parents again about your caul. Might there be any chance? They shake their heads—lost forever. Most likely incinerated. Gone just like that, poof, before you were one week old. The caul’s loss is ancient history, they say—it doesn’t deserve your grief.
The dreams are almost identical in this phase of life. Perhaps it is turning forty that started them off—your thoughts tend to browse wrong turns with each successive birthday. You get sentimental, fixated. Naturally, that time, those years ago, you were rescued—salvation does happen sometimes. There was a moment when you could have drowned. You held your breath and the world seemed to close over, form a bubble. In that moment it all seemed undeniable: a looming, possible death. But then your cousin swooped in, saved you, dragging you out of the deeper water. Even now, you think that with the caul at hand or, to be precise, on head, perhaps you might have saved yourself. There is a difference after all. In this dream you keep having, over and over, you hang suspended, looking upwards, waiting for your long-lost caul to drop like a halo out of the sky, waiting to be blessed.
David Mohan has been published in PANK, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, SmokeLong Quarterly, Matchbook, The Seneca Review, A-Minor, and The Chattahoochee Review. He has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize.