Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Wet and Dry

Mother and calf
Originally uploaded by ccgd
I soared through the Little Wet with the clan, my beloved son, Pskr, riding the slip-stream close by my side. The whispers of the sparkle pack were returning faster now: we were gaining on them. At the head of the hunt, my three sisters began to separate from one another, splitting the attack into three groups to encircle the prey.

I veered left after the Eldest, Stpttr, flexing the pads on my tail to give me extra speed, while encouraging my son to keep up. Tkkrh, Pskr's shadow-mother, followed directly behind us, ensuring that if the calf should slip behind, he would be in no danger.

Soon, the sparkle pack glistened before us, and like the snapping flashes of the Mother Wet's whispers in the Big Dry, their bodies caught the light from above as they twisted and turned as one in an effort to escape our pursuit. Out-swimming them we turned abruptly to herd them back towards the other members of the clan. In panic, the sparkle retreated into a tight group, like a clawed crawler hiding in its shell. On all sides the clan swam in small circles, stopping any attempt to break free. We began to feast one by one. At my turn I swam into the churning pack with Pskr, trilling to him to catch each sparkle by the head only before swallowing them. Once we had all eaten, we pulled back from the sparkle pack allowing the remaining creatures to escape.

Sated, we rested for a short while. Then, sensing the murmurs of a blind giant in the Little Wet, we swam to greet the noisy creature and to play and dance in its slip-stream. I paused at the edge of the Big Dry to watch the dry-walkers on the creature's back. Like the fearless sparkle that scurry about the mouths of larger hunters, they banded along the top side of the beast, with their hides of differing hues, some shiny, some dull.

"Mama, why doesn't the blind giant turn over and dump all those things into the wet?" Pskr grunted, nudging his snout into my side.

"I don't know, Darling." I replied. "Without the dry walkers, the giant cannot swim. I think it needs them to tell it where to go."

"In any case, " Tkkrh added, rolling her body in comic fashion and floating down towards the bottom, "once a giant turns over, it dives and never returns."

Stpttr had started a leaping contest. I watched as she swam deep then surged to the edge of the dry. Her beautiful body shone briefly, the drops on her skin reflecting the light of the Warm Eye, before she twisted and splashed back into the wet. The clan whistled their appreciation of her skill. On the giant, the dry-walkers wriggled their feelers and made their strange barking noises towards where Stpttr had leapt. Others joined the game, and soon we were all leaping and dancing. Pskr hesitated, swimming between Tkkrh and me, while we took turns to show off and brave the embrace of the Big Dry.

"Why don't you leap, little one?" I asked my calf. He nuzzled at my side but did not reply.

As we left the Little Wet, Pskr and the other youngsters pulsed with excitement to be out where no flat-dry could be seen or sensed. We had felt the call to meet for many days now and most of the shadow-mothers were eager to greet old mates or to find new ones. I, too, felt a yearning for the tender bite of a lover but mating would have to wait for another time: Pskr was too young to run with the males as yet.

The clan was soon joined by other groups. Some, like ourselves, were clan packs of mothers with young. Others were noisy bands of not-yet-fathers with comic tricks and off-key songs, who by their bravado wished to impress the females. My eldest son, Hdkr, belonged to one such band. He flipped backwards out of the wet to impress me (and possibly Tkkrh), taking care to show us the sparkle-sized nick in his upper fin, which he said had been made by a white-toothed killer. The last groups were, for me, the most interesting: vagabond gangs of mature males. I greeted Pskr's father, Sttkh, with affection, rubbing my nose along his flank, and tapping the dry's edge with my flipper. He responded in kind, and then whistling, he cut a wide circle with Pskr riding in his slip-stream.

The Warm Eye dived into the Great Wet, taking the blue of the Big Dry with her, and a pack of tiny polyps began to glow in the Black Coral that was revealed. The White Eye, not fully turned towards us yet, trailed a strand of silver sea-weed across the surface of the dry. I could feel her gentle pull as I rested with the herd, singing songs of the past to my beloved. I sang first of my mother, who had been the leader of the hunt before my sister, and then of her mother, who had been eaten by the black and white killer. I sang next of more ancient mothers, whose songs we cherished, whose dances we still saw in the motions of the wet, whose nudges we still longed for. I sang of times before the clan chose their hunting-place, when they roamed the Great Wet, basking with the great tail-splashers and running from the sharp-toothed killers. Finally I sang of the First Mother, who, drawn by the whispers of the White Eye, had crawled into the wet from the dry, forever to swim and hunt. As my sounds died away, another took up the song from the beginning, adding the memory of her own mother before repeating the clan story once more.

The Warm Eye leapt and dived, and leapt and dived again. The herd glided through the Great Wet in a slow turn, breaking into smaller packs to hunt, dance, sing or mate. As the Warm Eye pulled the blue across the Big Dry once more, the herd began to separate. Tkkrh, who had vanished for a time, returned to the clan. She rolled to show me the fresh strands of teeth-marks branding her skin along her head and torso.

"If I have a calf," she said, "will you be its shadow-mother?"

"Perhaps," I replied.

With two other clans we headed back towards the Little Wet, singing new songs of lovers we had known and of calves who had chosen to swim with the gangs.

We were racing towards the sounds of a blind giant, when the whispers of a sparkle pack distracted our attention. We slid in the direction of the prey, snapping our tails to swim faster. Pskr chose to soar by his own strength, and I whistled encouragement as he cut through the wet beside me. When the hunt split in our usual formation, I was alarmed as he veered towards the right fin-side. I quickly changed direction to follow him.

We had just encircled the sparkle when a squeal of alarm was sounded. Whispers of strangle-weed surrounded us on three sides. In the confusion I lost sight of my beloved. The prey escaped the hunt by breaking into smaller packs, clouding the wet with their glistening bodies. My senses blurred, I raced back and forth through the pack, trying to locate the sound of my calf.

Tkkrh suddenly appeared from the thrashing sparkle with my Pskr riding closely in her slip-stream. Together we dived to evade the deadly weed but the whispers told us that it was now beneath us. We surged upwards towards the dry.

"Pskr", I said," you must get ready to leap."

"But I can't," he squealed in reply. "I am afraid the Warm Eye will swallow me."

"Tkkrh and I will protect you, little one," I whistled. "The Warm Eye will only tickle us. Now leap!"

The strangle-weed was all around us as we broke through the dry's edge. We leapt with our bodies still touching. A blind giant was directly before us, and on its back dry-walkers seemed to helping it swallow the weed. Splashing back into the wet, I felt something sharp nip my tail, but with a flick it was free again. We were safe.

"I leapt", Pskr trilled. "Did you see me leap, mama?" His body was tingling with excitement.

I nuzzled both him and Tkkrh. We raced away from the giant, greeting with whistles other members as the scattered clan regrouped. Not all had escaped the strangle-weed's trap.

The whispers of the Little Wet reached us as the Warm Eye dived. Turning for home, we sang new songs for the sisters that we would hear no more.



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