Baby & Pop


Wake to darkness.  Already hungry, parched, needing to piss, needing to shit.  Needing Baby.
         Baby, I hiss.  Baby!
         I stretch out my arm and find his upturned belly.  Close to the boundary of the Inner Circle, where, he knows, he’s not allowed.  Only I may enter the sanctum.  So he comes near, some nights, but never dares actually enter.
         Get needy for me, did you, Baby? I ask.
         I’m thirsty, he says.  He’s sulking about something; I can’t tell what.  I’m hungry.
         I’ll come back and sort you out, I tell him.  There’s still plenty of moss down by the Pool.  Wait here for me.
         I’m thirsty, he says.  I’m hungry.

         I can’t always spend time with Baby.
         There’s something wonderful in being alone.  An empty place, and your endurance there.
         I slip down the Tunnel Beyond the Shitter’s Corner.  You follow it down for one-hundred-and-twelve steps, occasionally more or less, until you come to an impurity in the stone.  A vein.  You turn away from that vein and the tunnel tightens.  I once stood up, struck my head, and lost consciousness here.  At one point you have to watch for the Sharp Rock which can catch dangling genitals and careless limbs.  Then the steep fall, the two footfalls, and you can slide down to the Pool.

         Life Before the Caves prepared me for this, Baby.  As we all grew further and further apart, we came to love being alone.  Perhaps we were aware, on some level, what was going to happen to us.

         There are cracks in the stone that moss flourishes in.  Moist, springy clumps that taste of the earth.  The last time I was down here my hands latched on to rubber coils of fungus.  I ate it, shamefully, alone, without telling Baby.  I just didn’t want to share it.  I won’t expect that joy a second time.

         When I’ve eaten my fill, I slip down the polished surface.  Just beyond the familiar touch of the egg-like rock my toes find the waterline.  I don’t like to enter the Pool.  There are too many memories, and besides, things float upon the surface and touch me.  But I reach out for the waterline, every time I come down here, to make sure it’s in the same place as before.  You can’t trust the water.

         And I bring a handful of moss back for Baby.


         Tell me again, Pop, says Baby.  The story of the end.
         So I trace it across the stone.  The well-worn story.
         We began to fall in love with apocalypses.  We’d always had at least one of them on our minds, but now there were countless endings, and they soaked right into us like sweat.  They haunted our dreams and our movies, and before long we were almost frustrated, waking up every morning waiting for something to come-
         Not that bit, says Baby.  I hate that bit.  Tell me about the gangs.
         When the water rose, the gangs began to loot, and got bored of that soon enough.  What they realised was that most of what they really wanted lay with the celebrity singers, the celebrity actors.  So the gangs found these celebrities, stole from them, and murdered them, and it became a badge of respect to have killed a particularly attractive celebrity.  The gangs would wear clothes imprinted with their victims’ images, and some of them even became minor celebrities themselves for having killed a celebrity.
         So were the gangs killed for being famous too? says Baby.  He’s quick on the uptake, for his age, and he has a fine logical mind.
         I press moss firmly into the gash that is his mouth.  My penis, pressing against the cold stone, is beginning to flicker outwards and upwards.
         They might have, if they’d had time.
         Baby is silent in the darkness for a moment.
         I like that story, Pop.
         I don’t.  It reminds me that I won’t always be here.  But Baby will be.  He doesn’t even know how to decompose properly.  I venture,
         Baby, do you think you’ll be able to trace the words some day?  Like your old man?
         I doubt it, says Baby, almost without thinking.  My fingers were never separated.
         Bad attitude, Baby.  We both need to learn to adapt.

         Baby helps me remember it.

         My Lord is my shepherd
         With him I want nothing
         He lays me down in my green pastures
         His rod and his crook protect me
         I shall worship him on the drums and cymbals
         I shall worship him on the loud cymbals
         In the house of the Lord
         I shall want for nothing
         And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
         For ever.

         I think that’s right, he says when I’m finished.  I lie back on the stone and retrace it.  My legacy to you, Baby.  The old soulful chants.
         Baby tells me he couldn’t care less.
         I think, but do not say,
         Baby, did you know Kafka once said, ‘There is infinite hope- but not for us’?  And H.G. Wells, in a dark and alien future, has one woman ask, ‘Is there hope?’ and her son replies, watching the world explode, ‘Not for us.’  It’s more positive than Kafka’s version.  The emphasis is on the existence of that hope beyond them.  The difference one generation can make.

         I sincerely believe there may be hope for you, Baby. 

         I want to try and think of some rules you can live by when I’ve gone away.  Something I can bequeath to you.


         I know I’ve told you this before.  But I’ll tell you it again. 

         The Great Circle is the place of safety.  At the very centre of the Great Circle lies the Inner Circle, where the stone is smoothest from my body’s pressure.  I can only sleep in the Inner Circle.  Explorations into the tunnels can only go so far because I need to know I can get back in time if I become exhausted.  Nothing could be worse than to fall asleep in the outer tunnels, under threat.

I’ve found that patch of smoothness.  The heart of the Great Circle. 

         My eyes burn.  It’s always so cold down here.  You become accustomed to it, of course, but that only ever goes so far.

I should sleep.