Daniel’s Starfish is my choice for Flashback Friday this month. I wanted something summery, and that to me is beach related. This 500 word story was originally written to a title picked from two lists from Chuck Wendig, in December 2015. ‘Daniel’s Starfish’ took me back to childhood holidays on Rottingdean beach, near Brighton, and to wonderful hexagonal rockpools next to Fingal’s Cave on Staffa.
In winter the pools would freeze over, waiting for the tide to turn. In the summer, drought was the danger. During spring and autumn the intertidal range was perfect for a sunbathing starfish. Revati relocated to a favoured pool in the rocky shore, with plenty of overhang in case of predators. In the dark of night he gazed though the glass ceiling at phosphorescence slowing whirling overhead. During daylight hours, a beautiful heat source went from east to west, crossed by white and grey patches he associated with falls of fresh water that ruined his view. His clan thought him mad, and stuck to the steadier, deeper waters. Revati longed for the excitement of the mid seasons during the winters and summers.
“Come on Daniel!”
The boy poked his stick at the anemone, laughing as its feet withdrew, leaving a dark blob of jelly on the rock. His mother held out her hand to the five-year-old. “We’ll come back tomorrow, I promise.”
“But the pools will be gone tomorrow.”
“They’ll be a little later tomorrow because the tide is later. One hour, every day, that’s the way it works.”
“Why? Why, Mummy?”
The parents’ perpetual problem – the ‘why?’ of an enquiring mind. “You can look it up in the book when we get home.”
Daniel trotted after her for a while, before “Look, Mummy! Look at this pretty thing!”
She sighed, but came back.
“What is it, Mummy?”
“Well, I reckon you’ll find that in your I-Spy book. How would you describe it?”
“It’s pinky-red, and it’s got five arms like a star.”
“That should be easy to remember. It’s very pretty, isn’t it.”
“Can we take it home? Please, Mummy, please?”
“It probably likes its home here on the beach, Daniel. We take shells home, but they haven’t got animals inside them. And this animal likes to live under the water, look. We couldn’t look after it, could we?”
“You can come back tomorrow and see if it’s still here.”
Revati saw the boy each day while the tide was right, until he went back to deeper water as the seasons changed. In the autumn he found the boy came once or twice, but the next spring a bigger boy found him, and it continued until Revati’s eighteenth mate was ripped from the reef and washed up onto the beach in a winter storm, refusing to take shelter in the shallow pools with him.
“Well, starfish.” The tall man paused, wondering if it really had lived for twenty years, and whether all starfishes had that nick on their two-o’clock leg. “I need to get some DNA from you. Would you mind?”
He reached into the pool, removed the animal, and scraped a little of its skin into a tube.
“Thank you,” he said, putting it back as closely as he could to its original position. “Now, if I can show that you’re genetically different from the others on this beach, I can name you Forcipulatida Danielii. Then you’d really be mine.”
Back in his oceanography lab he smiled as he completed his doctorate.
© J M Pett 2015