Well, I am back. And I say that with the full knowledge that life is no less busy than it was last year when writing got pushed off the agenda, but I am here with the very best of intentions to get back to this lovely little corner of the internet that gives me life. I am starting to learn (belatedly, having waited until middle age for the penny to drop) that I need to do more of the things that give me life and less of the things that suck life from me. Having said that, a lot of the life-sucking things can't really be removed or delegated...
But that is life, isn't it?
Anyway, here's a bit of nonsense just to get my fingers taptaptapping again.
Keith the Lonely Shark
[A word of explanation: This story is set in 2018 on the Suffolk coast, where we were holidaying with our buckets and spades. My daughters, both keen competitive swimmers, were wearing their flippers to swim in the sea, and early in the holiday, one of Lizzy's slipped off her foot and a wave took it away. Days later, that same flipper was found on a different part of the beach! On the same morning walk upon which we discovered the Lost Flipper, we also found a small, deceased fish that looked a bit shark-like. I'm still not sure what kind of fish it was, but we named it a shark, and speculated on how it ended up on a sandy beach in Suffolk, England.]
Keith was a baby shark. He was only little, and still learning about shark life so he had to follow his mummy everywhere. His brothers and sisters were happy to stay close to Mummy but Keith wanted to explore. He wanted to make friends with the other ocean dwellers and couldn't understand why he never caught more than a quick glimpse of them as he swam past with his Shark family. They always seemed to be swimming away from him, or even hiding. Keith asked his mummy why the other fish didn't want to be his friend. She smiled at him, revealing row upon row of sharp, jagged teeth.
'It's because we're sharks, sweetheart. We don't have friends; we eat them."
Keith was shocked. As his mummy explained that all the other fish were afraid of sharks, and were trained by their mummies to rush and hide whenever the Shark family came near, Keith became more and more sad. He blinked away a tear, which was immediately lost in the saltiness of the ocean.
He carried on following his mummy, listening to all she told him as a good shark should, but his heart was heavy. He so wanted a friend, but his mummy was right. As soon as the Shark family wafted past, all the other fish fled into the distance, behind rocks, among the weeds. He pointed this out to his siblings, but they didn't seem to mind, Indeed, they seemed to relish being scary and laughed as all the other fish darted away.
Keith began hanging back a short distance from his family as they swam. He tried to catch the eye of other sea creatures before they disappeared and he gave them what he hoped were warm, encouraging smiles, but he soon realised that, like his mummy, when he opened his mouth, he showed his razor sharp teeth and frightened the other fish even more. He began to swim with his lips closed tightly.
'I must be the loneliest shark in the world,' he thought, sadly.
One day, just like any other, Keith was listlessly wafting along behind his family as they terrorised the seas near the beach when he saw a new fish that he had not seen before. This fish seemed different. Strangely, despite being small and delicate-looking, it seemed unafraid of the Shark family. It was quite relaxed, bobbing about on the current, this way and that, with its strangely-shaped dorsal fin sometimes uppermost, sometimes facing the sea bed. The fish was bright pink; the most beautiful shade of pink that Keith had ever seen in the grey sea that was his home. He paused and smiled shyly at the small pink fish. To his delight, it didn't swim away in alarm as all the other sea creatures had.
Keith was filled with happiness. He circled the small pink fish, smiling broadly. It twirled lazily in the water and smiled back. Had Keith made a friend?
"Why aren't you afraid of me?" asked Keith, as the small pink fish floated elegantly past him.
"Why should I be?" she asked.
Keith was amazed. "Because I'm a shark!" he explained. "Everyone swims away and hides from us in case we eat them."
"Well, you can't eat me!" laughed the small pink fish. She seemed to find his puzzled expression amusing. "I'm not like the other fish. Your sharp teeth don't scare me. You see, I'm made of rubber. I'm a Flipper-Fish."
"A Flipper-Fish?" Keith's mummy had never told him about Flipper-Fish.
"Yes. A Flipper-Fish. I live in the sea now, because my dry-land mummy, a little girl called Lizzy, lost me some time ago. I've been looking for a way to get back to the beach ever since."
"Can't you swim back?" asked Keith, still confused.
