A short story for Ronovan’s Friday Fiction prompt.
The two grown ups were leaning on the rail, looking down into the river. Nat peered through the wrought iron of the bridge parapet; his interest caught more by the water as it swirled around the stone piers than by what his parents were saying.
“There just isn’t the money.” His father often said things like that.
“We can’t go on like this,” his mother said. “This isn’t living. It’s surviving.”
“The car’s on it’s last too, you know.”
“No holiday, the spare bedroom’s still not finished, and now the car!”
“At least we won’t be needing the bedroom.”
His mother sighed. A dramatic sigh that Nat didn’t believe for a minute. “Who can afford kids these days?”
Nat’s ears pricked up. This was when they usually started arguing about when they were going to give him a little brother or sister. Not that they ever did. Nat would have liked to have someone to talk to, someone who listened to what he had to say. He looked up. His parents were both staring into the water. Maybe they’d seen the piece of tree that looked like a crocodile too.
“Sometimes…” His mother sighed again. “I really think it might just be easier…”
“Tempting, isn’t it?” his father said. “Drowning’s not a pleasant way to go, though.”
Nat reached through the fancy ironwork and opened his hand. He pressed his face close to watch the pebble hit the water. His mother sucked in her breath.
“Stop that!” His father’s voice was hard. Like the pebble.
He looked up in surprise. He had stopped. He only had one pebble. He glanced down; the pebble was gone. Not even a ripple marked the spot. The river flowed on and on, over the place, thick, muddy ropes of water, carrying the trees that looked like crocodiles. The voices picked up again, lower, murmuring. He didn’t listen. The crocodile slid by, joined by a stag with great antlers. And a cloud of gulls were settling, riding down the river on the back of the crocodile and perched in the stag’s antlers.
The river rolled down to the ocean, Nat knew that. The crocodile, the stag and the gulls were all going down to the beach. On the riverbank, a pair of magpies were shouting at something. And in a tree that bent low over the water a little bird was singing, so sweetly. He listened and smiled. The sky was full of cloud faces, and all he wanted was to ride on a crocodile with the gulls, down to the sea. He didn’t wonder if his parents would want to come with him. He knew the answer.