Chapter Fifteen: Bet You Can’t Guess Where Rain Is
Rain liked Hadal. She was not imploding with existential dread like the land creatures Rain had encountered. She was not sad, or lost. Well, not lost in the metaphorical way, at least. She was literally lost. But so was Rain, so he didn’t count it.
They had been swimming together for some time, now. Rain had lost track of the days. He wasn’t sure days were the same under the sea, anyway. And that’s where they were, most of the time. They surfaced every now and then, and Rain could paddle around. But most of the time was spent traveling underwater. Which meant that Hadal had been holding Rain’s hand for the better part of the journey. He had trouble staying on her level—he had a tendency of either sinking or floating—and she had no patience for it. She just held his hand and pulled him along.
“When it’s good, it’s good,” Hadal went on. She gestured as she spoke. With both hands. More specifically, with the hand that held Rain’s. This tendency of her’s had an interesting affect on his sense of balance. “But when it’s bad, it’s everything. You know what I mean?”
Rain shook his head. He didn’t know what she meant. He had no experience with art or art studios, for starters. He had never had his art rejected from an art studio. He had certainly never had it rejected from twenty-three different studios. He knew nothing of the tension between hating himself for wanting an audience and needing an audience so that he could pay rent on time.
“It’s like,” Hadal paused, searching for the words, “it’s like, when it’s good, it’s flowing. It’s just flowing in and out of your body, and you’re shaping it, and putting it into the world. And you don’t think about it, and you feel balanced, and you’re living the other parts of your life too. But when it’s not good, it’s all you can think about. It’s waking up in the morning feeling like crap. It’s hanging out with your friends, unable to think about anything other than your failure. Their success. How they just talk and talk, and don’t see you at all. How they just don’t get it. It’s trying to figure out what to make for dinner and giving up, halfway through, because you’re too tired to make a simple decision. When it’s good, you don’t think about it being good. But when it’s bad… well, it’s everything.” She nodded to herself, content with her words. Rain nodded along as well, mostly because he didn’t want her to feel like she was an inadequate orator. Though, he supposed he did understand the feeling of what she was saying. Not the rejection part, per se. But this one time Tall Mother and Short Mother had disappeared for a little while, and he hadn’t been able to do anything other than look for them.
“Do you still do it?” Rain asked.
“Do what?” Hadal wasn’t paying too much attention to the conversation anymore, distracted as she was by the cloud of jellyfish floating by. Rain had seen a lot of jellyfish in the past few days. He couldn’t tell if they were the same ones, swimming in circles, or dozens of different groups participating in some sort of mass exodus. Hadal’s words, not his. If you’ll recall, he only just learned what swimming was. He was hardly equipped to discuss the migratory patterns of jellyfish.
“Do you still sculpt?”
“Oh, that. Yes, of course. I feel like I have to. But I also got a job that keeps me fed and clothed, so a lot of the pressure to “succeed” is off. Which is nice, I guess. I don’t really feel like I’m pimping out my darlings, anymore.”
Rain almost asked for clarification; but then, he didn’t know which specific part of what she had said to ask about first, and by the time he had chosen the bit he was most curious about she had moved on to the next thing.
“I feel like we should be there by now,” Hadal said, looking around. “Water’s way too warm, for starters. And I’ve had a pressure headache for like, I don’t know. A few hours, now.”
“Oh?” There she was talking about “pressure” again. “What’s that, now?”
“Which part?” She asked, brow raised. “If this is about time again, I really don’t know if I can explain it differently.”
“No, not that,” he said, “I think I’ve got the hang of it, actually,”—he didn’t at all—“what does the water’s warmth have to do with anything?”
“Oh, right. The water’s getting shallower, which makes it hotter. Well, here, anyway. We’re getting closer to land, is mostly what I mean. Not the most comfortable place to be. Not the least comfortable, though. Some super exclusive bars set up shop in the shallows and bill the whirlies—sorry, I think you call it “vertigo”—as a “chic high.” Ha.” She rolled her eyes at that last bit. “Elitist, out-of-touch swellfish.”
“Listen, Rain, I really like you and all, but I’m going to need you to be more specific when you ask questions. I can’t have you saying “what” or “oh” every time I open my mouth. I like conversation, not interrogation.”
