When sunlight pours into the ocean it shimmers and gyrates, teasing the outstretched fingers of currents that twist through the water like mermaids. Coins of light scatter in illuminated fans: a submerged dawn that scintillates the cold depths.
The bottom of the ocean is a map of grottoes and sunken lakes; green kingdoms covering a mysterious country in a template of power and grace. Sea-monsters lurk in coral forests, sleeping in the turquoise and lavender shadows. Oysters – mothers-of-pearl – rest in their beds, waiting for the birth of their nacreous offspring. Iridescent populations swim, their skins covered in faceted scales that split light like prisms.
The sunlight, decanted from a sky drunk with heat, descended on this landscape. It cloaked the gods and kings in residence with a gilded veil, illuminating their watery empires.
It fell upon the shoulders of Neptune, working in the rooms of his grotto. His trident lay discarded in a corner, unused and bristling with impudent barnacles. His cache of sea-horses, a restive mass of fins and hooves, had been unhitched from their chariot. They yearned to feel the reins of knotted seaweed tearing at their mouths, to gallop and undulate through the torrential sea, to carry their master in triumph over the rippling sand.
But their master was busy.
By his feet there were shells. Curved, turbaned, arched and coiled, they were as marvelous as cathedrals, yet small enough to get lost in the ocean god’s fingernail. There were bones: the marrow and cartilage from turtles, whales, fish and seals – the architecture of discarded, splintered bodies. Only the sharks’ teeth – arranged in smiling, predatory groups – kept their triangular silhouettes intact.
Before him was a pleasant confusion of rooms and hallways. But the walls were blank – lacking ornament or symbols…devoid of all mythical recollection and challenge.
However, behind him finished walls were thick with decoration.
Suns designed with amber scallops and shreds of scarlet abalone. Constellations blazed underwater, solstice and equinox were outlined in rib cages and sand dollars. The genesis of the ocean was explained in codes and ciphers. Scientific equations, mathematicians’ questions and alchemists’ answers stretched from room to room in a chain of intellectual wonder.
From the donations of his ocean, Neptune created a mosaic worthy of his wisdom and nobility. And for millennia it remained hidden, a secret that lurked in the twilight beneath the foam. It remained serene and perfect, while continents kicked within their earthly womb, and evolution ran roughshod over mystery.
In 1835, Neptune’s house reached the surface. Receding waters twisted around the teeming designs and languages. Tapestries of seaweed dripped from ceilings. Fishes’ scales glittered forlornly, like alien stars rising from the sea.
Two years later, the house was made open to the public. Gas lamps balanced on stairways, winking in the mystic darkness that refused to disclose the god’s inspirations. Light and dark conspired together: soot from the lamps covered the walls, making carbon dating impossible. No one would ever know when the rooms were created – no one could ever the guess the identity of the maritime lord whose hands had lovingly brushed their primeval design.
Before the uninvited guests, before the onslaught of beauties and Brummels, before the Industrial Age, there was quiet. The liquid air was blue and dense. Its molecules fragmented into sapphire and turquoise jewels that were sewn into the gowns of the underwater gods. Tides whispered stories of their moon’s dominion and legend held the aquatic world close to its dreaming, drowning heart.