I didn’t believe you when you told us the Jellyfish was dying.
The bioluminescent glow around Her edges had softened, and the waters around us were getting dimmer. We could once see the creatures patrolling the ocean, the fish and sharks that would eat us if it weren’t for Her protection, but the fading light turned the water to ink.
“We have to find a new home,” you said.
I wanted to believe you. I told you I did.
You gathered the community together, hoping the two of us could galvanize the group to action. You spoke passionately, but my uncertainty froze me in front of the dozens of faces eager for an excuse to stay complacent. The mood sufficiently neutered, the crowd went back to their homes built of the debris plucked from the Jellyfish’s tentacles.
“Let’s find a new place together, just the two of us,” you said to me afterward. But I hesitated.
You had been exploring the depths for us all and found a new group of uninhabited Jellyfish. We could pick the strongest one, but we had to leave before they swam too far away. You tried for days to convince me until you finally broke me down.
When it came time to slither through the Jellyfish’s membrane, we stood there in our breathing tubes. You went first, pushing through the stream of ocean water that resisted your plan. Once outside, you reached your hand back through to pull me with you.
But I backed away.
And then you were gone.
I told myself stories to make me feel less like a coward; that you’d been taken by some leviathan, ripped from me before I could grab your hand and go with you; that you were the one who abandoned me; that even inside a dying Jellyfish, I was safer than traversing the open ocean; that maybe She wasn’t dying, but sick, and would recover. Even when I knew the truth, that I let my fear convince me that you had been wrong.
But this time, the Jellyfish didn’t heal the wound you caused. A steady flow of water continued to fall, a reminder of your absence. The bioluminescence waned until all I could see were the krill and the motes making way as our Jellyfish pushed through them with Her fading pulses. I tried to plug the hole with the clothes you didn’t take with you, but once they were saturated, they became a conduit for the ocean water. The empty fabric you once inhabited felt too symbolic, so I pushed them all the way through the hole. For a moment I even convinced myself it was you outside.
I wanted to go after you, to chase your ghost, to find the eddies of displaced water where you had once been, but only you knew where you were going. And if I found you, would you forgive me for staying?
Soon, we could no longer deny the truth. More people followed your lead and left, and Her membrane became riddled with tiny holes. The lower levels were submerged. Her decay accelerated. We could tell from the pressure in our ears and the way new holes opened up without anyone making them that She was sinking deeper, deeper.
No choice remained for me. I had to follow you.
I equipped myself with my breathing tube and tools to cut into a new Jellyfish. As I left my home behind, I adjusted to the darkness of the ocean, looking for sources of light to chase. The same act of leaving, which felt like bravery when you did it, felt like failure to me.
In the distance, a soft blue glow shone. I couldn’t tell how far away it was, or what creature it belonged to, but I swam toward it, hoping against the odds that in all the ocean you managed to find the same one, yet hoping I wouldn’t find you so I could never fail you again.