Title: On two floors
Word Count 539
At sea he never had to do this. In his old hammock on the Unicorn he had slept easy.
He had rocked in the dark belly of the midships, and been content. The sounds of other men had been a homely comfort, he knew every snore. The Indy, he had not liked as well, but it sounded right, it had a similar smell. Here he had to sleep with his hands hard over his ears. It was not the little sounds in his cell that bothered him, it was the opposite. It was too quiet to rest, he rolled in misery, alone in the alien silence. At least with his hands hard over his ears, he could listen to the dull echo of his own heart.
Every day he sat alone to eat. He watched the damn Dons walk back and forth on the battlements. They were slow and dozy. There were only ever four. Easy to take. But the great Mister Hornblower had asked him to wait. Hornblower the hero. But Hornblower, it turned out, was shy. No fight in him.
Hunter had waited, for a while. He waited while he lay awake at night, staring at stone, he waited while his chest burned like wanting to weep. But Hunter did not weep, not in years. He was not going to sob like a squeaker, because the weight in his chest would not ease. Made it hard to breathe, or sleep, or eat. He had been happy once. But it seemed so long ago, almost like a story about some other man.
So he fell asleep, every night with his hands tight over his ears he held them so tight that his head rang, his arms went numb. He was able to drift off that way, at least. But every morning he woke in the dark, and he was weary, and he remembered where he was. Alone. That is where he was.
And every morning, shortly after he woke the damn birds started. Not proper birds like at home, or the insults of gulls that a man might here in a harbor, but strange songs from strange birds. They started before any detectable light, and they sang and sang, and there was no chance at sleep. Sometimes hearing them, his eyes burned and his throat closed tight. Hunter hated that.
“There he goes again.”
“Hmmm --- might be a girl you know, Horatio. Sitting on eggs or something.”
“No. Eggs are in springtime. They'd be out of the nest by now.”
“Why sing then? And why so early? It is still completely dark.”
“My father said they sing with joy – no reason, just joy.”
“Do you think they really feel joy, the same as people?
“Don't know. But I don't see why not. I don't see why it wouldn't feel the same.”
“Well. I know what joy feels like to me.”
“What are you laughing at?”
“Joy. Never heard one called that before.”
“Well, if you feel the need too sing Horatio, go ahead. There is no one awake to hear you.”