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A Story of Uselessness | Living, as They Do, at the Bottom of the Sea

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My story Living, as They Do, at the Bottom of the Sea was published today in Breath & Shadow.

Breath & Shadow is a wonderful publication out of Maine that publishes work focused on disability.

Because my disabilities are “invisible,” I often feel compelled to convince myself that they don’t exist (dangerous), and so, in reaction to this feeling, I do what I can to give them voice and call them what they are. Being published in a magazine of this sort might be helpful to other people who suffer from the same disabilities that I do, but it mostly helps me to remember who and what I am, which in turn helps me do the things I need to do to properly deal with my disabilities.

This story came out of the phrase “Underwater Basket Weaving,” the idiom referring to the supposed absurdity of college classes that don’t teach a definable skill, and the umbrella assumption above this that anything we cannot immediately find a use for (or make money from) must be worthless.

There are many things, in my mind and in the world, that have uses beyond the obvious, or that have value despite a lack of “usefulness.”

Living, As They Do, at the Bottom of the Sea

They are a people who weave baskets, living, as they do, at the bottom of the sea. Tiny creatures of light, miniature suns living within the scraps of some lost universe, some wandering place that found its way here.

​Surrounded, as they are, by bubbles of spacetime that refuse to fuse with our universe, close as a breath and distant as the stars, they seem not to know that they are lost, that they should not be here, living, as they do, at the bottom of the sea. We tried for decades to make contact, to tell them, “You see, you should not live at the bottom of the sea.”

But the little luminescent beings are merrily oblivious, ignoring us and weaving their brilliant baskets, weaving in the oceanic deserts, in the acres of acid and sand, weaving in all that is left of the bottom of the sea.

​Abandoned, they were, by the scientists and explorers, abandoned when nothing could be made of their activities. “Why bother with these idiots, these fairies, these beings, that weave baskets of light at the bottom of the sea? They pretend we don’t exist—can they not see? Up here in the dark, where the dust filters the sun, we live in the best universe that can be.

​Leave them to their baskets, leave them to weave. Only a fool would want to live at the bottom of the sea.”

​Walking among them, as I do, a fool in a suit made three times too big, compressed by the water, compressed to my head, smashed by the pressures of a world long dead, crushed by the world on top of the sea, I wonder, as I do, what is best in their universe, what caused them to flee, what inspired them to weave baskets of sunbeams and stars, to live, as they do, at the bottom of the sea?

​They weave and live all alone, you see, weaving their baskets, as they do, at the bottom of the sea. No fish, and no trees, not a clam or sand flea—no, not a single thing lives at the bottom of the sea. And what better use for a place seared clean, by acids and oils and filthier things? For a place emptied of life by only one Celsius, by a measurement of merely a single degree? Did they not tell us, those preachers in black, that, “Chemicals and Celsiuses can’t possibly cause that! Who, after all, could hurt such a thing? Who could hurt something the size of the sea?” Why should we worry, now that the ocean is cleared, you see, of fish and kelp and whales and things, their bones decaying, as they do, in the bottom of the sea? Perhaps I worry too much for the little sun people, the weavers from some forgotten branch of the multiverse tree, thriving, as they do, at the bottom of the sea.

​I walk among them in a suit that fits me tight, coming, as I do, to stare at baskets of light, and I wonder, as I do, when it will break, when I will stop coming down to this place, when I will stop searching for baskets that aren’t meant for me, baskets meant only for the bottom of the sea. I walk among a people who can’t forget I exist, and I hope for a misplaced piece of brilliance, forgotten upon its pedestal of sand, a beautiful thing churned out, you see, by the strange, the oblivious, the intoxicating people at the bottom of the sea.

​And I look, as I do, at the photos, you see, photos of the ones who’ve forgotten me,
photos etched into the armor that I wear, here, in the solitude, in the sunshine, in the silence at the bottom of the sea. They urged me to forge their pictures into my skin, to take needle and ink and tattoo them, as they do, in the land where people are thin, where shadows are breath and darkness is free, to tattoo them on my eyes, you see, that I might never forget I am a person of gloom, not a person of light, that I do not belong down here, down where the children of the stars weave baskets, as they do, at the bottom of the sea.

​“There you can only be a shade, you see, deep below, on the bottom of the sea. Stay with us, put our images on your eyes, and forget the strange people at the bottom of the sea.” But who can forget, who can ignore, the call of the beauty at the bottom of the sea? A fool I am, haunting their steps, hoping their baskets will tumble into our universe, that I might grab one, and flee, that I might look inside, that it might help me to see, to understand why a people would live on the bottom of the sea.

​I look at the photos and remember their pleas, remember telling them, as I did, that my eyes are precious to me, that I would not tattoo them, as they do, in the land of gloom, and they responded, as I recall, that, “The baskets of light are not for us at all!” Not for us, or for me, but meant only for the people at the bottom of the sea.

​I watch the people of light breathe water touched by the sun, living, as they do, at the bottom of the sea, and a piece of me breaks, desperate, as I am, desperate to see, what they keep in those baskets they weave in the sea. And I take off my helmet, and light bathes my face, and I know now why I’m drawn to this desert place. And I drown in a breath, and fill my heart with the sun, screaming, as I do, at the bottom of the sea. And they walk over my body, sharing not even their light, dancing on a forgotten woman in an ocean of night. And I’m dying, as we do, dying with glee, dying and drowning in the black of the sea.

Living, as They Do, at the Bottom of the Sea is the result of my exploration of these ideas. Read it here.

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Adam Fout

I'm an addiction / recovery / mental health blogger and a speculative fiction / nonfiction writer. I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional and Technical Communication. I'm a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. I'm a regular contributor to Recovery Today Magazine, and I've been featured on numerous recovery podcasts. I have personal experience with addiction and mental health. I have Substance Use Disorder (SUB), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Bipolar II, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), and Binge Eating Disorder (BED), among others. I have been in numerous drug rehabs, detoxes, and mental institutions, so I understand from personal experience how the mental health system works. I have been published in numerous literary magazines, including December, J Journal, and Flash Fiction Online, among others. I LOVE when readers reach out to me! Always feel free to send me an email at awfout at gmail dot com. I can't wait to hear from you!