The Aunt’s Tale

by Maureen B. Roberts ["The Dark" Nathair]


I am one with the sea. I have no need of words, but if I could speak I would tell of a dream that was all my life.

This Dream had no beginning, for the memory is now, as I brush along the vast and shadowy warmth that moves between the deep dark and the light that lances far above. I am young, born like a surge of remembering, newly shaped in freedom that spawns a horizon of untasted longings. Our Pod of whale friends is drifting to a quiet coldness. To feed. I relish these spaces of tagging close and listening, as the older ones gulp and strain forth the miniscule forms that scintillate and cloud the Sea like a myriad corpuscles in a spillage of dark blood.

She who gave me life nudges aside blocks of frozen ocean and the sea-floes gently bump and jostle one another as though in sleep. We are one with the sea. We remember in its Dreamspace Firebeings that long ago swam seas of flame, and biding our time we await the return of the tides that spawned us, for they will tell us when to leave. Among the icy bleakness, frigid in blue pallor, I feel buoyant about me the countless ways our Pod has known this journey. I have never been to the ice before, yet I was born as a silent rift within the memory of it, and the ceaseless thread of its bergs grew taut again at my birth.

The Pod friends, in an ecstasy of feeding, lunge and close upon great breaks of water as turgid stains of tiny forms choke the sea, smudging its ancient Dreaming like the darkness that comes and goes in the tireless rhythm of its own tides. A lumbering white legged form forages and sniffs across the ice and the dark curves of seal forms, mingled with black and white birds, loll in groups on drifting mounds that gleam beneath the Sun. Bathed in the rush of gold light, we curve away and I cleave to the one who has given me life, under whose great wing I gently bob and subside. Moving on, we leave behind the ice and the creaks and bumps of its sombre drifting.

The patterns of our group are forged by bonds that mellow and solidify like coral hardening and closing round the tender life within. There is another, young like me, cleaving to the shadow of maternal warmth that hides her. In our shared birth we knew a closeness, the silence of a blue haze of beginning. We were born at the same time and our first breathing synchronised like two waves cresting and falling together. Eye to eye we knew the thrilled exchange of sound and motion, feeling each curve of our bodies move slow throughout its radiant wave. We would glimpse one another above in air when we skimmed the surface to inhale, or when we traced together the fading edges of a seabird song. As soon as we were older and broken free from maternal need, we would roll and cavort, jumping and splashing as the Moon and Sun glinted from our sides. The closeness grew, tentative at first, then with the headlong tenacity of the sea. We shared the knowledge of our vulnerability, and the eagerness to traverse the wide realms of Ocean till it meshed with the ancient webs of longing within us.

Her life, like mine, was a constant overflowing. She would loll in rapture and rise with the Moon that sails the night like a great white Pearl. I see her as a mistress of languor, vigilant and ever in motion like the flux of the Sea's turbulent heart. We know each other well. Now and then she will turn on her side and, with a languid flap poised in the air, fling a wide arc of distance in a shower of windblown spray. And as we curve and slice the Sea, we ponder the vague scent of a future when we, in turn, shall give birth to children in the next season of our Dream.

The Sea unwinds and beckons, stitched with fine threads of ceaseless need and purpose. Water pours from the sky and its pods of dark clouds are thickly crowded. Huddled as if in fear, or convening mischief, they move in one fixed flow, of one accord to their destination. Are they, like our Pod, considering the rainbow that drapes the poised wave of the sky beyond them? Arched above the waves, we hear the roar of the rain's descent, the subsiding hiss and spatter. Something is gathering, glittering within me like a swelling tide. The surge focuses to a dim fixity of longing. Soon I know what the pressing urge is to become, for I know that I want to jump and flap. Soaring, I rise free and untouched, then fall in a riot of ocean. Heaving up into the sky once more, I feel the toss and lilt of waves as birds above scream and glide.

She knows this same urge with me and we jump and flap in the aftermath of the storm, celebrating the calm with a rite of play. And do the rainbow colours, we wonder, after their plunge into Ocean blend in harmony, counterpointed to the song the Pod males sing? The clouds swim on beyond the fading colour, buoyed up like tunes that lace throughout another realm of Dreaming. Sun etches them in brilliance and they melt and shift in outline like the pulsing grace of the Boneless Drifters, as below us in the twilit realm they trail the lethal tentacles of their deceptive beauty.

