Guilt, Always So Much Guilt
by Sara Genge
Guilt, always so much guilt.
Merswe floated on his back down the river Mawkee, scouting for a mate. Around him, other males hooted and paddled, lifting sensory pads up to the sky, waiting for the females to come to them.
Such was his anticipation, so exquisite was the tension in which he floated for days, that Merswe almost missed it when it happened. The strain had worn him out and he was dozing when the women began falling. He caught one by pure chance, grabbing onto her hair and pulling her up before she could sink under the grey waters of the Mawkee.
They wept from the joy of having found each other, and from the sorrow of watching so many women die as they rained on the river and drowned before a male could reach them and pull them afloat.
Her name was Xi.
They fell in love instantly and floated together for a fortnight, making love while Merswe held her close to him to keep her from drowning.
Finally, Xi laid her eggs and Merswe took them inside himself, carefully stashing them in his innermost gill, close to his soul.
"I can take you with me," Merswe said, bravely, "I feel so strong..."
But they both knew it was wishful thinking; manly bluff. Merswe needed his strength to make it all the way down the Mawkee and onto the rich muddy waters of Hope lake, where their children could hatch.
He cried as he let her go and she didn't flinch as the water closed in over her. Around him, Merswe heard the cries of a thousand females who weren't as brave as Xi and pleaded with their lovers to carry them on, only for a minute, only for a day. But none of the men were stupid enough to try. Eggs came first and the eggs must make it to Hope lake. The men pried their lovers' desperate fingers from their fins, unravelled the knots of hair that tied them together and pushed them away. Soon enough, the cries ceased.
Merswe floated down the Mawkee, eyeflaps rippling red with grief. Xi's eggs were safe, as were the eggs of Maya, Thi and Tes and all the others who had come before them. Finally, tears spent, he turned his gaze to the sky and waited for more women to fall.
Of his sorrow only guilt remained. Guilt, always so much guilt as Merswe floated on his back down the river Mawkee.