The tick gets into my ear, itching its way past whorls and drums and settling behind my eyes, steadying to a pulse. It makes the shadows in my bedroom flicker. The light from my neighbour’s front porch shouts out, startled by a neighbourhood cat or a possum on a fence. I try to place the noise that startled me awake, its rhythm tapping like an impatient shoe. There’s no clock in my room, no watches. There’s no need. Time means nothing when you are floating in and out of dreams, in and out of bed. All is sheets and pillows.
The floor is too far from my feet and the boards are uncertain. They groan and moan as I pad across them. My steps are slow and uncertain, the shadow move chairs and boxes from where I had thought they were. My feet ache. I remember the story of the mermaid who stepped as knives. I feel the twist in my feet is echoed in my thighs. I rise to my toes and feel the pain slip into my toes. Step by step, it leaks into the wood beneath. The floor mourns my every step, and I mourn with it.
In the loungeroom the light switch is not where I remember it being. Nor are the chairs. In the dark, the house moves: carpets undulating, furniture shifting tectonically, walls where there were none. I cannot navigate the space through memory alone. I need eyes, hands, ears to understand my wine-dark home. And still the tick, tick, tick inside my ear, behind my eye, and my feet screaming with the weight of me and my hands reaching for the guidance of a chair or a table before they greet my shin. I am a leviathan of dust and all is nothing.
Through the rear window I see the lights from the neighbour’s yard, and hear their voices, a susurrus in the late of night kiss of the early morning. The words drift in and out and I am caught in their tide, pulled along the line of light that rips from their garden to mine. Their conversation covers my ears and for a moment the ticking is stilled while their daily cares trickle over me.
- Can you remember to call…
- I don’t know what we’ll….
- I just feel like he doesn’t hear me…
I hear you, I hear.
The tick is not the only sound in the house. The words lap over the drone of the refrigerator. The rumble of the dishwasher. The cat, staring at me from the couch, who chirrups at my interruption and then blinks, once, twice. Golden beads glow in the gloom. A beacon. He yawns and the flash of knife sharp teeth and pink velvet promise of pain. I know better than to sink my fingers into the kelp hide. I will get caught. Claws in my hands. Dragged under. Feasted upon. I am the Phoenician sailor. I see him through pearled eyes.
I hear the tick, tick, tick again as my knee crashes into the coffee table and the vase spills water and glass and flowers across the floor. I hiss. Twice. My legs fold and I put out my hand to steady my sinking. I find the glass cuts like coral. I turn it red. I am beached, dry, bleeding, my legs entwined. The water seeks out the flower stems but finds me instead. In the cut of light, part moon, part neighbourly, my legs take on a sheen. I cannot tell one from the other, if they ever were separate.
Full fathom five I lie. And the words tumble easily from my lips to the floor. The walls shake again, this time the light is bright. Hard. Cutting. The clouds outside rumble and the cat slides from the couch, hisses, and hides beneath a nearby footstool. Tick, tick, tick. I use the sounds to count the storm and wonder if this storm will bring me princes or a mage. All I want from it is that small child, the hag-seed son, whose ear, like mine listens close for rhythm and song. He is too far from me. He is me.
The thunder is loud and the roof splits. My house fills: rain, silt, a possum. The loungeroom becomes a lagoon. The cat paddles past, he has seen an owl. I have no money with which to pay them. They are free to go and I will make an island which is my own. I will build a house for the once and future child. Deeper and deeper the water climbs. Waves wrap my waist. My legs that once were flicker beneath them. The water is cold, but if I stay in it long enough I will adjust. I can adjust.
Tick, tick, tick and the waves move with the noise, swelling and receding. There is another roar from the sky and the water runs through my house and trickles out through the door, flooding my neighbours’ garden. I hear their curses, and their excitement. I wonder that they hadn’t noticed the storm. I am left, beached. I have my island. I am ready for whatever comes. This island is my own. It is built from chairs, and tables, and bookshelves, and coasters. My crown is a shattered glass vase. My jewels are blood-doused amaryllis, tansies, and valerian. I am ready.
The shimmer of scales reflects on the shards that surround me. I lift my hand. Pick out the glass. I taste my blood. It is tinny, silver. Thin. The pain fades. The ticking stops. I close my eyes. Breath comes easy for the first time in nights. I think about standing, about making my way back to bed now that the noise is gone, but walking was hard before I had fins. It will be harder now. I lean my head against the table and I close my eyes. It is late, and I am tired. So very, very tired.