Short Story: The Starfish

Sean Dennison, BFR Editorial Staff

            Robert,

                        Another day, another hundred errands. Could you please take Robbie to the beach? I’ve packed some snacks for you. For dinner I’m thinking pizza. Call for trouble. xoxoxoxoxo

                                                                                                Mathilde

*

Robert thought of paintings on the drive to the beach. The sunny day expressed every detail in his sight with loving focus. Robbie rolled his window up and down, stealing highway breezes that kicked up his hair. Another day, another Mathildeless venture. The hours and the errands she said she did didn’t match. Neither did her car’s odometer.

“Dad, are we gonna catch fish?”

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said.

Robbie started clapping his plastic shovel and bucket together. Robert let the hollow sounds soundtrack his thoughts. Would Amy be there? He’d told her last minute, but figured they were both used to it by now. Mathilde only smiled at Robert’s complaints about working on nonexistent work projects. As for “getting to this point,” he’d long since gotten over it.

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said again.

“Huh?” Robbie asked, but they were already pulling into the beach lot.

**

The woman walked up and down along the bottom of the sheer cliff face that overlooked the jetty. What was a jetty anyway?

We’ll be at the jetty, he said.

The what?

Just meet us—me—at the beach, near the cliffs.

Us. He was being sloppy again. She kicked away a spinachy pile of seaweed. Seagulls flew overhead, and she resolved that, if shat on, these meetings would stop. She found a small pool where she chased crabs with her finger. It was easy to disrupt them, or anything, really. Hell, she’d let him disrupt her life after a chance meeting at a coffee shop.

“Hello,” she finally heard.

She worked up a smile before looking at him.

“I’m not doing it here, in public, with your son here she said,” pointing to a small boy with a plastic bucket and shovel, running to the tide pools with his back toward them. “Lotta fucking nerve bringing him here.”

“I just wanted to see you, Amy,” he said. “It couldn’t be helped.”

“Well, you see me Robert,” she said. “Now, what can be helped?”

***

The starfish looked like his Mom’s jewelry. He liked to watch her put it on for big parties, a five-pointed sunset red necklace. He reached in the tide pool to pull the ocean gem out. Saltwater wetted and weighted his clothes, but the starfish felt as light as the paper masks he made at school. He couldn’t wait to show Dad.  They could take it home to Mom, who wasn’t really with him and Dad anymore except at dinner and maybe breakfast. Mom would love the starfish.

“I’m gonna take you home,” the boy whispered, stroking its five limbs. He ran back to where Dad was.

Dad had his arms around a lady. He’d seen Dad wrap his arms like that around Mom. The lady smiled, and now Dad kissed her. He did that with Mom too. He never saw Dad do that with anyone else. He clutched the starfish tighter. He didn’t know he walked to them until he was right next to them. The lady noticed first.

“Robert,” she said.

Dad quickly unwrapped himself from the lady and took a few steps back.

“Got a fish, buddy?”

Robbie nodded and held up the starfish. He touched his thumb to the center. He imagined a magic button on the starfish’s center, and when you pushed it the ocean would rise, higher and higher until it turned the world into a pool.

“It’s beautiful,” the lady said.

****

Mrs. Robertson noticed Robert and his boy pull up in their driveway while she watered her plants and went to say hello.

“Why, hello there, handsomes!” she said.

“Hi,” Robbie said without looking at her, and headed straight for the house. He threw a plastic shovel and bucket set on the grass.

“Hold on, buddy,” Robert said. “Hi Mrs. Robertson.”

“Robert, how are you? Father-son outing?”

“Yah, beach day today,” he said. Mrs. Robertson smiled at him. His face was red, and he kept tugging at his collar. He noticed he had missed a button on his shirt and fixed it. “Robbie found a starfish,” he said after some silence.

“I hope the next time I go to the beach I find one,” she said. “Take care.”

“You too.”

She thought of Robbie and Robert. They looked exactly like each other. But Robbie had Mathilde’s eyes and nose. The mother’s car wasn’t there. She’d be back later this evening, then, to cook dinner. Robert, Robbie and Mathilde sometimes ate dinner with the drapes open, and every now and then Mrs. Robertson would see them eating together.

What a lovely family, she thought, and continued to garden.

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