“Told you it’ll be fine,” Roland crows.
The tiny red- and purple-capped fish leap out of the sea, frolicking with one another like they’ve finally learned what freedom means. Ollie wades in, just in his nappy. I watch him discover the ocean for the first time too, his squeals of delight pealing towards me. But my body is tight, a twist of disquiet in my stomach. I totter behind Ollie, hands outstretched in anticipation of his fall. He has a net in his fat fist with a clutch of the uncanny plastic fish in it. Their fins flick and their colourless eyes glare at me accusingly.
Roland pulls out the California rolls. He seems like a child, himself. He plunges a hand into the net, laughing at the nips from the shoyu-tai. He unscrews the red head and squirts the soy sauce – their blood I suppose – onto his sushi. He takes a large bite, making guttural noises of pleasure. I have an urge to stop him as he offers a bite to Ollie. But there is no caution on Roland’s face, and I second-guess myself like always. Ollie takes a bite, his gums masticating the seaweed and rice as he continues to frolic in the sea. I’m always so careful with what he eats. Too careful, Roland says.
The waves are bloated, grey and frothy. The tide is coming in. The shoyu-tai seem to be leaping a little higher. The wind raises goosebumps on my skin. I clutch my arms around myself.
“Shouldn’t we be going?” I ask Roland.
“What? We just got here,” he says.
“I know, but the weather.”
Roland hasn’t heard me; he is playing with Ollie in the water. I don’t like the way the sea reaches its foamy fingers to me. I don’t like the way the shoyu-tai eye me as they jump out of the ocean.
The beach is crowded with tourists, all posing for photos. There are kiosks selling t-shirts, beach toys. Everyone else seems to be having a great time and I wonder again what is wrong with me.
I gasp as I feel a sting on my foot. A beached shoyu-tai has pierced my foot with its tail fin. I pull the thing out and toss it back into the ocean. The whoosh of the waves, the eerie light – it’s too much. My temples pinch. I press both thumbs either side of the wound, my hands shaking, my nails leaving symmetrical crescent moons. Is there a splinter?
“Roland!” My voice is hoarse. He still can’t hear me over the waves. Ollie shrieks – is he hurt? Is he just playing? The sea mist coats my glasses so I can’t see him clearly. An icy, plastic feeling snakes up my legs. All around me, people squawk and yell. I can see Roland waving, his mouth gaping and closing, gaping and closing.
is a Malaysian-Indian-Australian coconut who writes in Naarm/Melbourne. She travelled through many spaces, both beautiful and traumatic to get there and writes to make sense of her experiences. She’ll be the one in the kitchen making chai (where’s your cardamom?). She works in mental health. You can find her and her other publication credits on twitter: @pleomorphic2