/ Riley Sutton (Writer), Kevin Phan (Illustrator)
Fiction — 4 min reading time
“I think that one’s occupied.”
The sun beats on the back of my neck like a tribal drummer. I look up, squinting. “What?”
“That one.” My sister reaches over, taking the rock from my hands. She turns it over. Inside is a tiny red crab—thrashing around, looking miffed, and maybe a bit scared.
“Oh.” I bite my lip. We place the rock down in the sand, and the crab scuttles away.
My knees are all scraped up, from the constant kneeling in the sand. I don’t know why we’re still out here. But I wanted a paperweight, and Dad got tired of looking, and now we’re 2 hours into a terrible, sandy hole in the ground.
My sister stands, offering me her hand. “Let’s go. There will be some more rocks by the ocean.”
I grimace. “I don’t need you to help me. I can look on my own.” I straighten one of my water wings, trying to look professional. This is probably how geologists dress.
My sister smirks. “I know. I wanted to help.”
Saint Claire. Claire the Great. Claire the Super Nice Big Sister, Who Never Lets Me Do Anything. Perfect Claire.
My mouth starts moving, even though I want it to stop. “Thank you, Claire.”
She looks smug, and smiles. I want to groan, or maybe run away. Instead, we walk toward the water, hand in hand.
The ocean is sparkly today, like dimes when they first come out of the factory, and they’re all smelly and metal in your hands. But the water is hiding. It rushes toward us, excited, but then creeps away while the crabs glitter in the sand. This water is clear, like glass, so you can see everything inside. One wave peeks up, and there’s a big fat piece of kelp in there; and then the water runs away, spitting out the kelp so that it sits plump on the sand.
“Did you learn any new words today in school?” asks Claire, stepping over the kelp.
She pauses for an answer. I say nothing, and thankfully, she doesn’t use her Claire Crowbar to pry into my life.
There is a cluster of rocks nearby, past one of those brown and white sand birds, with the long skinny beaks. I skip to the rocks, dragging my sister along with me. She may be kind, but she is slow. My water wings thump happily against my arms, but Claire almost twists an ankle in the sand dunes.
“Jamie, stop!” She’s upset. “I could have hurt myself!”
I pretend not to hear. If she wanted help, she should have asked Dad. I just want a paperweight.
I let go of her hand and kneel down next to this new collection of rocks.
As Claire clambers down into the sand, I pick up a pretty blue stone. It’s covered in wet, cakey sand, which gets under my fingernails. The rock has white ridges running through it, like veins of marble. When I hold it up to the sun, the light glints off of the rock like a disco ball.
“I found it,” I tell Claire. She smiles. Reluctantly, I offer up the stone. Her fingers trace circles on its smooth, glossy skin—lazy circles like the seagulls in the sky.
She nods. “Yes. This is definitely the one.”
Off to the side, there’s another tiny crab, smushed by the rocks. This crab is clear, ghostly. You can see right through him. His arms are all curled in like a hair bow, not a big bow, but a dead one. He isn’t moving at all. I poke him with my finger, but nothing happens.
“Let’s go, Jamie. We should show Dad the rock.”
But I need to poke the crab, again, and his squishy little body doesn’t budge. I frown, ignoring Claire’s outstretched hand. How can he be dead? On this living beach, with the twinkling water right there, and these gorgeous little rocks. I look over at the bird with his beak, still sniffing for food—
The bird burrows into the sand, and comes up, and goes in, and comes up, and his mouth is empty all the time. He’s bad at this. And yet, he bristles when I push the crab toward his weird, spindly beak. This crab is a perfect snack for him. I shove it a little bit closer. But he titters away, shuffling over to another hungry patch of sand.
What a silly bird. So stupid, to turn down help, even when it’s right in front of him. I try to get closer, but he opens up his wings, and hurries off down the beach.
My sister lowers her hand, and walks away.