Swept-Up Fish

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2018

By Sabrina Feldberg, Illustrated by Reed Skelton

The beach was gorgeous. The glittering blue waves lapped onto the shore; it kindly slapped away small children who got too close to the foamy current. Up where I was watching the scene, the sand, sitting peacefully in a tinged butter-yellow color, burned as a victim of the Sun, sifting like powder through my toes and occasionally producing a tiny crab here or there. The faint breeze carried a strong scent of sea salt from the coast, and I gazed again upon the children who had gone all the way down there, deeper to the cold, wet, sand. I thought of when I had charged my toes under it for a few seconds before (and had then quickly run up to the warm sand), watching the current make the sand appear as if it was escaping me, as if I was sliding further away, sweeping shells and fish that belonged there. If only a current could sweep me back into Chicago again, I thought. If only. But here, as if to taunt me, I saw a sign flapping in the wind by the beach gate. “Welcome to San Francisco Bay!” it read; and enough said, too. I did not need to be reminded.

As I ate my shrimp po-boy, which was also emitting a salty fume—only a stale reminder of the fact that I was here, not at home—my mother, father, and twin brothers chatted next to me with food cramped in their mouths. They didn’t mind being stuffed; I think they wanted to “do as the Romans do” in Rome, except San Francisco, of course. In unison, other families were either docked under an umbrella to eat or playing at the shore, vulnerable to being swept up by a salty wave.

It was a “celebration” of our moving here, and my family posed as ordinary Californians retiring to the beach during the long summer holiday. No wonder we, former Chicagoans, blended into the crowd; there were so many people that were minding their own business here. They would never guess that we had actually moved here in the midsummer; my mom had found a new job. I clenched my teeth inside my mouth at the sight of how pleased she looked. It was all her fault; all of the moving, everything—even choosing such a breathtaking place to replace home. Nothing will make me want to replace Chicago, though. When my ears came back to their senses, I heard the chatter of my family.

“Can Henry and I go to the water?” my brother, George, asked with pleading eyes to my mother. They were both 12-years-old, but George was just a minute older. I was 15, and already considered myself (if I were to be a Californian, after all) a sit-and-sunbathe kind of teen. At least they had apparently not been in Chicago long enough to miss its long winters.

“Of course. Carrie, would you like to join?” my mom asked. She had chestnut-brown hair and eyes like me, and a sort of electric, party vibe came from her. I knew she was already loving this more than Chicago.

“No thanks,” I grumbled. “This is the worst vacation ever. Take me back to Chicago!” I spat, feeling a lump of angry heat in my throat as I said it. I didn’t want to take it back. My parents put on empathetic frowns and offered me ice cream, but I dismissed that as well. I’ll admit, I wanted it, but I continued to glare at my parents and pretend in my head that they were the meanest people on Earth.

This was it, and I didn’t want to die a fish.

I bathed in the sun afterward, and the heat seemed to steam around me. It also made my skin look pinkish. Strange, I thought. Sunburn doesn’t happen that quickly. Soon, I noticed my sunglasses were beside me, and my skin a scaly texture. To my horror, I saw my arms turn to tiny fins and my legs into a small tail. I was becoming a fish. And when I had transformed up to my mouth, I had trouble breathing. Water, is all I thought. Water. I need water. Flopping (literally) breathlessly around the sand, I assessed my situation. Closest water? Nowhere. This was it, and I didn’t want to die a fish. I was hyperventilating, my gills opening and closing rapidly.

Just as my eyes started fluttering, and I felt a harsh feeling of restfulness and giving up, I felt a human hand squeeze me gently. Then I heard my body “plop” into a pail of salty water, and it felt amazing. My savior was a small child that looked like a toddler, and he peered into my new tank as if I were a lab specimen. For all I knew, I could have been. Then, with a giddy smile, he called his parents and showed them me. I was on display, and my fish nerves didn’t like it. Unluckily, my fish nerves also wanted to skedaddle, and do so it did. I sprang out from the bucket and onto the scorching hot sand. If I had not been in a bucket of water before, I wouldn’t have had enough time in consciousness to gather myself and create a somewhat plan (though, for a fish, I reflect that I couldn’t have thought of anything better). First, with my fish eyes alert for finding water, I found a sandcastle moat, a watery hole someone was digging, and, for closers, the coast of the ocean. This meant a journey of hopping from water to water to get to the coast.

After taking these quick notes, I flopped up to the moat. Easily enough, I slid in. I was just swimming around to the other side when my fins froze in the action—I was having one of those tense, instinctive moments. I shivered, and my eyes darted fearfully to my left, where I had felt something alongside me. A crab, about twice the size of my fish form, had crawled its way right up next to me! My body shook, and again I sprang inconveniently out of the water.

Unfortunately, this crab could, too. And breathing. I flopped away from it quicker than ever before, in the direction of the watery hole I had seen before. The crab was too fast, and I figured I would have to use the small sense of human knowledge I still retained. I decided to flop on top of the sand just enough to get under it. By the time the crab came crawling along, I was quite covered in sand. Once he had scampered away, I flopped rapidly to the watery hole and swam peacefully for about five minutes. There were two people going to and from the coast to gather buckets rimmed with water, and I enjoyed the water the people brought to me. In the moment of relaxation, I gathered my thoughts and thought more like a human. I wondered if I would always be a fish, and if I would never see my family again this far down the beach. They might always remember me as the annoyed teen that I was before I mysteriously left. My moment of quiet did not last for long though, because the current took an unexpected sprint toward the hole, going a long way from the shore and filling up the hole with sand. I, meanwhile, had been taken and, to my delight, was now on the coast at last. I swam around the shallow bits, searching for where on the beach my family would be. All of a sudden, I saw a surfboard come toward me, and my world turned blank.

I don’t know how long I was unconscious as a fish, but when I awoke I was back into a human again. But I was wet. According to my mom, I had been floating in the water knocked out, and the person who was in charge, a surfer, took me to the lifeguards who then brought me to my family. And my mom, I quote, had “just known” when she heard an unconscious teenager was found “alone, hopelessly about to drown” that it was me. My cheeks burned slightly red when I heard the last part, and I was glad the change didn’t mean turning into a fish. I smiled and thanked my family for helping me, and they accepted my change in attitude. As the waves curved around and swept up many stray fish in the ocean, I admitted how beautiful it was.

“The beach was gorgeous,” I remarked, when we had returned to our new home at dusk. I was already forming a story about the day in my head that would start with just that.

Swept-Up Fish Sabrina Feldberg

Sabrina Feldberg, 12
Potomac, MA

Untitled Reed Skelton

Reed Skelton, 8
Santa Cruz, CA

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2 Comments
 
  1. Maeve July 18, 2018 at 10:26 am Reply

    Great artwork and a good storyline!

  2. Clara September 11, 2018 at 3:32 pm Reply

    Wow, amazing!

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