[Editor’s Note: My CWR assignment was to write from the perspective of an animal. My dear friend and fellow editor Rafael inspired (read: dared) me to pick coral. So I did.]
Most see our home and think it as lifeless as the dumb rocks around us, but inside we are hearing, all of us, only motionless, sunken invisibly into the fortress we’ve grown around ourselves. I am small and alive and always watching. From my vantage point I sense the same finite field, frequented by the same few fish. The sun and moon take turns pissing their dull warm light into our depths. Life grows stale. In earlier days I spoke to my neighbors until I realized that we all heard the very same sounds, incrementally shifted along some axis. We are very small.
Recently, though, I’ve learned to listen harder. I turn my ear to this exoskeleton and listen. Occasionally I pick up a faint transmission from the opposite end of the reef. Through the deep bone channels of our home these messages move slow, slinking from polyp to polyp, whispered like gossip. I receive them and hear of far-flung regions, exotic chambers in this home we share.
Now I am always listening. These transmissions mingle with my usual daily observations. This muddle used to confuse me until I learned not to worry what happens where. It is all happening somewhere. I hear a minnow flitting overhead. I hear bubbles rise like chrome pearls and burst. Then a faraway cousin coughs, or is killed. This report might come to me as hearsay, the account of a still-living cousin situated nearby the accident. Or it might come more painfully, since I can now sense the remote sting of dying distant flesh. Conversely when a new life flickers into the reef I detect its warm new murmur among so many old ones. In this way I learn of many deaths and births from my lonely station. I acquaint myself with ancient friends and unseen lovers.
Though none of them believe me, I know I’ve listened beyond the reef. There are reasons we fear the slickened humans that drift by us in packs, gazing mostly, sometimes prodding, sometimes groping the contours of our home. And sometimes they linger, waiting to hack at our home with gnashing quick teeth. A familiar sizzle and howl shudders throughout the reef, audible even to those who don’t know how to listen like I do. An unlucky few, those who lived right along the wound, perish between the teeth.
Perhaps unluckier still are those still reside in the chunks of home they’ve severed and claimed as trophies and hauled above sea. These colonies become distant satellites, ambassadors to an alien world. I know all this because I’ve heard their transmissions, fainter still than any on the reef. I hear dispatches from new lives as paperweights or potpourri. This exoskeleton is a home until it’s a coffin. (Then a trinket.)