Ichthyophobia

by E.M. Killaley

 

‘No, you have to go,’ my father says, pushing me toward the boat.

‘I can’t, no.’ I grab his arm, but he is stronger. He pries away my fingers as my brother puts an arm around my stomach and pulls me through the shallows. ‘I don’t want to go!’

But my father is already walking up the beach, and he doesn’t turn when the engine is wrenched into life.

When we are clear of land, my brother laughs at how I shrink from the water.

‘Don’t laugh,’ another woman tells him. ‘Why shouldn’t she be afraid?’

‘But it is the same old fear, isn’t it?’ he asks me.

I see our father in the wrinkles around my brother’s eyes. I hear his laugh too, on a day very like today, but many years ago. The sky is just as clear, the water as cold. The sun glimmers off the scales of a red and yellow fish, dangling before me. The line breaks, and the wet, slippery creature flails in my lap, its tail slapping against my legs.

‘Catch it!’ my father tells me, but the fish slips over the edge and back into the sea.

It has grown dark when the engine, once growling angrily, fades from a whine into silence. The light of the full moon sinks through the surface of the water, and I see a flash, then another. All at once there are thousands of them, silver darts of movement merging just beneath the waves, a whole school of sea bass. I look at my brother, who is watching them too. He doesn’t tease me, he just wraps an arm around my shoulders and pulls me into his warmth. We stare into the darkness around us, hoping for a denser shade of black, the shape of land.

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