S&S: HOT AND COLD

Garth cannot sleep. The night is hot and humid, the air heavy with pollutants. With so much water in the ambience, he could condense it into rain, creating his own little micro-climate, but he won’t. He’ll suffer with the air-breathers tonight, trying to feel what they feel.

He is something of an atavism, he knows, as is the whole of Atlantis. He is widely regarded as ambassador of a Neanderthal tribe, a species past its time. Like an anaerobe in the age of oxygen, a cartilage fish sinking through the waters, a mammal refusing to get out of the sea, he and his people are a step closer to extinction than the air-breathers.

Or maybe not. The Welsh have their Lowland Hundred, the Scandinavians their Vineta, England Lyonesse. With tectonic plate movement, a little more of Australia disappears into the Pacific each year. Perhaps the ability to breathe underwater will be the next crucial step of evolution. Garth doesn’t think any flood of that magnitude is imminent, and he would know before anyone else did, but he bets the dinosaurs were real surprised too.

A sea-wall broke in the Netherlands at 13:34, GMT, almost eighteen hours ago. With the strong wind and low barometric pressure Garth had known something was up, but the tides and surges in North Sea waters are notoriusly unpredictable; he had been on the wrong side of the Channel at the time. Before he got there, the sea had broken through thirteen dykes and reclaimed 50,000 hectares of poldar country. Docklands, oil refineries, factories, gasworks and electricity generating stations were brought to a standstill. Sixteen people were killed.

And the strange thing, the funny thing, the thing that made Dick storm out in a rage, is that Garth still thinks of it as the sea reclaiming the land. He thought of it like that while he was fighting the flood, to the extent that he can ever fight water, you have to deal with it open-handed. He thought of it like that while he was trying his goddamn best to save lives and that is the real reason for Dick’s anger. Dick doesn’t like it when Garth sides with the sea, which is always. He doesn’t like any reminder that Garth is different.

When Dick is angry he says that Garth doesn’t care enough, doesn’t love enough. He has yet to call him cold-blooded, but the word lies there waiting to be used. Garth knows it’s true. He’s a merman, ferocious and passionate in his own way, but he cannot match Dick’s warmth. When Dick tries to warm them both, the heat difference in Garth is a small one and Dick ends up chilled himself, and hurt.

A window at the far end of the hall slams shut and Garth smiles faintly. Dick can move without a sound when he wants to, this is just his way of telling Garth that he’s home. As if Garth wouldn’t be able to smell and taste him in the air, with senses acute enough to know in which direction a fish has been swimming. Dick has been down to the docks by the river, walking back through Chinatown. He comes through the bedroom door, moving smoothly, without any trace of anger left in his body. Garth reaches out his hand.

And says, the way he does every evening, the way he has to or he would suffocate in this dry land, the words that let him breathe.

FIN