Pond Life

My world is of the dark and of the cold. It is alien to you and yet you are drawn to me and my world. I am not drawn to yours.

My world is denser than yours and sound travels differently; it moves faster but more quietly. We live in hollow whispers but whispers that follow us anywhere and everywhere. We hear your world. It seldom whispers. One voice dominates: its deep resonance shakes our world and we have known its taunts and scolds and its never idle threats can crack the ice on our February skin.

I wish the dark of my world was the darkness of space, that infinite vacuum in which sound cannot exist. Then I would not hear her scream nor my fragile tympanum vibrate to a fear we cannot comprehend. 

The scream jogs our collective memory and we replay those times when her world, your world and ours lapped each other’s shore…

A season past, another scream disturbed our peace. I woke to the sound that broke our stillness: high pitched, its icy resonance sent ripples adrift which curled the sodden tendrils of my weeds. I’d heard the sound before – when dragon fly larvae bit tender lace fly legs that dabbled foolishly in the shallows, the haunts for stalkers and predators. This sound was of that ilk – a terror in the surprise attack, trailing off to the resigned, despairing whimper of one who knows there’s no escape.

In my world I am streamlined yet you laugh at my attempts to travel through yours with your gravity snatching at my webbed feet. You ridicule my awkward attempts to walk upon your earth. I ask, where are you perfectly adapted? Where do you swim with graceful ease?  It seems you flounder wherever you are and drown on dry land as easily as you drown in water.

A child’s ball, a spinning globe of primary colour, splashed above and our dark world shook, reverberating like the jelly spawn we lace each spring for our silent, busy young; moulded, packaged, protected through their journey into life. I watched it spin and heard the child cry and felt the unsteady fall of toddler’s feet come gingerly to the brink of our dark, cold world. The spinning ball beckoned its determined owner, whose shape eclipsed the sun and in whose stead we basked,  reached out, grunting with frustrated stretching, pudgy fingers touching …just. And the ball spun away. Yet still he leant, his fair framed head level with my submerged perch, his face just inches from the wet. And in that face we could see hers.

Inevitable. He toppled and yelped with sudden fear. We would have supported his soft frame had we had the combined mass. Held him up, just for her. We breed in legions but she puts all her love and future into his single fragile body. We would have kept him dry and safe but he fell defenceless towards our depths.

She was there.  And caught her son. He never touched the wet and soon was giggling, kicking whisked away and never knew how close he came to us and death. I watched her face, still white but pretending that she had not almost died with fear. She later came back for the ball and its technicolour glory gone, we returned to our verdigris twilight and forgot the child but not the colour he left gently burnt on our collective retina; our cold green eye on your world.

Our pool looks up at the night, the stars enclose our world whilst we, the habitually torpid, sleep deeply and wake slowly and wait for the sun. By day, ours is a hunting ground and not one of us is safe. I only fear the great grey bird whose military stealth stalks all my dreams.  The child’s mother knew my fear and planted a false cat upon our bank. We are a community that dares not turn our backs on each other’s hunger but hunger we understand and there is no malice in need. At night we can usually sleep but with one eye open.

Nights in your well-fed world are another matter. High drama erupts above us and through the glassy surface the lights show what trauma thunders through your homes at night. Deep threats of an anger we don’t feel, her small voice pleading, always pleading and often too the higher pitched cries of her young son who understands no more than we why his repose was disturbed, why his little world had been blasted apart. Why his mother cries. Our pond faces the back of the house where there’s no need to shade the dark events hidden from the street. We get the private grief not public smiles and we saw her stalked from room to room. She hid beneath a window sill but he soon found her refuge and we descended to depths where sight and sound were cushioned.

I returned to the bright gold band, no tarnish there, and wondered what it meant. She dropped it into our depths one evening as the sun dipped behind the wall, and she and we watched together its bright spiral fade into our cold void as our stagnant waters were diluted with her salt tears. She didn’t try to retrieve it. Instead it nestled into our silt. We kept it uncovered in case she ever came for it, if only to see her pale hand brush our weeds and feel her warmth send ripples throughout our frigid realm. It lies there still.

