Water’s not for drinking, it’s for living in. For living in. Land’s for being awkward. Mating, molting. Waiting till a coming threat has passed. It is, at best a temporary haven. Huddle on it like a gang of bears and then go back.
You don’t sense when he sees you.
You had always assumed that there was something in you, that would sense it. The dull throb in your blubber for a shark, the hub-bub in your gut when storms approach. The body nature gave you can sense danger. It always had. It always did before. But looking back, you don’t remember anything but snuggling in a pile. The warmth of necks, the soft gape of a stomach flat on stones. Unfurl from the blanket of your body. Stretch out foreign limbs, and miss your whiskers. How can something sense things without whiskers? And maybe that was your mistake.
It doesn’t have much weight. This thing you’re in. It doesn’t have the heft. It can’t survive. It’s cold and you climb back. Pull who you are back over you. But it was there. You stretched it. It was seen. And that’s enough.
They don’t do courtship displays, these things. They wait and steal the pieces of your body you slough off sometimes to stretch in sun. The water’s life. The land is just for mating, danger. Smelling. You do not need to smell things underwater. It’s salt and life and warmth and depth and blood. The tangy tastes make nostril breath redundant.
You dove that day, you emptied half your lungs to climb down deep inside the haven hearth of ocean. Your flattened heart was steady going home. The welcome dip of entering a place that you belong to, that belongs to you.
Of coming back.
You think of it sometimes. On cotton stuffed with feathers. Listening to breath and blinking eyes. You pant to calm you down. It’s all too much. The part of you that made you yours is hidden. Somewhere in the house, it’s folded up. It isn’t very big. You are a female, small and compact. Round. You miss your fins, the front ones and the back. What you have now is slower, more specific. He follows you, and eyes you as you move. He took you home. As though you were a shell, a fish, a bottle. He taught you to perform tricks and tasks. Social and personal. Your captor keeps you busy. Sometimes you show him teeth. He thinks you’re smiling.
Near-sighted in dim light, you did not see him. Fingers out to grab the meat of you. And that was the beginning. You didn’t know. You heard no tales of this beneath the ocean. Land’s another place away from Shore. The ones who disappear are eaten up. If you return, a welcome without question. This thing you know but you can’t find a way from here to there. To where you need to be. And it has been so long. Since you felt whole.
You call to them sometimes from in the kitchen. Your warble voice shapes proper ocean tongue. Not flaccid codes for things you do or want. He does not like your language and he quiets you with eyes and grunts and hands. Eyes fill ocean water in the night. It pools but it is not enough to claim you. You need more meat. You need it on your bones. To calm and soothe. To claim you, happy, home.
Deirdre Sullivan is a young adult writer. Her short story collection, Tangleweed and Brine (Fairytale retellings) will be released in September of this year, and her previous work has been shortlisted for the CBI award, the BGEIBA, and the EU prize for literature. Her short fiction has previously been published in Banshee, The Irish Times (online) and The Galway Review.