“Oh. I mean, yes. Good.” Hadal chuckled. She swam up a little higher, avoiding another seven jellyfish.
“Also, thanks for going on this detour with me. I know you’re looking for your father and all—which I support one hundred percent, totally here for you, doesn’t matter that you’re basing this decision off of a nursery rhyme—but you can’t just not go see a tear, as a mermaid. It’s kind of a thing. And if we get there first, we get to avoid the crowds. Which are going to be pretty gnarly.” She shuddered a little. “And, it’s not like you know where to look for him, anyway. Maybe this’ll give you some inspiration, or something.”
“Mmhmm.” Rain was frowning, distracted by her words. He really hadn’t thought up a way to find his father. Well, somebody’s father. Hadal had explained to him what a human father was, and Rain didn’t really think that applied to this particular situation. For starters, he was pretty sure he’d always been this size. Relatedly, he was pretty sure he’d never been inside Short Mother or Tall Mother’s stomach. He’d honestly never heard anything sillier, though he didn’t tell Hadal as much. For another thing, he was almost entirely certain that neither Tall Mother nor Short Mother would ever have allowed anybody’s father to do what Hadal said human fathers did when attempting to father.
“What’s that face?” Hadal asked. He touched his face, wondering what he looked like. “Finally remembering that third verse? Hopefully this one comes with cardinal directions?”
“Geospatial coordinates, actually,” he said. Hadal had taught him that one, too. She laughed, slapping him on the arm.
“You’re too much, Rain, really—“ she stopped abruptly, pulling Rain to a halt with her. He thought that the abandoned city, just visible in the distance, probably had something to do with it. That, and the end of the ocean.
“Well.” Hadal said, squinting into the distance. “Well, isn’t that something, Rain. Wow.”
He agreed that it was indeed not nothing.
“Haven’t ventured this close to a beach in a while,” Hadal said.
“Oh? I mean, um, sorry, uh—“
“You’re fine, little brother. I’ll let it slide. This one time.” She winked at him. “We don’t usually come up this high. Not because we’re avoiding you, or anything. It’s just not as comfortable. No offense.”
“None taken,” he said.
“I wonder how developers will deal with human architecture,” she said, paddling forward a little, not fully committed to moving towards the half-drowned city. “I don’t think it’s watertight, but I don’t know what they’d do with all the materials if they razed everything. You people don’t exactly use biodegradable building components.”
“We didn’t have any buildings in the garden,” Rain said, increasingly not wanting to be lumped into Hadal’s “you people.” She was hardly using it as a term of endearment.
“Oh? What did you have?” Hadal asked. “Fruit trees? Bushes? Other constitutive parts of a garden?”
“Well. Yes. And a waterfall. And two mothers and eight sisters and brothers.”
“Of course.” Hadal committed to swimming them towards the city.
“What do your cities look like?” Rain asked, proud of himself for having a specific question.
“Nothing like this,” she said, gesturing out, jerking him around as she did so. “Don’t need roofs, for starters. Makes a real difference at a fundamental sort of level, you know?”
Rain went back to nodding. There were too many things to know. He couldn’t sweat the details.
The water was hazy around the city, thick with all sorts of dissolving and decaying things. He could see bits of houses and shops getting pulled into currents, could see the city’s colors fading into the surrounding blue expanse. He watched the currents move through the city. Watched the city change the currents, as well, which he thought was interesting. The edges of everything teemed with life. Crawling things scuttled in and out of dark corners, snaking things darted through windows, beaked things dove down from above, troubling the surface. North of the city, a warped sort of something wove through the water. Rain stared at it, trying to figure out what it was. But “different than the things around it” was the only descriptor he could come up with.
“Is that the tear?” He asked, pointing towards the warping. Hadal followed his gaze. For the second time in so many minutes, she came to an abrupt halt. Only, this time, she re-started swimming more abruptly than she had stopped.
“Rain, Rain, RAIN,” she squealed, “oh, yes yes yes. Oh, yes.” Rain took that as a ‘yes,” and allowed himself to be dragged at startling speeds towards the little wrinkle in the water. Well, towards the little wrinkle in the very material of space, apparently. He didn’t really know. Hadal had used a lot of words, and she only sounded sure of about half of them.