Feeling wistful and perhaps a little bored, Love descended to the bottom of the sea. Love sought out the bottom of the deepest cave in the deepest trench at the deepest bottom of the depths, where no light had ever shined and warmth could not even be conceived. There, wedged low in the very back of the chill, inky corner of the narrowest and most serpentine crevasse in all the many oceans, Love encountered Joy whispering delight into the thick, eyeless skull of a huge and bone-pale eel. The eel wriggled in blind, albino ecstasy. But the moment it caught the merest whiff of Love’s unmistakable aroma, it twisted straight off away from Joy into the darkest depths.
“Joy!” burbled Love into the gelid gloom. “How long has it been since we saw each other last?”
Joy did not answer.
“Too long indeed. I can’t remember when. No matter. I’ve traveled far to find you, leagues and fathoms, and here we are.”
Joy shrank into the farthest recesses of the farthest corner of that farthest cave, but there was nowhere else to go.
“I’d like you to sing me a song,” Love went on. “Just one song, and then I’ll go.”
And so Joy sang. No louder than a breath, Joy’s voice coiled out through the crags of that lightless crevasse. It filled the cavern and bloomed out across the ocean floor, whispering into every nook and every cranny, every clam shell, every eyeless critter’s ear. It drifted up to less dim depths, passed through the gills of sharks, through blowholes into enormous baleen lungs. Joy’s song bounced among tentacles and fins and forests of kelp. It caused the squids to shiver, the giant crabs to clack their claws. It broke the surface of the sea. It rode the breezes. Gulls carried it ashore.
Love’s eyes blinked shut. Love’s temples twitched. But before Joy’s song could spread far across the land, Love raised one shaking hand. “That’s enough,” coughed Love. “That’s all that I can bear.” And with a kick of the heels and no further ado, Love left Joy in the abyss, and swam off shoreward.
Did I mention that all this time, Grief lurked just outside the cavern’s mouth? Of course Grief trails Love everywhere, as the remorra trails the shark, even to the bottoms of the bottomless depths. But when Grief heard Joy’s voice whisper through the waves, well Grief felt emptied out and filled again. And when Joy’s singing ceased and Love reappeared and swam up towards the heavens, Grief considered letting Love go unescorted. Grief dreamed of descending into the cavern and through the crevasse and nesting there, resting in the folds of Joy’s murmured song. But Grief was too fat to slip between the corals gating Joy’s dark cave, and after a few moments of waiting alone in the trench, Grief could not stand the solitude. So Grief kicked one plump ankle, and then another, and hustled off in chase of Love.
Bored again, and ever restless, Love wandered the earth in search of Grief. Of course Grief is Love’s shadow, and never far behind, but Love alone is ignorant of this. So Love, looking ever-forward, wandered the alleys and the valleys, the markets and the fields asking everywhere after Grief, until finally Love found the garden which everyone agreed was the place which Grief called home. Love walked the garden’s mossy paths, tripping over roots and dew-slicked, algaed stones. Branches heavy with fruit swung and blocked Love’s every step. At last Love came to a clearing, though it was hardly clear. Succulents crowded low cacti and swaying prairie grasses. Fronds brushed flowers, and flowers ferns. But there were no trees at least, and so when Love swung suddenly around, Grief had nowhere to hide.
“Grief,” Love called out. “Where have you been?”
Grief shrugged coyly.
“I want you to sing for me,” Love said. “Just one song, and I’ll be on my way.”
And so Grief sang. Grief’s voice hung for a moment in the humid air above the garden, then rained down among the leaves, snails, mushrooms, and mulch. It dripped from stamen to petal to stem and blew like a spore in the wind. It drifted out past the hedged confines of Grief’s garden, whistling up mountainsides and echoing through canyons. It sank into chimneys and down cellar steps. It lingered in hallways and blew like a storm through underground parking lots and up elevator shafts to the highest floors of the highest buildings. It leaped off of balconies and rattled through the streets.
Asprawl in Grief’s garden, Love listened in bliss, head on a pillow of herbs. “Don’t stop,” grunted Love, and nudged Grief with a kick as Grief’s voice tickled up the desert dust, raced across asphalt, and dropped even to the bottom of the ocean, reaching down to the darkest corners of the deepest caves, there in the cold void, where Joy lingered still, whispering to the mollusks and sand.
—Ben Ehrenreich is the author of the novel The Suitors. He lives in Los Angeles.