The cave floor held forty or fifty circles of lines and waves. As I etched the last pattern Saeesar held in his hand, my eyelids kept closing on me.
“Are you alright, Marin Goranich? You are wobbling.” Pursha reached for my stick as it floated to the floor of the cave.
“I’m alright, just tired. If I’m going to be a captive here, where can I sleep at the very least?” I eased into a cross-legged seat on the floor.
“How do you sleep?” Pursha asked.
I stared at her. That was the strangest question I could have asked up to this point. Yawning, I put a hand to my mouth and shrugged. “I sleep. I close my eyes and let the moving pictures in my head take over.”
“I mean, do you cocoon yourself into a hole or fill your lungs and hang straight up and down in the current in a group? Some of us close one eye and keep the other open?” She twisted her hands to help visualize the different positions.
I blinked. “I mean, if the day is good and the pay is better, I sleep in a bed with sheets and a pillow?”
“A bed?” Saeesar asked.
“Bed. It’s soft sometimes, hopefully, though a pile of hay can do in a pinch. No? Well, how do you sleep?” I turned to him, fighting another yawn.
“Bubble nests usually. Well, here, follow me, and I’ll show you.” Saeesar shook out his tail and carefully wound his way further into the cave. I kicked off to swim after him. My arms and legs burned with the effort. I had never swum for so many hours, been battered by the current for so long.
Various nooks and crannies that could easily have fit my mom and dad’s log cabin radiated off to the left and right of the central chamber. Many contained lumps and stacks of human junk: broken chests, timbers, algae-covered curtains.
He turned into one of these rooms.
The paraphernalia was lesser so than many of the others I had seen. Troughs of stone held sapphires intermixed with pearls. “I like the colors.” He explained, catching me looking at the gems.
“Do you do anything with them?” I sat on one of the trough lips.
“Sometimes. When I’m particularly bored and not responsible for anything, I’ll create massive patterns with them.” He took a handful of the stones and dumped them in my hands.
“And these have no value to you?” I stared at the cut gems. They had to have come from downed ships for them to have a jeweller’s touch.
“We don’t barter with them. They aren’t edible.” Saeesar shrugged.
I dropped the human fortune back into the trough they came out of. “Your culture astounds and confuses me at the same time, but I could learn to enjoy not being constrained to an economy.”
“You asked how I sleep?” Saeesar asked as I yawned once again. He did not yawn back, and neither did Pursha. Maybe yawning was a human or land animal phenomenon.
“Mmm.” I nodded, looking around for a bedframe as I expected any bedroom or sleeping quarter to contain. The ground, like the front cave held a thick layer of sand.
Saeesar pointed up. The ceiling rose higher than I expected. Midway up hung a series of woven fishing nets.
“What is that?” I furrowed my brows. The mass of fiber made no rational sense in my head. I settled on the word hammock to describe the situation, though the size of it could very well have accommodated the roof on dad’s barn.
“Hammock. Interesting name for it. It is my sleeping platform when I don’t feel like making bubbles.” Saeesar pushed himself up to the nets and slithered over, the ends of his feathery black tail drifting in a gentle current left from his movement. “Are you coming up?”
“Up?” My voice cracked. Did he expect me to share a bed with him?
“You are tired; should I have carried you?” He asked, his hair tumbling over the edge as he inched over to look down on me.
“No, just, didn’t expect an invitation to sleep with you.” I swam up to the edge of the series of fishing nets. “How do you not get stuck?”
“I have it layered so that I – oh, you’ll get stuck, won’t you?” His fingers dragged around my forearm down to my wrist.
“Probably?” I guessed, running my fingers along a few net squares to test the width. Saeesar settled his tail around me, curling his fins until he had turned himself into what looked like a snake wrapped up on itself. “You’re warm.” I relaxed into him.
“It does get cold down here and a bit too dark for my liking.” He pillowed himself on his coils and carefully tucked a voluminous side fin over me.
I hid a smile at the action. He had a habit of doting, and I rather liked it. “Do you remember the waters of your home?”
He closed his eyes, resting further into his arms. “I dream of them.”
“Were they warm?” I tucked my hands in and curled up in the valley between two coils.
“I miss the trees.” He rolled to match my curl.
I made a guttural hum as a question.
“Your lake, were there trees that would reach into it, with bows dipping into the stream? Roots reaching for sustenance so far out that it was surprising they survived?” He led on.
“I remember those. In flood seasons, some would end up with water up to their canopies.” I yawned.
“In our section of the river, where the sun would warm through the murk, the trees would cradle our nests, letting us sleep up near the light. I miss that. I was only a calf, yet that memory, buoyed by the bubbles my mother made, sleeping protected by my father with the green leaves making golden sparkles in the space between water and air.” He was drifting off as he spoke, his speech slowing.
Soon enough, he slipped into a soft sleep while I lay beneath his fins and watched my lights flicker across a patch of the cave ceiling. As tired as I was, the new place and sleeping arrangement kept my eyes open well past when my brain should have allowed me to slip into the sandman’s territory.
The patterns sang in my head, drifting and circulating like balloons in a circus midway. I traced the flickering lights on the ceiling, slowly picking up a beat within them. It reflected my heart rate. There, a different one, that one matched my breathing. There were others, but I couldn’t decide their connection. The swirling patterns collided with the charms in my head. One coalesced, a combination of several I had been shown and the flicking movement of my lights in time for me to lose consciousness.
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