We listen now, my companion and I, side by side and drifting as the Moon ascends. Deep below stream the twinking myriads of phosphorescent points mirrored in the dark sky above. The Pod males have begun to sing, haunting the deeps of the Dream. The Song cycles over and over, then one starts singing near the end of the song, another from within its silver core. They are yearning, we know, not for us alone, but for all the dwellers in the Seadream, with energy abandoned to a distant music heard by them alone.

Our darkness is closed and consoling. Soft clicks and whistles interweave, and sometimes the cool light of the Moon comes sifting down in threads of silver that glint in many a sightless eye. There is a new emotion in the Pod males' song; lament and frailty, a wistful urgency of longing. And as the Dream stirs the fire within us, there is nothing but return and its path is a vortex into voids of remembering, anenome-like radiant, overlapping to stroke from one of us to the other new thought for new feeling, old feelings for low and muted croons. A luminous mesh of plants entangles sourceless grey sounds and we are closed into the Seawomb of the night, lulled by clangings from the far deeps of forgotten ruins tamed and muffled beyond reach. In the dark we listen to a derelict vessel creaking, rusting and encrusted with barnacles, relentlessly absorbed as its dust melts down to plains of ooze where the coiling Blind Ones roam. In the darkness we come, my companion and I, among the Pod males and stay for the long rapture of our meeting, and when the light of the Moon comes we are one with them in song.

Sometimes we feel the strange thoughts of a dark Pod distant from us, travelling to other horizons. They are the Toothed Ones that go down and wrestle with the many-legged giants of the deep. Down on the chill mountain slopes, along the ragged edges of the Sea's night they fare, in blind indifference to their ancient ritual of combat; and like the tugging of a vast weight downward, the presence of that violence is felt, the turbulence disturbing the settled shards of long-dead, decaying things, unthreatening as the necessary night. And as above we cut through flickering shafts of light, there trails behind us the blur of writhing amid fierce destruction, and I wonder if I, too, have been there, in that stark oblivion where the Dream renews all it sustains in the dark sweep of an endless annihilation.

Our journey circles and knows itself again. We feel its purpose in our bones, its caress along our skin, its thin slivers of destiny on which we are willingly impaled. My companion and I become full and ripe, heavy with the baby whales that have silently gestated and were riotously conceived. My companion's new one comes in a beautiful burst of blood. First his tail lashes forth, beating with the thrill of life. She pushes him, swimming hard all the while, and I stay with her, ready to help, waiting for her time of release. It comes, and the baby breaks free, revels in the nourishment he drinks from her and in the opening of himself to the air above. Together we move onward, the three of us still waiting for another birth.

My new one was stillborn. Though my companion and I nudged and held him to the surface, he would not breathe. He would only sink like a dropping pebble destined for the dark, and in the end, with the dawn of acceptance, we let him fall, down, saw him fade away, growing small and indistinct, dimming to distance and shadow like a memory dissolving back into the Dream. Yet close, too, he remains, for the memory of him stays and he will fall down to where bones and shells and convoluted remnants reside; down to the valleys, shrouded by an abyss of darkness cold as his beginning in another dark was warm. The sorrow and memory of him fuse with a longing that as pain and bliss together, knows no loss, and the memory tags along like an unseen presence, with me, alone, then with my companion and her child, and with the Pod of friends as I unfurl to them again, till there is only a hollow which receives again and is filled. And so I became the aunt of the baby whale of my friend.

She and I were ever aware of the child, ready to nurture and protect as memories of the waves and blood of unseen shores bound us in an undemanding companionship. But now there comes the two-legged land ones among us. Some of them edge close, holding forth whirring and clicking things, their feet like listless slabs of seaweed slowly moving up and down. They seem to be searching for something, wanting us to stop. We lift our fins with intricate care so as not to hit them. They remain fascinated, awkward in their posturing, but we feel no threat toward the child and so we move on, tolerant and only mildly curious, eager though not impatient to be free. Racing in among us, our dolphin cousins flip and twirl, chattering among themselves in piping calls as they hurry away. Something has frightened them and they dash toward the deeps.

