The Pirates

Most of the men in Sophie’s room are prisoners. Not of her room, of course – they escaped from elsewhere and found refuge here. But their prisoner status hangs on them in ways they find difficult to scrub off, even against each other, rubbing body on body like furry backs against tree trunks.
Sophie’s bathroom is off-limits; the men are not allowed to use the shower. Despite these established rules, the space Sophie is able to occupy in her own bedroom eventually shrinks to a small section between the left-hand side of the bed and the floor-to-ceiling closet, with just a small sliver of the window available. The rest is covered in the moulting bodies and thrumming voices of men. The way the men behave is how Sophie imagines pirates do; they make large rounded gestures, with their teeth at all angles, and sounds shoot out from deep within their colossal barrel-like anatomies.

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Here is the bottom of an ocean, shallow enough for the light to keep it bright and blue, safe enough for scallops to roam and find rest on the sand. There is little for the scallops to fear: the fish have disappeared.

One morning, as if snow had washed over all things, the sea was quiet, without a stir. The quiet was like a lid cast on a pot, and inside it the scallops shivered.

A few tried to see the bright side: here was a possibility to turn away from the shortsightedness of lying flat against the ground, so they turned onto their backs, which were shells as much as their fronts were, and they surveyed the vastness of what was now their territory.

They noted the sudden lack of shame in their dance; their scallopy way of swimming by opening and closing their shells was now the norm, no longer to be ridiculed by the nimble fish shooting past, curling and waving their translucent fins, or by the steady rocks who waited with dignity for a tide to sweep them along. The scallops knew their sense of self had changed: they were no longer half-way between fish and rock.

The scallops decided to merge into one organism. As they did so, they grew legs, or rather they connected their bodies so as to build legs and arms and a big empty head. The empty head needed to be filled, but the scallops didn’t know what with and so they left it vacant for now.

Here is the bottom of the ocean now, shallow and empty with nothing but a body supine on its floor. The scallops are one moving part and since the fish are all gone the ocean is even bigger than before.

The scallops realised that the fish didn’t leave empty-handed: they took the furnishings and hiding places with them, the coral and the seaweed, the rocks and caverns, all the features of the endless tank that is the sea. They left nothing but a plain carpet of grit behind. The scallops, after growing to the size of a super-organism, endowed with new faculties, noticed everything that was missing. They didn’t see it, exactly: they were blind. But their collective scale had changed, and they sensed more, and realised the enormity of the terrain available to them.

Still, the body wasn’t finished. The scallops had left it featureless, and night was falling quickly.

Some scallops had not yet been assigned a place in the body, and they floated alongside the superstructure like sheddings, like servants, waiting.

They aspired to be part of the body’s smaller articulations, perhaps even facial features: fingers or ears or a nose. One of them wished to become an eye: a ball of jelly, which would feel so familiar.

But it was not up to them, and those who composed the body decided that, as yet, there was no place for new parts. The collective body was still being developed.

It takes a few nights for the scallops to make more decisions about the body, and finally they all agree to assign themselves a mouth. There are no eyes yet; it is still too early for sight. There is no nose, for what is there to breathe? A mouth is all we need.

And the scallops celebrate by rotating the large grey body, which is their home, like a hog on a spear. There is nothing left in their surroundings to kick or run into, so they have complete freedom of movement, as long as they move as one. The body turns upside down, with its slimy skin catching the light and its veins crackling like a small fire, and the scallop head bends towards the ocean floor, leans down gently and takes a mouthful of sand.