The Bottom of the Lake

I read to you from a gummy page found floating in the lake, not far from my home:

~The bottom of the lake is visible to those who could press their faces close enough, pushing their noses through the mud, then the curve of the bone above the eyes–a new kind of flounder, once vertical, now a head which looks upward. The white of the eyes muted, the gaze steady, without blinking–to avoid the attention of things swimming overhead, the quick shadows with sharp teeth. When it is safe, we look right and left. There are other sets of eyes, brow bones rising, sinking–a disorganized rhythm, like things breathing, seeking perspective and contour, nervous, or simply bored.

There are stories of individuals being overcome with longing, wriggling free, and rising slowly, arms Chagall-crossed over their breasts, feet pointed, in shipwreck clothing, face up, paled blue-white by moonlight, or sallow in the weakness of the murky sun.

Nothing good has come of these ascents. Pass that on to your children, or to those for whom you are responsible. The risen have never returned–with few exceptions, and those bore a sadness so complex that they reentered the mud–the horror of it has to do with the unnatural direction–headfirst this time, arms pressed at their sides, until only their feet, not even that, only their toes extended beyond the mud. And they did not flourish, for, after all, who can live without vision?

As for the others, who remained suspended, how can I describe it? Things passed by, drifting and unrecognizable. Then there were reports of sinking ashes, flowers, bits of writing paper, wrapped with string and stone, falling wedding rings, wet photographs, sometimes a coin or two, bubbling downward, and musical instruments ballasted with worked obsidian, garlanded with ribbons, immersed with love, perhaps hope, always sadness.

For a long time we could not decide whether these were burials or messages, perhaps inquiries to which we were meant to respond. I know this because of the looks we gave each other. They said everything. Shall we risk it? Is it possible? Hasn’t it been long enough? Can it be that things have changed?

I don’t know what would have happened if the lake had not grown darker. Perhaps it was because of sediments stirred by approaching dangers, perhaps a sickness in the forests bled into the streams that feed the lake. Soon we could not see as well as before. We took chances and came up higher through the much, risking more and more, cheek bones, then forehead, now and then a perilous sideway shake to clear the eyes.

It did not help. There was panic, and more of us were lost, rising all the way in desperation, the sharp-toothed shadows approaching with even less warning, and our losses grew until there was great loneliness on the bottom of the lake, and I am sorry to report that now a new viscous sadness has settled over the bottom of the lake.

Some say I have risked all of us in composing this message, bent out my arms in the Old Way, remembered writing, and struggled to send this note off on promising currents.

And so, if you receive this, try to understand what has (word illegible from smearing) to us, and our present needs. I beg you to send back our companions who appear on the surface, especially the children, for many of them have disappeared, as well. I entreat you to restore the lake so that the bottom of it is as we (word illegible) it. And finally, I ask you to teach your young not to fear us, as we hope to be able to teach ours not to fear you.

For there is no profit in the way things are now.

With great respect and much hope, I remain, yours sincerely
(illegible, except for two t’s at the end of the second name) ~

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