January 6, 2021 by Revolution John
The darkest part of the ocean is not the coldest part. At the deepest deep part of the ocean the warm core heats up a layer of water through the thinnest part of the earth’s crust.
No, the coldest part of the ocean was the space between his lips and her ears.
He said, “Sometimes I wonder if you are having an affair.”
She said, “Your lips are literally fused to my belly.”
“There is room down here for one more. Have you been turning your light on?”
“Again, you would know, wouldn’t you? You are right here, always right here. I never get a moment alone with my thoughts because you are constantly talking. I can hear your chatter through my bones. If I could plug my ears and spend some time not hearing you, I would. The last thing I want is a second voice in my head.”
“Geez. Wow. That was incredibly rude. You think I like this situation? You think I’m happy down here? If you can hear me all the time, how come you never listen to me? I say swim up, you go down. I say right, you go left. We haven’t eaten in a week and I’m starving. I haven’t felt this hungry and neglected since you were pregnant.”
“You think you know where the food is? Really? Since when did you become the great food finder? Do tell.”
“I hate when you get like this. Fine. Ask all your shitty questions that have been simmering for just this moment. Burn yourself out. I’ll wait. I’ll be right here when you are ready to have a conversation.”
The female coruscated her light on and off, on and off.
Below, the male hung off her belly petulantly–which appeared no different than when he hung off her belly enthusiastically or demurely. He tried to recall what it was like to be alone. He stretched his neglected fins and shuddered at the creak of scales rubbing against calcinated cartilage. His fins spoke of a time before her. When the male first woke up alone in the dark. He’d had a hunger that started in his belly and hollowed out his nose. The pulse of predator fish nearby shuddered through his bones. He could smell how much bigger they were than him. He didn’t know what his eyes were for, what light was, until he saw her lure. His fins flapped stronger at the scent of her. One final sprint. They were thin and brittle, but they only needed to propel him so far, just from the place he was born to her light.
She was older, much older than him. When she was born, she’d smelled the bigger fish too, but she wasn’t afraid. She was hungry. She wanted to taste everything. Her teeth came in soft and small at first but then became sharp and unwieldy. They angled away from her jaw until she could not shut her mouth. Flavors and smells rolled constantly over her tongue, giving her streams of data. She listened to this information. She listened and she learned. Her head grew a light that dangled just far away enough to avoid illuminating her talons. When she was hungry, and she was always hungry, she turned on her light. The fish that lived above sometimes dove too far below. These stupid fish swam right up to her light. It was only in the strange warm place, deep in the ocean, she tasted something flowing through her jaws that she did not want to eat.
It was the male.
This permanent bubble of water near the thin part of the ocean floor stays perennially warm. Many have described the experience of swimming through a spot right after a whale peed. Once a dead whale actually fell to that exact spot. The dead whale smell was intensified by the discordant heat pocket in this part of the deep. A whole ecosystem of the dark ocean society gorged themselves on this whale for a month. They got fat, swam slower, and fed the larger fish, who in turn fed the larger fish.
The female angler fish knew what it felt like to be full for a little while. Maybe that was why she was able to smell the male just at that moment when he came swimming by on his sad little fins, barely propelling a body that would look emaciated for a sardine. He was almost too small to eat, had she wanted to. She discovered that she needed him.
She said, “It hurt me when you latched on.”
He said, “I lost myself that day. I became a part of you, but you remained yourself.”
The dead whale’s bones, picked dry, were nearly buried in the sandy ocean floor by then.
D.S.G. BURKE (she/her) lives and writes in New York City. Her writing has appeared in the Seattle Times, 3Elements Literary Review, and Stinger Stories. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram: @dsgburke.