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When the fish start to whisper, it's too late to save yourself

By Catherine KenwellPublished 2 years ago 4 min read

Alone. Alonealonealone.

The five letters feel nonsensible, carved by stick into the low-tide sand. She’s sure that’s the word to describe her predicament. She doesn’t remember everything, but she remembers words. She thinks.

How long has she been here? She doesn’t know for sure. She started drawing lines—one for each of four days, then a diagonal across the four—in the hard sand when the waters were low. But each time the tide came in, it washed away the lines and her memories. So it could be one day. Or a hundred. The days have been washed out to sea.

Each day is the same—either that, or one day keeps repeating itself, over and over. It’s inconsequential, really. She sleeps, when she can, in a tiny rocky cave, perhaps better described as a shaded alcove or a nook in the rock. Enough to shelter her when it rains, which it does every time that ‘the light is over there’; she thinks it is ‘afternoon’. After noon. She would need to know noon. She thinks it is when the sun is overhead, but if the sun isn’t visible, the day is simply as long as it is light.

A series of jerry-rigged rain-catchers gather water to quench her thirst. Massive palm leaves, a couple of broken coconuts, a conch shell. These are her pitchers and drinking vessels. It is almost enough.

There are seven coconut palms but not much else here. She used to shake the trees, but now she lets the hard fruit fall on its own after one hit her on the top of her head and made her hair bleed. The saltwater helped heal the wound but it stung like hell every time she bathed in the sea.

She gets angry with the fish that insist on talking to her when she pulls them from the shallows. They shimmer and giggle until she fillets them, and then they begin to admonish her for being the outsider.

You’re going to die here anyway, they whisper. Why do you need to bake us in the sun? We belong in the water, they hiss. We live in the water. You can feast on our siblings, but you’re the one who’s messing up the natural order...the one who doesn’t fit. Close to shore, a silvery chorus trills a song of warning as the fish dart just under the surface. You’ll see, they giggle.

She believes she is thin, now. The sundress she wears is clean enough but dusty with dried salt, and it sags like an empty sack. All those times she wanted to be ten pounds lighter; now, she imagines, ten more pounds and she’ll disintegrate into beach sand.

Once, when she thought she might be found, when a lone plane flew overhead, she carved SOS into the hard sand and waved her arms in the air. SOS. Sauce. Saws. Sews. SOS, she pondered. Fuck our souls, it’s the body that wants saving.

Her mind is bending, but its elasticity is stretched to breaking point. She is slowly going mad. Mad. Madeleine.

Was that her name? Or did she know a Madeleine from school? No, she remembers Madeline, that little red-headed girl from the books. Books. Booooooks, she repeats the word out loud. It sounds foreign in her mouth. Was that her voice? She doesn’t remember how she sounds, but at any rate, she no longer thinks what she hears is her.

She folds and extends her bones to lying position, corpse pose, from yoga. Hands out to the side, feet and legs relaxed. Closes her eyes. Yo. Ga. Yoga. It sounds weird, reminds her of something. Yoda. The wise guy. Try not. There is no try. She must do. What must she do? She must do the twist, the hokey pokey, turn herself around.

She is stretched out on the cool hard sand left by the ebbing tide. Her feet are being tickled by quiet licks of sea; now the water is up to her ankles. The sun is over there now, but still hot.

Exhaustion seeps through her skin. She opens her eyes every so often, when she feels the sun dip further away from her. It is almost gone. Now, she sees the spotlight moon. The tide is rising. She feels the water lap further up her body, reaching her knees, then hips. She is still. She feels her body slowly merge with the shifting sand. She imagines the fish, with their tiny nibbling mouths, coming out to feed at night. The mean fish, the chastising ones. The ones who pick on her. The fish she will no longer need to catch or bake or eat. The fish that was her food. Fish. Food. Fish food.

She senses laughter starting to gurgle in her chest, but her expression is unchanged and she remains silent.

Fishfood. Fishfoodfishfoodfishfood. It sounds funny, it just does.

It must be funny. Because now, she hears giggling.


About the Creator

Catherine Kenwell

I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.

I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  4. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

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Comments (4)

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  • Catherine Kenwell (Author)9 months ago

    Thanks, Cathy!

  • Cathy holmes9 months ago

    Oh this is great. I had previously hearted, but don't remember seeing it before. Well done.

  • This was fantastic!

  • Ooooh , an excellent tale , or should that be fish tail ?

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