Over there, at the bottom of the world, she had time to think. Though she didn’t have a way to keep track, she knew it was too much time. Time that should have ended long, long ago. If promises were kept, if words had meaning, if vows were honored rather than discarded like so many stones in a river.
And yet, it was also very little time. Seconds that she stretched to a minute, then seconds more. The water was inescapable. Black not blue. It filled her eyes and ears, her nostrils, her throat, her chest, her lungs. It soaked into her skin until she didn’t know where she ended and the water began. Until what she was, inside and out, was water.
In the beginning (months, years, decades, centuries) she struggled. Each ending was sheer agony, each rebirth excruciating. Being burned alive, every piece of her on fire, melting like wax, crackling like dry wood. Only something she could dream of.
Time passed. She awoke and continued, against all sense and hope, to momentarily live until she didn’t.
Eventually (after months, years, decades, centuries) she began to think about how to use what time she had. True, nothing outside her body changed: the pressure on her chest, the thick frigid water, the iron coffin, her shackled wrists, the struggle and inevitable fall into blissful black. The immediate return.
Within her body also, nothing changed. Time passed and she continued to hold her breath. The will to live was too strong, even when oblivion was all she desired. Time passed and she continued to seek air that didn’t exist. The will to breathe was too strong, even when oblivion was the last thing she wanted.
She had no control over any of it, only awareness that it would happen
until it didn’t. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in a thousand years. Ten thousand years.
But inside her head there was a portion, however insignificant, that wasn’t full of water. That belonged to her. So she learned to work with what she had, in the (too little, too much) time she had.
Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.
She thought, occasionally, of the others. But her head was mostly full of water. And Andromache. Her rescue, their reunion, her boundless joy.
She witnessed the birth of a new one. But her head was mostly full of water. And Andromache. The revenge she would serve cold and wet and slow; hot and dry and fast. Her reward for enduring, for continuing to exist. As if she had any choice.
Bitterness burned her lungs and tightened her throat. Bitterness she extended or cut short - by seconds, mere seconds - through the tilt of her head, forward or backward, through the deliberate dragging of water through her nose.
One hundred one, one hundred two, one hundred three.
She weighed the possibilities. By the time she escaped, she might only have one more life left (the waste, the sheer waste galled her, when she let herself think about it). But, she swore to herself, as the end came once again, she would be careful with it. She needed time: a century or ten. She and Andromache, just the two of them, in a locked room.
But her head was mostly full of water, and Andromache was not always (was never) there. Sometimes there wasn’t room for her. Even this, her own mind she couldn’t entirely control.
One hundred four, one hundred five, one hundred six.
She thought of home, though it hadn’t been her home in a millenia. She thought - morbidly, arbitrarily, nostalgically, against her will - of water. Not this endless expanse of black that others had the luxury of describing as blue. Nothing else to see in all directions, like the world before the milk was churned. (A dry hand on her throat, achingly familiar: not gold but bronzed white. It made the water stop, it wasn't allowed to travel any further down. She lived without death and her throat was forever marked: blue.)
This water was brown and fresh, rich and green. It was narrow and winding, warm and slow. Land was always in sight: the rain drenched mangrove forests, the wet earth she could at any time grip between her toes. The coconut and lychee, the custard apple and star fruit hung thick from the trees, dripped down her chin. Within her grasp were the turtle, the tiger, the rhino and pig. There were fish, more kinds than she could count and each with their own name. Fish as great as dolphins, dolphins as large as whales. She thought of it as home, but in truth she cannot remember if she lived there, traveled there or only heard it described to her. If it was a single place or a dozen. If it existed at all. Perhaps her treacherous mind, slipping from her useless grasp, made it up. That city in the jungle, its elegant, shaded promenades and breezy galleries dense with sandstone carvings. Its elephant parades and temples, everywhere she turned a god, each one taller, more sumptuously decorated than the next.
But what did it matter, if the memories were true or false. They were momentarily comforting images, even if she didn’t wish to be comforted, even if she pushed them away and opened her mouth wide. Some days (years, centuries) they were back within moments of her return.
One hundred seven one hundred eight one hundred nine.
The world, she has known, since her two hundredth or nine hundredth death, is mostly water. She has crossed it in dugouts and cochas, coracles and caravels. In kayaks of bone and driftwood, sealed with whale fat, covered in sealskin. In rafts of balsa wood, henequen fiber and bamboo, a fire pit in the middle to warm her naked bones. In hand sewn ships of long planks fastened with coconut fiber. Not a nail to be seen.
She has known, since her five hundredth or five thousandth death. That the bluest seas, the calmest, most limpid and seductive waters; waters that promised her comfort and belonging. She stared for hours at the light dancing along the surface, the play of colors, saw to the very bottom the pinkest, cleanest sand; she floated on her back, gazed at the sky and there was no difference between the two - she was both the crane and the catfish, the prawn and the ibis, the crocodile and the eagle. This water was the most deceptive. It was devoid of life, had nothing to sustain her with but pretty words and useless declarations. Let down your guard. Let me in. You are safe with me. You are home. This is how we will be. Together. Always.
Andromache’s eyes changed color with the weather, with the dye in her clothes. In the beginning, she remembered them as spring green, as harvest brown with flecks with gold. Later, she remembered them as seawater: clear and cool, the bluest blue. Shimmering and piercing. Beautifully empty.
One hundred ten one hundred eleven one hundred twelve.
In the end, all thoughts disappeared. Her head was full of water and blackest black. Her head was full of water and red.