Flags wave across our horizon; it must be Sunday. And she who sits beside our bank on summer evenings and stares into our depths, makes her gentle progress and ties upon a line a myriad of bunting; their colours follow her, mocking the movements of our drab weeds. As the capricious wind takes our fronds and emerald billows strum our little world, so too does it pull and stretch the  infinite array of shape and colour that snaps and dances for our wonder. Later she returns and takes in her rainbow foliage. Sundays were good.   

She brought a toad to us, saved from certain rest and bug rich earth and therefore grumpy even for a toad. Her intention was clear: she saw amphibian need so brought our reluctant guest and shuffled her gently into our depths. ‘There you go. Be free. Be safe, mother toad.’ The toad’s wet affront provoked our dark humour which rebounded from her warty hide. She turned her thick skinned indifference to our disrespect as she clambered back to her world to seek the shelter of old wood or pot.   She may remember us and come back to spawn her bead-like strings of life. I doubt it. I revelled in her ugly presence but too soon she fled our wet for the merely damp and how my relative beauty faded!  I slept and dreamed of lonely princesses.

On summer days we congregate just below the surface, a menagerie of the faithful to hear her tell her tales. Water boatmen skit across the surface leaving con trails in our sky and we rise towards them, gliding: her silent, invisible audience. On the eddies of her voice we drift, beguiled and dream of heroes, witches, labyrinths and happy ever afters she will never know.

And though her words are strange, we join the quest and allow ourselves to be spied by her little son who sits against her knee and stares into our pool. He listens rapt and watches us and sees the fantasy spun by his mother played out in our assigned roles. The great diving beetle is now a bear glowering from the forest glades and a raft spider, a visitor from the fens who stayed, becomes the witch transformed by hate. In his young mind we take our cues and our mime inspires unrestrained delight. His laughter urged us on to greater feats of derring-do: chasing dragonfly nymphs, who enjoy their role too much, typecast and too eager to forget the play and prey on those in pursuit. I, a handsome, speckled steed, of course, race through forests of elodea with my water flea hounds until we are recalled, at last, by a wistful longing that invades her voice as she describes a princess wronged, now saved and carried safely to a different place. The adventure is over for another night.

We saw less of her as summer pollen gave way to fallen leaves that clogged our sky and settling began their acidification of our depths. She appears briefly, seems wary, hurriedly pulling at the worst of the leaves from our autumn dankness. Soon she hurries in and though we should be able to breathe more easy, we cannot. There must be death before life can begin and all that died above and around us this year is absorbed to feed next Spring’s water lily, yellow flag and water violet.

Life only follows death in our universe.

I saw a face. Unfamiliar porous skin stretched rictus thin across strange teeth. We regarded each other, eye to eye. She, pleading, saw me. I recognised her then, disguised behind a white mask of moon-like luminance. Strange, blue eyes bored into my bulbous orbs. But my webbed fingers would not have broken that angry, white knuckled grip that forced her scared, white face into my world. And so she thrashed and all who lived beneath were buffeted by one who died above. The torment ended, she saw no more and her accusing eyes lost focus as she was dragged from our cold world which soon returned to peace.

Tonight an unnatural calm lies heavy on us and we are more aware than usual that nothing separates us from all the dark weight of the night sky.

I swim reluctantly upwards and my head breaks the unnatural peace. It’s Sunday and the sun’s vestige glimmers dully in the west. There is no colour except for her bunting uncollected on the line and the garden deafens me with its silence. Holding my breath, I wait. Our collective eye, like that shared by ancient seers, stares out but we cannot see her future. No evening story from the bank or window; no-more her soft, rich voice to tell of forests and castles and of frogs who would be princes. 

The water stirs around me. They have assembled. They rise together to discover the end of her story, the story we did not choose to join. We wait in the hope that something remains of her, of the love for life, the warmth and optimism.  All that she bequeathed to the heart of that little boy.  We wait. And then, as the last of the sun dies behind the wall and blue replaces the stale orange and pinks in the sky, they come. Strangers dressed darkly race past our hiding place. More lights, shouts then hushed conversation. Then more silence.  The boy is there. Safe. Blanketed, cocooned; holding hands with those that seem hardened to be kind. He’s led form our garden and our lives. Cold blue lights invade our depths like a choking algal bloom.

What purpose did her death fulfil? Her solitary offspring, so long to wean, is unfinished, alone and out of her sun. We were the silent witnesses to her warmth and love and her cold death. No one asked us why. We had no reasons to give.

Her band of gold remains with us and we’ll keep it for her.

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