Tommy didn’t dare leave the water’s edge as he watched his Sister disappear beneath the murky abyss. He scanned the surface for signs of life; broken stillness, ripples, circles of air being brought to the top.
So what could he do? He called her name a few times, in his head; peered over the banks as far as he dared; desperately wishing that he had never shown her the glint that caught his eye.
There, hanging lifelessly on a broken reed, was a medal. He could see it clear as day, just as they had, oh. Nearly an hour a go, now. It’s ribbon was red and blue and white striped, dirtied from something putrid green. The ribbon took nothing away from the grandeur of the medallion. A thought crossed his mind as to whether it could be real gold. They would be rich, richer than they had ever dreamed. Except they wouldn’t now. Not both of them.
He sat down on a rock that felt hard and uncomfortable, beneath him. It’s sharp shape caused him pain underneath his thigh but he didn’t move an inch; happy to be feeling something. He hadn’t taken his eyes off the prize; a perfect gold disc, the size of a doughnut. There was a man with no face, running to somewhere and it made him wonder if he should do the same.
Maybe the man was him. Just a boy who’s Sister had recently told him that he should play out some more. That staying inside reading was not good for him and that he would end up with rickets and bow legs.
He really hadn’t liked the sound of bowed legs. He had never known a person with legs like bows but he didn’t want to be the first, either. So, when his Sister had begged him to climb trees in the woods, he looked at his shins and decided to let her win.
They had walked out of the door; his Sister skipping ahead, shouting him to hurry up and to stop being a slowcoach. Tommy didn’t reply, just followed behind her; looking about him, taking it all in.
The trees were making that hissing sound, when the wind dances in their branches. He walked with his head tilted to the sky, watching out for the breeze that he had never managed to catch a glimpse of. Birds were chattering away and he wondered what on earth they were talking about.
His Sister must have ran back to him because he felt her warm little hands around his wrist;
”Come on, Tommy! We’re nearly there!”
He didn’t speak the words that were assembling in his mind. He simply allowed her to pull him through the woods; their feet occasionally causing a snap between the crunching of leaves.
Soon they had reached an opening. Luscious greens framed by rustic downturns. He watched her run ahead of him then twirl with her hands up high. She reminded him of a ballerina. He would have told her so but he decided that ballerinas don’t wear wellies. Maybe she was more like a fairy.
”Come on Tommy! Like this!”
She twirled and twirled and laughed and laughed. He could feel his heart warming, excitement brewing in the pit of his stomach. Something broke inside and he felt that he was smiling. Soon that smile was so big that he was laughing. Really laughing. They laughed together as Tommy followed her, clumsily trying to run but slipping.
”Just get back up, Tommy. You can do it! Like this!”
He looked up and watched her spin and jump and laugh like she was magic. He decided there and then that she was definitely more of a fairy. Clambering to his heavy feet, he followed her steps and they danced and laughed and moved to their own imaginary music. Tommy sang along to his Sister’s song which made them giggle until their bellies hurt.
As they reached the other side of all that green, the stream came into view. It wooshed with a strength that only water can achieve; bloated from heavy rainfall, days before.
They stood side by side and watched the gushing slap the banks. His Sister smiled at him. And he smiled back.
It was as he turned to her, that he saw it. The medal. Glistening in the sunlight; bouncing colours onto the waters below. His eyes widened and he found himself pointing; showing her his discovery.
Her eyes danced like her body; her teeth clasped over her bottom lip as she clapped her hands quickly, jumping up and down.
”Treasure! Let’s get it!’
Tommy scowled. The medal dangled from long grass, shining as it swayed into light.
”Don’t be a baby! Go and get it!”
He felt her little hands again, still warm but with a firmer grasp.
His heart was warming again but this time from a pounding. A fear. He knew it would not be easy.
”Nothing is easy, Tommy!”
Tommy swallowed hard, pulled himself against the grip. He advanced on the treasure, with haste.
”Just lean over and grab it. Come on Tommy, you can do it. Be brave! You have to be brave!”
Tommy couldn’t stand it. He heaved with a breath that was short and he felt the ache of his legs. He closed his eyes and imagined he was Superman; slick hair and superpowers. He so badly wanted to be super, there and then.
”Oh, you big baby! I’ll get it!”
Before he could say a word, he watched her stretch over the bank and fall in. She made a splash but didn’t cry out or swim. Why didn’t she try to swim? In seconds, she was gone from his sight and he was on the bank, staring down at the water. Looking for her.
He waited and waited and hoped and prayed. Still nothing. The medal continued to tease him. That bloody, bastard thing. He hated it now but sat staring at it as he felt the pain in his thigh.
He remembered what she had said; that he should be brave. That word echoed all about him; amongst the trees, the stream. Inside of his head. If only he had been. He looked to the surface again, for a miracle.
No miracle came and so he decided. He swallowed his fear and decided that now he would be brave. His hands shook as he untied his shoelaces; the right one had a double knot and so he pulled hard at it, until it gave way.
He was crying now as he removed his coat. He laid it next to his shoes and unbuttoned his shirt. He was brave. He was definitely brave. One last look at the surface, then a glimpse at the tree tops as he filled his lungs with air. He pushed down on his legs.
A cool hand, large and firm, yanked at his arm; pulling him back into theirs.
”Where have you been! We’ve been so worried!”
Tommy cried into his Mother’s chest, unable to do anything but sob like a baby. He wasn’t brave. He was a baby.
”You turned me into a baby!”
His Mother pulled away from him; mouth wide in shock, to match her eyes.
”What did you say? You just said something! Say it again! Say something again!”
Tommy just cried and cried, feeling the cold…beginning to shake.
”Tommy, say it again!”
”Lucy said that I had to not be a baby and be brave!”
His Mother pulled him close, smothering him in her embrace; kissed his head again and again. She was so overwhelmed to hear her Son speak, since not having uttered a single word, since the tragedy. Something broke, inside of her.
”We all miss Lucy, sweetheart. But you must stay safe! You shouldn’t be out here, on your own!”
Tommy’s Mother picked up her Son; panic making room for relief. She turned away from the banks, her Son in her arms and began the walk home.
”Don’t you ever do that again, okay?”
She squeezed him tightly.
Tommy looked over her shoulder at the medal, blowing fiercely now. Somehow that made him smile, too.
His Mother laughed. Everything would be okay.