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Little Fish

The men took a break at dawn. They sat at various points along the oceanfront, drinking from bright thermoses and blowing on their hands. The morning was clear and crisp. One of the men kept looking over at a small figure perched on the railing nearby. She wore a thin purple jumper and a mop of black curls. He wandered down the path and stopped next to her. She didn’t look around.

He leant against the railing with a sigh. A few metres away, an old man with papery lips sucked on a cigarette. He looked as though he might catch alight. The child didn’t seem to notice either of them. She looked expressionlessly at the water. Her nose was streaming.

“Cold, isn’t it?"

The girl didn’t look up.

The man slid a parcel onto her lap. When she didn’t respond, he gently folded pack the paper to show her the silver fish.

“This one swam here all the way from California. Had a big family there – three brothers called Andy, Bob and Larry. He’s called Pete."

A small, white finger traced the lines of the dead fish’s tail.

“Pete’s a musical fish, too. He sang all the time he was swimming over here. Scared a lot of sailors."

“What did he sing?"

“Oh…The Wiggles."

“Which one?"

“The one about a lot of wiggling."

Her eyelids flickered. The little face looked pinched and blotchy.

“Pete reckons you’re an awfully little fish to be here by yourself. Did you come from California too?"

She shook her head.

“Africa?"

She pointed to the housing development behind them.

“Ah."

He took off his thick jacket and wrapped it around the narrow, unresponsive shoulders. They sat companionably and watched a group of squabbling seagulls fight for a dropped sandwich. The other men were packing up and wandering back to the docks.

“You better go home and get some breakfast, hey?"

She nodded.

“Want me to take you?"

She slithered off the railing and waddled awkwardly for a few metres, gathering the coat about her like a robe. She turned and looked at him, eyes anxious.

“Pete?"

The man smiled and handed her the fishy bundle.

“Nice talking to ya."

She smiled back and wiped her nose on the jacket. He watched her across the street and through a rusty door. A little hand waved at him.

The old man with the cigarette hawked and spat into the water.

“Back to work, then."

“Yeah, with you in a tick, Dad."

The old man pursed his paper lips and studied his son.

“Never heard ya talk so much in me life."

Little Fish

pinkelephant

Joined February 2007

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