Baby & Pop


Pop says,
Not for me, Baby.

And, before I can answer, the sound of the water, which has been coming from odd directions for almost as long as he’s been sleeping, intensifies.  A roar from above, somewhere in the distance.  We wait.

Won’t be long now, says Pop, and something of his terrible certainty carries through in his voice.
I begin to plead with him, to tell him that the way out of the Caves isn’t far, probably just around the next turn, that I remember this patch of stone now from when we first entered them.  Even- I’m sorry, Pop- that I can just make out traces of dusky grey light spinning over the rock in the narrow distance.
He just says,
Won’t be long now.

But water, natural water, doesn’t lash out as if from a tap, Pop.  It creeps over the edges of things.
So we wait, in the silence of the dark, for it to come.

I tell him I’ll leave him, that I’ll scuttle off down the tunnels to find the way out and never look back, if he’s so determined to die.
He says,
Go ahead, Baby.
I think, but do not say,
How can I tell you, Pop, that I’ve never walked?  That when you thought I moved or was teasing you in the darkness, slipping from your hands, it was nothing but your inability to survive here that made it seem that way? 

He tries to tell me something, but he’s becoming confused.

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.   Because you’ll survive here.  You don’t even know how to rot properly.  So you’ll survive.
It’s very important that you continue to trace.  Use a stick if you have to.  Or a piece of charcoal.  Charcoal is messy, so you’ll have to wash it off with the clear water that drips from cracks and veins in the walls of the Caves.
If they do find you, insist on eating only moss and drinking only water- don’t touch their food, it’ll poison you.  Don’t let them find you.  Go back to the Great Circle.  The Inner Circle is the place of safety inside the Great Circle.  The stone is wiped smooth with my body.
That’s not the right wording, Pop.

Was he always this old, this confused?  Or has something happened to him, in the dark?
He’s stuttering, forgetting what he means to say.  Perhaps he struck his head and something important is leaking out of him, mingling with the water and blood.
Let me finish, he says. 
Christ, what else is there?  Baby?  Baby, are you listening?

I’m here, Pop.

His hand stretches out to find me.

Ugh, he says, suddenly, as if in sudden pain.
Wait, he says.  You’ll feel it for yourself in a moment.
I wait.

A cold, fluid dart slips down across the back of my head.
It’s the water, he says.  It’s coming over the edge of the precipice.
And another drop falls on my leg, spreading over the plastic like a spider.
         It’s raining, Pop says, laughing.  Who doesn’t believe in miracles now?  It’s raining, in a cave.  Fantastic.
         Suddenly, he shifts.
         It’s licking at my heel, he says, bewildered.  It’s above and below at once.  That can’t be right.
         Of course.  The wall of the precipice will already be streaming with water, slipping downwards, inaudible beneath the greater roar.  We’re only feeling the splashes as it foams over the edge.  It already has us surrounded.

         I tell him, firmly, as you’d tell a stubborn, ignorant child,
         Pop, you’re going to have to get up one last time.  You don’t have to go far.
         That’s a lie.  Even if he stumbles beyond the hollow he’s made for himself, even if there’s a lip beyond that we can scramble up, the water will follow us there.
         He seems to know it, because he says, chuckling,
         I’m sorry, Baby.  I never believed we were going to find our way out of here.  I still think we’d have been better off in the Inner Circle.
         We’d have been underwater long ago, Pop.
         He ignores me, or can no longer hear what I’m saying.
         If there’d been some order to it, he says, arrows or lines or signs that we were making a journey, not just turning back and forth in endless tunnels, I might have believed we were headed somewhere.
         He only speaks twice more after that.

         Right before the torrent falls, he tells me he wants to be moved back to the spot where he was lying before, just a little way away. 
         I tell him,
         I can’t do that, Pop, and he whines and begins to cry.
         When something above gives way, perhaps only a small stone or a crack already forming in the rock, we don’t know about it until the torrent strikes us.  Like a rush of breath, or hail; unfluid force against Pop’s chest.

         But it’s Pop’s hands, I’m certain, and not the pull of the water, that fling me up through the air.  Tumbling through the void; neither up, nor down, in motion, without direction.  And I land, not against Pop’s waiting hands, but against hard rock. 
Bounce once, and come to a standstill.

There’s no way of telling where I’ve found myself; whether I’m on a ledge somewhere, a place of absolute safety, or if the water is already lapping just beyond my head.
         Pop, I shout.  Pop.

         He screams, half-drowned in the roar.
         Fuck.  Fuck.  Fuck.  Fuck.  Fuck.
         Nine times, and ends.

         I wish, fervently, to myself that it had been ten ‘fucks’.  Or, better still, that it had been a word with meaning.  ‘God’ might have suggested a glimpse of something.  Not just agony.  I come close to convincing myself that it was ten after all.

         The other possibility is that he ended with nine because the water has driven him, too, to a place of safety, or snapped his leg back into place, so that he can step up easily, over the puddles that might have killed him, and come and find me.  Benevolent water.

         I don’t want to shout, in case he answers, and in case he doesn’t answer.

         So I whisper it.