Baby & Pop


I have no memory of falling asleep, or of waking.  At the moment of recall, Baby is already speaking and I’m already listening to him.
The howl of the water has steadied in my mind; it might always have been there.  There is a lump in the rock, jutting into my kidneys.  I try to shift.
Pop? Baby says, bouncing on my chest.
I just have to move, I tell him.  I need to get comfortable.
I lean to one side, then to another, rocking like a cradle, trying not to move my right leg more than necessary.
Sorry, Baby.  Go on.

Can you imagine, Pop, he says, their surprise when we emerge?  They might even drop down onto their knees on the grass out of astonishment.  We could tell them we were the lords of a subterranean kingdom- an empire beneath the ground.
Surprise is the right word.   What would these people- men in white masks? Fish-people?- what would they do if a savage man and a Baby burst forth from the earth like relics from the past? 
They’d bury us again, of course. 
Or perhaps it’s all underwater, even the mountaintops.  Perhaps I’d find a hold in the stone, tear it aside, and the sea would come rushing in to meet me.
Baby tells me he’ll find another Baby, and make more Babies, and we won’t die out.  He’ll visit the different islands of the world in his coracle, and I’ll have as many grandchildren as there are fish in the sea.

Can you imagine, Baby, I tell him, Polly didn’t want us to have a child?
She said it was a sin to bring a child into that sort of world.
Funny sort of name, he giggles.  Polly.  Poppy.  Can I call you Poppy?
I’d rather you didn’t, Baby.
I think he’s going a little crazy, not being able to move around.

And what will happen when the light breaks onto me, after so long in darkness?  Will it blind me?   Or will I flake away beneath its gaze? 

Baby says,
A rush of noise, and a retreat.  Somewhere in front of us.  You feel as if you could reach out and find something there.  The sound repeats.
Is it the sea? Baby asks.  Have we made it out?  Is it the sea?
It’s the water rising through the tunnels, Baby.
He falls silent.
I begin to trace across the rock under my finger,

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 feel that smooth stone beneath my twisted leg.  I can draw up that sense of complete safety.  I would be back there, in the Inner Circle, if it wasn’t for the sound of the water, all around me.

Do you remember that boulder? I ask him.
The one we rolled down to stop the water.
I wonder if it’s still there.  If the water hasn’t moved it. 
Does it make a difference? he asks.
No, I suppose it doesn’t.

Look, Pop, he says, we can get out of this.  You can make a splint-
Out of dead stone?
If we had fire, he says, a little tearful now, you could melt me down and make me into anything you wanted me to be.
We don’t have fire.
How fast do you think it’ll rise?
I don’t know.
It’s moving quickly.
We don’t know what kind of force is propelling it.

I tense my muscles, slowly, testing their strength.  If I avoid touching my right leg with any other part of my body, it might as well not exist.  Other areas are aching- spine, wrist, arse- so much that it’s almost universal.  Baby must be able to sense the movement, but he stays quiet.  Perhaps he knows he’s got through to me.

The texture of the stone beneath me has become unpleasantly familiar to me.  And, besides, there’s the constant sound of the water.  If I can only move three paces out, then there’s hope.

The easy part will be heaving my torso upwards on my hands, which are still working at full capacity.  It’ll probably strain my back.  Then I will have to- somehow- get my left leg into a position where I can crawl, upside-down and backwards-facing, on the weight of three limbs.  And I have to keep Baby balanced on my chest.

Give me another second.

I ignore him.  If you can’t shift yourself from this place, you will die helpless and idle.  Move.
Baby, I say, a little breathless, just to hold time off for another instant, I really wish I could have remembered Hamlet’s speech.  I could have passed it down to you.
They’ll have it outside, he tells me.
And I think, I can’t help thinking,
Oh, God- what if we make it outside and everything’s just the same as before?


A sudden, jerking movement.  My hands push up and my body jolts out from the rock.  And Baby tumbles off my chest.

My right hand snatches out to catch him and we fall together.  A pathetically short distance, but it hurts all the same.
My grazed palm finds Baby, upturned beside me, and returns him to his place.  His legs lean across the contours of my ribs.
Give yourself a moment, he says.  Take your time.  And we’ll try again.  It’s quite all right.

         I think,
         It isn’t all right.  The water is rushing all around us, separated only by rock and dead air.  If we can’t move we’ll be overcome.

         It all seems so distant.
         My voice says, as if detached from my thoughts,
         Baby, I’m so tired.
         You only just slept, says Baby.
         The days are getting shorter, I tell him.  It’s a sign we’re coming to the end of everything.
         He doesn’t like it when I talk like that.

         I thought we’d have more time than this, Baby.
         Come on, he says.  It’s quite all right.  You can lift yourself on your own weight.  Think of all the times you’ve done it before now.  There’s no rush, no rush in the whole world.
         Yes, Pop?
         You’re a patronising little shit.
         If it helps, he says, and for the first time it occurs to me that he might actually be in earnest.

         My right palm feels its way back to stone.  My left has been waiting in silent preparation all the while.  One final, insistent,

         But I don’t.  I begin to hate myself, lolling on my back like a fat, bloated sea-monster, and I mutter,
         Move, you stupid, stupid fucker, move-

         I push up, as slowly as I can manage, and Baby wobbles but remains still.
         My left leg is trembling, at the slightest pressure.  I’ll have to drag both of us on my arms alone.  Quick.

         Four successive rhythms, pulling like a rower, across the stone.  Each one is felt.  But when I come to a halt, unable to go any further, Baby is still with me.
         I let my body’s weight go and lie back against the stone.  My arms spasm, by my side, as if in terror.
         My back feels a new patch of textured rock.  A groove beneath my left shoulder. 
         Christ, I think, I hope we’re not heading towards a wall.
         Even worse, there might be only wall.  This could be a pit, a dead end.  But you can’t think like that.
         You’ve done well, Baby says.  Can you hear me, Pop?  You’ve done very well.
         Give me a minute, I tell him, and we’ll go again.
         Are you sure you can manage it?
         Of course I can manage it.

         It’d be different in the water.  Slipping through waves and currents and tides, driven and manipulated by a force greater than you but working with you.  Gradually devolving, shifting imperceptibly back into a cloud of intangible life, drifting at peace with the world above and below.

         My finger begins to trace across the fresh rock, claiming it as my own.

         The Great Circle is the place of safety.  At the very centre of the Great Circle lies the Inner Circle.

         Baby whimpers aloud into the darkness, like a pleading child,

         Pop, is there any hope for us?  Really?