By Camille Bond
It happens at strange times.
Today, Aglaope was talking about the soft way that rocks go when they have been tumbled around by the sea. She had invented a word for it, which I don’t remember. Aglaope had a collection of seashells and rocks which she carried around with her wherever she went. It wasn’t that it comforted her to have something of her own in the wide sea. It was that she had selected them carefully and given each one a name, like The Blue Sawtooth Rock, and so she could use them to identify other seashells and rocks of similar varieties. Sometimes she would spend hours sorting through the debris on the seabed until she found a perfect match. “This is a Leucosia’s Eye Mussel,” she would say, holding the new shell up beside the original specimen to make sure we saw the similarity.
She was telling us about that quality of beaten-down softness, and the name that she had given it, when suddenly there was a splashing sound out in the water—and we all turned around to see one of them, the sailors, thrashing like a dinner fish in the water. He had swum up close without our noticing, and we could see his wide eyes and hear his gurgling sounds as he splashed and splashed. Beyond the sailor, way out in the water, I could make out the shape of a ship.
“Aaagha–urgll–ahhh,” said the sailor.
Before we knew it he had disappeared under the water, and he didn’t come up again. Aglaope shrugged and regained our attention. She began to explain the way she had derived her new term for the softness.
But I keep thinking about the sailor’s wide eyes, and how desperate and burning they looked—as if the torment of hundreds of creatures had concentrated in his eyes. It kept me awake last night. I tossed and turned on the seabed, wondering why he had been so upset about the softness of wave-tumbled rocks.