Once a mudskipper got bogged down. The challenge to its free-spirited approach to life was hardly noticeable at first, hardly more than a slight heaviness in the flesh or another second’s slowdown in what might already have long appeared a fitful progress over the tidal flats the mudskipper paddled around day in and day out. But it was indeed a slowing down, no denying that. Each time it drew a leg-fin from the ooze, a slightly louder sucking sound pulled at the mudskipper’s sides before dying away. The viscous mud, so sustaining as a rule, had begun to weigh upon it; moment by moment, even the beating of its heart seemed to thicken, reducing its sense of progress to a labored plowing forward at best. What was happening? What had changed? The skipper had thrived upon the sun-warmed mud until now, as the waters went out and returned in their reassuring rhythm. This was the life, not a care in the world. Everything a mudskipper could ever want or need was present in abundance. If it was hungry, the mud offered up a thousand tasty morsels to sate its appetite. If the shore breeze sent a chill down the mudskipper’s back, soon it had been forgotten in the bliss of a long, reassuring wallow. And on those occasions when the mudskipper launched itself into the air with sudden exuberance, as if lifted by a joy in life that defied explanation in one so patently ill-equipped for flight, the soft landing wherever it came down was like the welcoming of a great voyager’s return home. For at the height of these brief vaults, carrying just enough of the earth’s heat in the mud that clung to its sides, the skipper could survey its world through eyes stretched wide to all it beheld. What might have been dismissed as nothing more than a flat expanse of ooze revealed itself instead to be an endless array of possibilities for discovery. From towering peaks to the deepest ocean trench, the imagined compass of existence invited one to explore it to the full. In short, life as a mudskipper had been good. It might not be to every creature’s liking, of course, but where else could a mudskipper feel truly at home if not here between tides of wonder, every moment full of promised or embraced delight? The same exultant joy might be possible anywhere, but to each heart its own domain. For the mudskipper, no other patch of earth could satisfy its yearnings half as much. Which was why the unaccustomed listlessness felt by the mudskipper defied understanding. Its interest in all that a day might bring—long a response to each new proof of life’s bounty so compelling it could leave the mudskipper dizzy with wonder, pushed to the verge of distraction by its own competing desires—was fading to indifference and from indifference to a blank apathy and from there, who knew where it might end? Without warning or explanation, the mudskipper was losing focus, steadily going cold to all that had enlivened it, and it couldn’t halt the decline. The mud no longer looked or felt like the invitation to stretch one’s bounds to the limit it once had been. More like a thickening slime now that covered the mudskipper from head to tail and inside to out. A slime that didn’t allow enough breath for a crawl, let alone a spirited leap. Only enough for a sluggish inching here and there without direction or apparent purpose. The mudskipper felt like it was drowning, choking on what had been its very life.
Copyright © 2011 by Geoffrey Grosshans