Baby & Pop


Wake to darkness.  Already thirsty, starving, needing to piss.  Needing Baby.
         Baby, I call.  Baby!
         I stretch out my arm but there’s no-one there.
         Baby, I call.  Baby!
         After three or four attempts I have to give up.

         There’s something wonderful in being alone.  An empty place, and your continued endurance there.

         You follow the Tunnel Beyond Shitter’s Corner 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 that can catch dangling genitals and careless limbs.  Then the steep fall, the two footfalls, and you can slide down to the Pool.

         There are cracks in the stone that moss flourishes in.  Moist, springy clumps that taste of the earth. 

         When I’ve eaten my fill, I slip down the polished surface.  I stop.  The dimensions of the Caves have altered.  I reach out again, and feel.  For a moment I consider the possibility that I’ve taken the wrong turn, and come to another Pool, somewhere unexplored in the darkness.  Stupid.  There can only be one explanation.

         The water has risen an inch since the last time I fed.

         There can be no doubt about it.  The lower curve of the egg-shaped rock, where the symmetry of the shape is broken by a fattened tumour-lump, dips below the water.


         I’ve found Baby.  Dashing through the Upper Tunnels after him, yelling,
         Baby!  Baby!
         Just below the Rolling Pin, I begin to cry, like a child cries, without any deep emotion behind it, the tears dribbling down to a rhythm of sobs.  Pathetic, Baby has told me many times.  Pathetic, Pop.

         I find him perched on the Ledge Where You Have To Crawl.  It’s far out, almost as far as we’ve ever gone.  He’s been exploring again.  Just beyond the Ledge Where You Have To Crawl the tunnel curves downwards, for six hundred paces, and then there’s the Elbow Pit you have to slide over, without falling.  Once I was trapped in the Elbow Pit for three Sleeps, after I fell.  Only hunger, and Baby’s cries, drew me out.  And we’ve been no farther.

         What’s the matter? he keeps asking, irritated, unable to comprehend why I’ve dragged him so far from his exertions, back to the Inner Circle within the Great Circle, into the highest place of protection.

         Once we’re safely there, I tell him about the water.

         You’re sure, Pop? Baby says.  Because you’ve imagined things before.
         Dreams, Baby.  They were dreams.  And they’re quite normal.  This is real.  I felt the water lapping at my feet.
         So how high will it rise, Pop?
         I don’t know.
         It’ll stop at the Great Circle, won’t it?

         I trace my plans on the smooth stone of the Inner Circle.  Sacrosanct.

         Plan one, because Baby is demanding it. We investigate the Upper Tunnels.  We figure out if there is some way out we might have missed, or a new exit entirely.
         Baby is chattering; reimagining his dream of the two of us setting off down some dusty white road, him in a wheelbarrow, me wheeling him, singing.  Along empty, ocean-fertile pastures of maize and happy water-treading cattle.
         I don’t know where he gets these ideas from.

         Plan two.  We see about defences.  I explain to Baby how we always used to do it, on the beaches.  We piled up sand to form the walls of canals.  And as the water threatened to spill over, Dad came in with a great spadeful of wet sand and plugged the leak.  It took time and constant commitment; it was the closest thing we knew of work at that age, in fact.  But with speed and efficiency, and tireless reworking of the dam, you could keep it up.
         There’s no sand, says Baby.
         But there are loose stones.  And we can break loose rock from the walls.  And we can use moss to plug the gaps.
         We need that moss to eat, Baby whines.
         We’ll have to reconnoitre; figure out the best places to build our walls.  We could even dig out canals- find places where the rock is weak and make tunnels of our own.
         Baby tells me I’m going to bring everything down on top of us.

         Plan three, Baby.  We see about recreating God.  I can remember most of the pieces.
         You can remember your psalm, Baby sneers.  And the Lord’s Prayer.  And that Buddhist girl you’re always going on about taught you about the Lamp Bearer.  
I think he means Polly.  She wasn’t a Buddhist; she was just very enlightened.
That’s not going to be enough to rebuild a whole God, Baby says.  You need the ceremonies, the scriptures.
         We need him, I tell him.  We’re in danger.  We need an ally.
         Why not make it a goddess instead? he suggests.  She might fall in love with you, and then you could make more children and we’d have a whole army at my disposal.
         I tell him it doesn’t work like that.  He’s never really understood the boundaries between the real and unreal.
         Well, it’s probably for the best, Baby says.  I wouldn’t like to be just one Baby out of a million others.  You might lose your affection for me, mightn’t you, Pop?
         Never, Baby.

