Baby & Pop


Wake to darkness. 

To be or not to be,
That is the question.
Whether tis better to endure
The slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune
Or bring it to an end, and by ending,
End them.  To sink.
But where we go- ay, there’s the rub,
That undiscovered bourn
From whence no traveller returns.

         That’s not the right wording, Baby says, from somewhere beyond the Inner Circle. 
         I don’t care, I tell him.  Nobody ever remembered how it ended.
         That’s not the right attitude, says Baby.

         When I find Baby’s little fragile body in the darkness of the Caves, I press moss into his open mouth, and when I twist one of his legs so that the joint itself becomes a gaping plastic arse, dirt spills out over my hand.  Baby, I am your father.

         Baby came with me from the open places. 
         I remember the sky, says Baby, and his plastic eyelids flicker shut beneath my fingers as he remembers.  Pop, there were planes.  I flew in one once on the lap of a little girl.  She may have been my mother.  I do know she tried to feed me before my mouth even had an opening.  Bread and airline salad, and once, her curious tongue.
         Do you remember the plane that crashed, Baby?
         I remember you telling me about it, Pop.   Tell me again.

         I trace the words across the stone as I speak them.  The spoken and the written are soon indistinguishable.
A Boeing, a big one, and as it plummeted into the water, artless but gorgeous, I thought about the school swimming gala and a girl called Gracie Johnson.  She was from Singapore; her body was unformed and sleek and she was wearing a white cap and nose-plugs.  Like a wonderful fusion of plastic and person. She dived.  Shrill whistles blowing.  Shrieks and splashes.
         We were watching from the hillside.  The runways were underwater and it couldn’t land.  The pilot knew there were houses beneath the surface, and he or she didn’t want to land and risk hitting something.  So it just kept circling and circling, uncertain.  And then the pilot must have got frustrated or simply lost his mind, because it plunged.

         That’s a great story, Pop.
         Do you need to shit, Baby?  I need to shit.

         I take Baby in one hand and head in the direction of the Smell.  When the stone beneath us begins to shift downwards, and the Smell intensifies, we’re heading towards the Shitter’s Corner.

         I squat, feet in the familiar position.  The crevice of Shitter’s Corner, a jagged eye in the stone, has no end.  Once, foolishly, I dangled an arm through there, then a shoulder, then found myself slipping downwards.  Ever since I’ve only shat into the abyss.  It’s an act of retribution.
         When I’m done Baby takes his turn to squat.  I’m always terrified I’ll drop him.


         Baby, being the adventurous type, is always difficult to find.  Sometimes it takes hours, and he’ll have to sing the old pop songs so I can grope my way towards the sound, in the Upper Tunnels or simply fallen into a pothole in the Great Circle.

         I’m on my way home.
I’ve been gone three days
And no-one knows I’m gone
I’m on my way home

         But even then I’m often stupid and clumsy and my hands miss him by the very slightest distance, and I’ll wander on, crying, calling for Baby.
         He’s patient, though, and he always says that sooner or later my eyes will become accustomed to the dark.  But I never do, and every time I wake I wake to nothing.
I’ve spent too much time in the light, Baby, I tell him. I’m sorry.
         The only light comes when I raise my knuckles to my eyes and grind them in.  Patterns of gold spray, like inverted fireworks, converging towards a centre.
         You’re going blind, Pop, says Baby.  His fingerless hands catch on the tangle of my beard. 
         I can’t tell.

         Sometimes, when he’s feeling bored or cruel, Baby tells me that if we’re only prepared to push a little farther out into the darkness we can still find the entrance; we can retrace our steps to the place we first squeezed into, when the waters were after us.
         And I’ll reply,
         There’s nothing out there, Baby.
         And he tells me outlandish stories of entire nations floating on the ocean, men who’ve grown gills and cities with names like Atloriana and Xthos.  The world outside grows seaweed as its primary currency, he says, and subsists on fish rather than on red meat, leading to the end of heart disease.  He says we can travel the road outside together, me pushing him in a wheelbarrow, meeting strange and unbelievable new creatures.  Tracing a path across the watery earth together.  A quest.
         I told you, Baby.  There’s nothing out there.

         I trace this on stone with one fingernail, illegibly, shifting backwards along the floor as I write.  Sometimes the nail snaps and I have to continue, with difficulty, with my middle finger.  The words written with my middle finger don’t seem canon.

         The water drips in odd places.   If I incriminate myself, or say something blasphemous, I can splash the stream over the stone where I’ve been tracing and eradicate it.
         When I’m feeling a little childish, I imagine I’ve discovered cave paintings on the surface of the stone; those ancestors, thousands of years ago, stumbling out into the light, chose to etch mighty warriors, hurling thin-line-spears at vague, unexplored monsters.  I cannot see them, but I convince myself they’re there, on the exact spot of rock beneath me, and I add to the hunt soldiers with rifles, a chariot, spacemen wielding lightsabers.  Or I trace,

         POP IS HERE.

         a thousand times over, in the dark.

         Sometimes I cry, a little.  I can’t deny it.  Memories of Before The Caves are difficult to manage.  If you let one in, a vague association of the texture of rubbly stone or the wet taste of moss in the mouth with something earlier, they all come tumbling after.  Headlights.   Sweet legs tucked between your legs.  My father, chasing me through the garden with a spoonful of yoghurt.  Running my hand along moist, lichenous rock as I passed on a long summer’s hike; a different sensation, a very different sensation to the hungry joy of finding a fresh strain of moss in your grasp in the Caves.  It’s too much at once, when you’re so used to the single blackness.
         Baby, who’s truly selfish, only ever cries when he wants something.

         I know I’ve told you this before, Baby.  But I’ll tell you it again.  When I’m falling asleep I rehearse it in my head and my finger traces the words in the air.

         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.  Baby has fallen silent.  I should sleep.  My limbs burn.

         I think I have it right now.

To be or not to be,
That is the question.
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune
Or to take up arms, bring about an end
And in ending them, end the struggle.
But what dreams may come;
Ay, there’s the rub, Death’s undiscovered country
From where no traveller has yet returned.