Vignette #2

She waves, the gesture languorous in the soupy sun-warmed waters of the shallows, and smiles. Her exposed teeth are bright-white even through silt and salt. Then she turns her back and pushes away, supple legs braced together to drive wide, powerful finfeet. She vanishes between tall strands of notkelp.

I have to suppress the instinct to give chase. At no point did her eyes, glossblack and warm, turn their gaze toward me. As I wait, unconcealed but not seen on the abandoned calcite halfshell of some long-dead mollusc, I see another supple figure darting forwards, pursuing her into the forest. He’s so fast, so strong that he moves across my vision before I can consciously register who it is. But of course I know.

For a time I sit and watch the strands of notkelp as they sway gently in the currents. Their movements are predictable but without pattern, and as always I’m fascinated by that.

A few minutes after the flirting couple have disappeared, notfish re-appear. They emerge from everywhere and nowhere. Green-skinned grazers detach themselves from notkelp, what was once a single wiry strand suddenly become two. Small silvery shoals of baiters seem to shimmer into perception. A medium-sized scissorfish drifts down from above, huge jaws hanging open and eyes staring dumbly to its sides.

It’s time to head home. With a sigh that expels most of the remaining air from my lungs, I shove myself away from the halfshell. The scissorfish twitches its fins, pivoting gently to get a better look at me with each eye, but for the most part the notfish don’t react. The life here – the life that’s not us, at least – is mostly unfazed by our presence. Not unless we’re moving whipfish-quick, of course. Moving at the speed of hunters, or lovers.

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