Once, I was reminded of a story by another story. This isn’t either of those stories but you know how chain reactions go so here we go. When I was a wee lad living in North Carolina I ventured on a class outing to the beach. We had a fine day at the coast. Sun rays blazed and the buddy system was in full effect (shout to my buddy! I know you’re out there somewhere. I could pretend I didn’t forget you but I did long ago. I’ll never however let the memory of your stalwart support fade though. Throughout that balmy, seaside day I knew you were by my side for better or worse. Respect.)
We spent priceless hours strolling to and fro amongst the sudsy ocean edge, waving at gulls and staring at tide pool tidbits. Somewhere paced a man with a metal detector but I never saw him. What I did see was my classmate being snagged in the forehead by a fish hook. He wasn’t my assigned buddy thank gOd. I would have taken a bullet for my bro, so you better believe I would have jumped in the path of a paltry pokey. The entire bunch of us munchkins gathered around our distressed peer as a salty fisherman and our quite incapable teacher plotted the painless removal of the nasty hook. Many a chin scratching ensued as little, unfortunate Bobby Timmy Jonny Jimmy Boy whimpered as his miniscule life flashed across his bitty brain’s boob tube. What intrigued me was how blood free the scene was, the hook protruded from a snow-white patch of stretched skin, until old fishy man took his pliers in one hand and little Skippy’s head in the other and *YANK* the hook burst forth in a spout of crimson. Blood sprayed across the sand and clumped in dark splotches near old Hermit Crab Alley. Ouch.
Once safely back on the bus the day had already bloated into myth. “Hey remember when little ol’ Rusty Pants was decapitated by the anchor of a pirate ship? That was far out man!” We settled back into our vinyl seats and day dreamed of how we’d dazzle ’em back home with sea faring tales. Little did we know the sea was still with us. After half an hour on the road an acrid smell solidified in the air. It had started to grow feet and sketched out a name tag when the bus driver could take no more. He stopped his long, yellow chariot and slowly strode down the aisle with nose perked at attention. He stopped in his tracks at the source of the insulting odor. Huddling under him was a particularly odd kid grasping a brown paper bag. This fella wasn’t geeky in the conventional manner he was just ultra creepy at first, second, and third glance (my heart goes out to his unfortunate buddy). He clutched his precious package tighter as Mr. Bus insisted on inspection, “What’s in the bag?” “Nothing,” he squeaked in reply. “Nothing smells pretty putrid. Give it up kid” “It’s a present for my mom,” Junior moaned in revolt. Suddenly the driver grabbed his parcel and opened it for all to see. Inside was the severely decomposed frame of a hefty fish. Its few remaining scales had blackened and flaked off the clinging, rotten flesh as small bugs scrambled up the skeleton like pebbles over a broken xylophone. Out the door it immediately went, and we rode on with the smell of mama’s discarded gift hanging in our nostrils.
A glimmer of magic did return to this strange day. As we chugged down the highway a car pulled abreast our big ol’ bus and inside the occupants held two baby tigers. We pressed our noses against the windows as they waved striped paws at our smiles. You may be thinking, sure that happened looney tune. Well, it may very well have been the hallucinogenic after effects of ocean air, bloody sand, and fishy gifts but those little cubs have sure stayed cute in my memory and that’s what matters most. I wonder if they ever ate their owners. Adios!