At first there is just a dull whirring, but its unrhythmic drone is clearly not of our realm. Stronger and more focused, it narrows the space between us and we hear the approach of a persistent anger, cold not as the sea is cold, strong not as we are strong, sound but no music, voices unmeshed by connecting tides, unable to answer the sea's call. There comes a noise, not tranquil, but urgent and menacing, the sharp clanking of harsh, scraping things, voices abrupt and dissonant, calling not in longing but with the gnawing impatience of demands etched abruptly in words; strange words, grating sounds that skim across the surface and fade without sinking, strident even when faint. From among them flies a shooting form that glints beneath the Sun then mercilessly plummets and explodes. I hear its nearby shudder, the rage of it muffled by the deep centres of my friend. She rises with a gasping heave of pain, sinks and slows, stops, and feebly sways in helplessness. Her blood boils into the sea and is quickly calmed and cooled. The scent of it spreads blinding terror, and triggers thoughts throughout the Pod of freedom lost, and of the pain we cannot lessen.

I know she is drowning within her own blood and something of her pain, the anguish and fear born of agony, becomes my own. The baby trembles and mourns as the terror invades his untorn inner spaces. He must surface almost constantly to sustain his breathing, and I know her final thought reaches for him, willing him far away. Yet I linger, wanting to ease the lone horror of her end. In death she rolls languidly sideways, one wing piercing the surface which whirls gently in the wake of numb quiescence. The dying ripples of her pain make shredded undulations on the Sea, then there is nothing but darkness and pounding terror and the rushing and longing to be free. Frantically I move between the baby and the noise, making sure he is hidden from the clanging and scraping sharpness that does not want him to live. Ruthlessly, the noise and clanging continue, then fade back to its hostile space, drowned by the screech of the whirling birds of the sky.

The invaders have cut the nerves and core and umbilical thread of the trembling Seadream, the mingled light and shade in which we float as embryos cradled in dark blood. The baby is dazed into horror and confusion and I draw near and touch him, then over him I glide a protecting shadow, and he follows because he knows he must keep moving to stay alive. And when the clanging has dissolved in the distant shrill calls, a seething arc of foam subsides, left behind as the Pod moves on and the agony lies ebbing. A silence falls.

The Pod of friends knows this death is not of the sea; not the feel of changes that must be, but an ending forced by something far outside of the Dream. We move again, down toward the cold spaces to feed once again. And we wonder, as we have long pondered while enduring this pain, why they should wish to wound the Dream and clutter its horizons with noise and blood, clouding it with untimely deaths? They are more distant from the Dream than are the Soulless Devourers, who glide past with a frigid fixity of black eyes, their serrated gape of jaws as void of warmth as it is of hostility. The Devourers' blood runs cold, beats to No Music with an ancient instinct that preceded the coming of our songs. They seem absent even from themselves; and they hunger, not with yearning that bonds between their kind, but as if they have yet to be anchored in a place truly their own. They are the unhearing, the unknowing; yet restless as a living death never able to be filled, they have their part along the borders of the Dream, among the shadows that are filled with waiting.

The waves break, echoing one another as we sift the seaweed beyond the shore. The Sun is hostile in his searing power, burning the pods of the beached ones as they lay dying and desiccating like stranded shreds of kelp. All their lives have led to this dying, this coming in with the tide as a release even they do not comprehend. There on the quiet sand they have ended all longing, save for this final call as over them the shore-wind sighs a soothing benediction, then is gone.

She is gone now. She will never rise with us again. All she wanted was to care for her child, drift with the tides, and listen to the males singing back and forth in darkness. We hear in times of our rising the moaning wind lacing like a swirl of kelp through high sea cliffs, ebbing and flowing, ending and ever anew. Softly, I brush against the baby, who is whimpering and crooning. I am certain now that I shall jump and flap again. The males are singing, weaving new patterns with their music throughout the night. They call us everlastingly to movement flecked with stillness. We are one with the sea, but we must reach toward the sky. I hear the creak of harmless wood buoyed up by lapping waters and it links me to the Moon, her melody alternately luring and repelling the tides in which she falls, ripens and blooms forever.

With the light of dawn comes a myriad birds and through a blur of distance we hear their cry, brief and eager to melt into the ache and wail of the wind. The child is yearning for life again. Quietly, he has taken the terrible memories and made them his own. The tide of pain has turned in him and ebbed, for already I can feel he wants to jump and flap. Jump and flap toward the Moon and the clouds, and the bright, cold horizon of his never-ending Dream.


c.1998 by Maureen B. Roberts ["The Dark" Nathair]

Darknight Publications

Not to be reproduced in any form without the author’s permission.


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