         I’ve rolled on my side so Baby can’t see this one.  I don’t know if he can see any better than I can but I don’t want to risk it.
He asks me what I’m doing. I tell him I’m spilling my seed.  Baby, being neuter, doesn’t understand the exact details of this action.  He lapses into respectful silence.

         Plan four.  Every time I go down to the Pool to feed, I lower myself a little further into the water.  There is no way out, no matter what Baby says, and I can’t live beyond the Inner Circle, trudging further and further into the tunnels as the water chases me.
          I’m going to have to re-learn the art of the ancestors; I’m going to have to learn to live beneath the water.
         The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me.  In recent Sleeps my hair has begun to thin.  Clumps flake from my beard every time I tug at it.  But I’m not aging; I’m devolving.  If I’m not adapting to the darkness, it’s because I’m turning unmammal, Baby-like.  I’m going to return to the ocean. 
         All done, I announce to Baby.  Now, I tell him, feeling for him in the dark, we’ll start with plan three.
         That’s because it takes the least exertion, says Baby.  I can read you like a book, you know, Pop. 


         In the beginning
         Was the word
         And the word was God
         And the word was with God
         And the word was

         I can’t recall it.
         I’m so bored, Baby drawls from somewhere in the darkness outside the Inner Circle.  Tell me, Pop, how did you make televisions?  Could we build one out of the moss and loose stones and things?  I don’t mind sacrificing a leg or something if it was integral to the workings of it.
         You could help me, I tell him, if you’re bored.  I need to remember this.
         He’s yawning.
         In the beginning
         Was the word
         And the word was God
         And the word was

         Was it ‘with God’? 
         Tell me a story, says Baby.  Tell me how you made televisions.
         Instead I tell him about the Babylonian Empire and their great ziggurats, striking upwards at the sky, and Nebuchadnezzar who became a boanthrope and ate grass.
         A what?
         A boanthrope.  He thought he was cattle.
         I thought it was a dirty word, Baby sniggers.
         In the beginning
         Was the word
         And the word was

         I’ve written ‘God’ so many times I begin to suspect it can’t be right.  Though I know it is.  For certain.
         This isn’t working, says Baby.  Do you remember anything else?
         I tell him the story of Jesus killing all of those pigs.
         Sounds temperamental, Baby says, disapproving.  You wouldn’t want a loose cannon like that running around causing trouble.  What’s a pig?  I don’t think I ever saw one Before The Caves.
         We’re both forgetting things, I sigh, rubbing my bare palms on the bare stone.  Baby must be able to tell I’m close to giving up, because he says,
         Then reverse the process, Pop.  Begin to remember.  Something else.
         I remember creeping up to the Bible in the family living room, as if trying out a new brand of black magic, and flicking the leather, snake-brown covers open at a random page and pointing.
         What did it say?
         It said that you can be forgiven for any sin, insulting Christ or insulting God, but not for insulting the Holy Spirit.

         Fuck the Holy Spirit, says Baby.  It comes out in a rush.
         Baby, no, I shout.  But it’s too late.  He’s said it, and he says it again.
         Fuck it.  Fuckity-fuck-fuckle it to the depths. 
         My stomach curdles nervously beneath my taut skin.
         Baby, I begin.
         You shouldn’t have said it, Baby says, in a reedy whine, which is the closest he ever gets to an apology.  It just popped into my head.
 My horror thickens.
You little bastard.
You little bastard, why can’t you keep your mouth shut? 
We’ll never get out of here.
You’ve done it now, you’ve really done it.
         Pink elephants, Baby  says.  He’s bashful, maybe a little indignant.  A benevolent God would know that.


         I’m lying awake.  He said it.  I can’t believe he said it.  The drips are louder now.  There’s nothing out there but void and yet I cannot sleep.
         Into the dark I whisper,

         I’m sorry, God.
He didn’t mean it.
I’m sorry, God.
I’m not the same as him.  Don’t hurt me for what he said.