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"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." – Maya Angelou

The Secret Life of Rock Ponds

A short short-story on second chances

A gust carried the cry of the solitary fisherman to the children huddled below at the rock ponds. For a moment the two turned their faces as the wind swallowed the man’s warning. 


His dark figure waved at them from the far end of the pier, silhouetted against a nail of cadmium sun inching out behind the restless sea.


The boy, about seven or eight, glanced a second time at the beaconing figure, recognition hesitating in his cautious eyes, his back straightening for a moment as he raised his scooping net only to grasp his companion’s hand, a younger girl, and made her jump with him toward safety. The children’s defiant laughter mixed with that of crashing surf on rocks, the sudden explosive spray sending the nearby colony of seagulls scattering, swooping and swerving, cawing their discontent at the churning waters.


“Philly, I’m cold.” The girl hugged her slender frame, shaking.


The boy turned sideways and embraced his sister, rubbing her arms. “The sun will make us warm. You’ll see.”


The southeastern played havoc with their hair.


“Why’s he shouting?” She pointed at the man, now standing closer on the pier, casting his line far out into the surf.


“He’s worried. He can see all the big waves from where he stands.”


“He’s silly—we know the rocks.”


The boy’s answer was drowned by a second cascade of crashing water behind them, making both jump sideways.


“I’m hungry.” The girl pulled her hand free the moment they were safe.


“Just wait. I almost got three little fish with my net.” The boy leaned forward, brow knotted, studying the rock pool at their feet. It was an art—being patient, standing motionless, the net ready in the water, waiting. Not even a breath.


“I don’t like raw fish.”


“We can grill them. I’ll make a fire, under the wharf, away from the water.”


“The wind’s too strong.”


“Fiona, please.”


“Philly, when can we go home?”


“You know Mom said not until noon.”


“Why can’t we be at home? We don’t have school today.”


The boy’s laugh sounded like that of a disillusioned old man. “Mother’s entertaining her boyfriend.”


“What’s entertain, Philly?”


“Fiona, stop asking questions.”


“I miss Daddy.”


Stop that too. You know Mom told us he was the one who left.”


“I want to go home.”


“At noon. Quiet now. I’m concentrating.”


The girl watched, breathless, as her brother took a position. Both children were silent, oblivious to their surroundings, their eyes glued to the pond, willing the scuttling creatures into the waiting net. The morning sun bathed their slender limbs with columns of gold and ochre and alabaster.


Phillip cried triumphantly as he yanked the net with a single swoop and held it high, water cascading over them.


The girl squealed.


Inside the net, five tiny fish squirmed for their lives.


“See? Bring the bucket, Fi!”


Fiona held the orange pail closer. “The sea stinks.”


Phillip laughed as he peered at a gull screeching overhead. “It doesn’t. It’s only the fish.”


“Yuck.”


“I’m getting more.” Once again, the boy took up position, the net ready, his back facing the ocean.


“Philly, the man on the pier is waving like mad!”


“Not now. Look. There are ten of these little fish swimming right into my—”


Phillip! The Wave!”


The fisherman spun around at the girl’s blood churning shriek, rising above that of the wind and the sea and the gulls. He couldn’t see the children any longer as the wave crashed down where the two had stood seconds before, the spray shooting thirty feet into the sky. The fishing rod went flying as he raced down the wharf while bellowing at the children.


He had to run close to a hundred yards to reach the first rocks. Crab-like, he scuttled across the glistening outcrops, shouting their names.


Fiona!”


Phillip!”


The girl’s head appeared first. She scampered on bloodied hands and knees in the direction of the forceful voice.


Here . . . Here I am . . .” She whimpered, sobbing uncontrollably as she clung to a rock.


The man scooped her in his arms and trotted with her toward the beach. “Where’s your brother? Where’s Phil?”


“Back there . . . In the water . . . You know our names?”


He only grumbled as her ran the last few feet to reach safety and dropped her on the wet sand. “Stay here. I’m getting your brother.”


The fisherman’s voice pierced the blustering morning, ricocheting from the slippery black monstrosities. “Phillip! Philly!”


Two surfers slipping out of their wetsuits witnessed the debacle from their kombi parked higher up on the beach road. Dropping everything they raced down to the beach. The surfers were younger and fitter. The three men reached the boy at the same time where he lay half-submerged in a rock pond, his face and arms bloodied; his right hand in a death-knell around his now warped fishing net.


The man, cheeks wet, slipped as he got hold of the boy.


The surfers jumped closer. “Sir, let us help you.”


The fisherman nodded his agreement as he clung to the lifeless body in his hands, allowing the surfers to pull him and the boy across the most treacherous sections.


Philip, can you hear me?”


The boy’s eyes remained closed and his body limp. The trio maneuvered around another bolder.


Philly, you’re safe now. Please open your eyes.” The man wept, kissing the boy’s cheeks. “Oh, God . . . Please . . . Philly.”


As they scaled the last cluster of rocks the boy’s eyes fluttered open. “Daddy?”


The fisherman laughed and pulled the boy from the grip of his helpers, nodding his gratitude, cradling his son. “You’re safe now.”


“Is Fiona—?”


“She’s fine. She’s waiting on us.”


His eyes closing, the boy muttered, “Did you see, Dad? I didn’t lose my landing net.”


© 2018 DanieBotha.com. All rights reserved.

Oil by Rob Wareing

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