Baby & Pop


Wake to darkness, and the touch of Baby’s tiny hands upon my chest.  Needing to eat.  Needing to drink.  Needing to piss.

Did you fall?
He says,
You were crying, Pop.
In my sleep?
I don’t remember that.
You block it out, says Baby.  It’s OK.
I trace along my ribs, feeling for the bruises.  I leave the legs until last.   The rough flesh of my palms bumps along Baby’s round, bald head.  For a moment this feels almost disappointing.  What a thrill it’d be to reach out in the dark and find something unfamiliar.
You don’t seem to grow, Baby.
Neither do you, Pop, Baby says, nuzzling me.

My left leg aches.  Flakes of dry blood latch onto my fingers as I explore.  The right leg is worse.  The shape isn’t right.  
I need to piss, Baby.
And I can’t move.
Disgusting, he mutters under his breath.

Hot urine begins to trickle back down my thighs.  Relief overcomes shame and I almost laugh at the thought of the sight of me.
Where do you think the water’s got to? I ask Baby.
High, he says.  Maybe almost to the Great Circle.  I don’t want to think about it.
I’ve been thinking, Baby.  How would you like to live underwater?
He’s quiet.
Pop.  You can’t live underwater.
I’ve been practicing.  A couple of times now.  We’ve got to adapt, Baby.  You’ve said that yourself.
You’re the one who keeps saying that, Baby says, and he sounds distant.
The water’s rising, Baby.  It may never stop.  What happens if it fills the cave?
We can leave the cave.
What if it gets higher?
That’s not reasonable, he says.  Water doesn’t just rise.  There are...processes.
It can do anything it wants, Baby.  It spreads in all directions.  Around corners, even.  It finds weak places.  We can’t escape it.
Something has changed.  I can hardly feel his weight upon me.
I’m thinking, Pop.
I go quiet.

You really can’t walk? he asks, after a while.
I don’t think so.
You haven’t tried yet.
Baby, for God’s sake, my leg’s twisted right around.
Have you tried praying again?  Maybe it would help, if you prayed again.
No.  And I’m not sure I want to.
He asks,
Because of what I said?
Not just that.

Shall I tell you a story, Pop?
I’d like that, Baby.
Many sleeps back, he says, in a voice a little like mine when I tell a story.  A playful, unashamedly theatrical voice.  Many sleeps back, while you were in the Inner Circle, I came across something in the darkness.
I couldn’t pick it up.  But it was flat and sharp, and its dimensions curved elegantly, like lace.
Was it stone?
Think so.  It was smooth on both surfaces.
Sounds like a flinthead.
I think it must have been, Baby’s voice comes back.
Why didn’t you tell me about this, Baby?
I wanted to keep the thought to myself, he says.  Because afterwards, I never came across his bones, though I kept searching for them.  I know they probably rotted away, but I couldn’t help having the thought that a man had come here, once, left the flint behind for us to find, and moved on into time.  Like the caches the explorers used to leave.  And it seemed marvellous.
That’s a good story, Baby.
Do you think you’ll trace it, Pop?
I’m not sure I’m cut out for tracing right now.

Yes, Baby?
If you don’t move, will you die?
Yes, Baby.  I think so.

Yes, Baby.
If you want to, you can fuck me.

His arms are pressing against my neck.  I clear my throat, and ask,
How exactly am I supposed to do that, Baby?
Unscrew my head, says Baby.  Put it down on the rock, facing away, so I won’t have to see.  My chest is hollow.  You can turn it into something else.  Forget it’s my body at all.
How did I forget about this?  Something soft is stirring, against the rock.
No, Baby.  I really don’t want to.
I think, but do not say,
You have too much meaning for me for me to just shift- like that- and turn you into something else.  You should be more than a vessel.  You should be Baby. And if I can turn you into anything I want, I haven’t succeeded in making you a real person.
 Come on, Pop, says Baby.  For fuck’s sake.  You’re going to die.
No, Baby.

We lie awake.
If you have to offer me something, Baby, I could do with some water.
My throat is beginning to feel a little sore.  Perhaps it’s better if I don’t keep speaking aloud.
If we’d stayed in the Great Circle, Baby says, you’d have had all the water you wanted.
He’s joking now.  He wants me to forget what he just offered me.
Pop, he says at last.
Yes, Baby.
You didn’t have to come with me.  I’m sorry about that.  I just want to keep moving.
Keep moving, Baby?
I think about it all the time.  I worry about the way the water came after us.  It came after the cities, and you thought you’d beaten it by coming to the Caves, and it came after you here.  So we should keep moving, and it won’t catch us.  And we won’t get old.
Something is trickling down my leg towards me.  Blood, hopefully.
I always imagined making myself a little coracle, Baby says, and I’d float from island to island, never becoming tied-down, never letting myself rot.  Never depending on anyone.
Baby, for fuck’s sake, you’re not going to die.

My tongue slips against my lips, like a kiss.  Perhaps, if I leant forward, I could lick the urine off the rock between my legs.  Moisture.
Is there any sense prolonging it?
Was there ever any sense prolonging it?

The stone is pulsing beneath me.  A faint roar swells below, and rises until it’s a constant stream of noise.  Like background electricity.  It’s difficult to tell which direction it’s coming from.
Baby asks,
What’s that?
It’s the water, I tell him.  It’s coming through the tunnels.
It’s come too quickly, says Baby.  We should have more time than this.  It wasn’t rising this fast before.
No, Baby.  Something must have happened.
I don’t have any idea, Baby.

His hand strays against the tip of my index finger.
I just want to be certain you’re still there, he tells me.