"I can't swim at all without Lizzy," explained Small Pink Flipper-Fish. "Now I'm alone I have to go with the flow and see where the currents take me."
Keith pondered this strange tale as he swam around her in smaller and smaller circles, until he was close enough to to nudge her with his pointy nose. The Small Pink Flipper-Fish giggled.
"You're tickling me!" Keith was delighted. He did it again, and was rewarded with another beautiful peal of laughter. 'How wonderful!' he thought to himself. 'I've made a friend!'
For the next couple of days Keith and Small Pink Flipper-Fish went everywhere together. They worked out that if Keith propelled her along by pushing her with his nose, he made her squirm and giggle, and they had lots of fun but didn't get very far, or he could hook his dorsal fin inside the opening on her tummy and pull her with him, riding on his back. She loved the thrill of swimming at Shark-speed and would laugh with joy. Keith felt wonderful. He was so happy.
One day, Keith and his friend were in shallow water Small Pink Flipper-Fish seemed distant and wistful. Keith asked her what was wrong.
"The sandy seabed reminds me of the last time Lizzy took me swimming. Before that day I'd only ever known a sea very different from this. It was warm and crystal clear, not salty at all, with no seaweed, and the seabed was smooth and white, with a black line that always showed us the way to go. I miss Lizzy so much."
Small Pink Flipper-Fish looked so miserable that Keith felt sad. He wanted to help her and make her smile again but didn't know how. Suddenly she turned to him with an urgent, excited look in her eyes.
"Oh Keith. I've had an idea. You're so strong and brave and kind. Will you help me get back onto dry land? If could only get back onto the beach Lizzy might find me and take me back to where I belong!"
Keith didn't know what to say. He was filled with confusion. If he helped Small Pink Flipper-Fish to get back to the beach he would lose her and be lonely again. He was so happy having finally found a friend. But on the other hand, if he didn't help her, she'd be sad and lost forever. He agonised over his decision. Small Pink Flipper-Fish searched his face with anxious, hopeful eyes. Suddenly Keith knew what he had to do.
" Of course I will." he said, determinedly, blinking away the tears that threatened to fall. Small Pink Flipper-Fish's face lit up.
"Oh, lovely, lovely Keith!" she cried. "You are my hero!"
Keith had never been a hero before. He smiled back at her sadly, but proudly.
It was decided that Keith would carry Small Pink Flipper-Fish on his dorsal fin and swim as fast as he could toward the beach, aiming to catch a breaking wave for added momentum to try to get her as high as possible onto the sand. Her excitement grew and grew and Keith quickly realised that she wanted to try their plan straight away. As the two friends swam into deeper water in order to prepare for their run at dry land, Small Pink Flipper-Fish suddenly turned to Keith.
"Come with me!" she said, urgently. "Come back to the crystal clear ocean far away. I'll introduce you to my twin sister, and all my friends. Come with me, Keith! Lizzy won't mind, I know she won't!"
"I don't think I can," replied Keith, sadly. "I can't survive on dry land. And I'm not sure, but I think I need salty water. I would love to, but I can't come with you."
Small Pink Flipper-Fish gazed at him in despair. "Then this is goodbye," she whispered. Keith was too choked up to reply.
At that moment there came the swell of a big wave headed straight in to the shoreline. It was time. Keith scooped up Small Pink Flipper-Fish with his distinctive dorsal fin and swished his strong tail. They picked up speed in no time, combining Keith's powerful swimming action with the momentum of the huge wave. The water rushed inland. Faster and faster Keith swam, and Small Pink Flipper-Fish rode breathlessly on his back. the sea grew shallower and shallower. Still faster they swam, faster... and then the wave crashed onto the sandy beach and the two friends saw how close they were to dry land. With a muscular flick of his caudal fin, Keith leapt onto the sand. Small Pink Flipper-Fish squealed with delight as she tumbled off his back and bounced on the sand before coming to rest high on the beach on a soft bed of powdery yellow sand and small pebbles.
Keith slowed to a halt and felt smooth, wet sand beneath his tummy. He was several feet away from Small Pink Flipper-Fish but able to see her basking in the sun, back on dry land, with a delighted grin. He had helped his friend get back where she belonged. It was a good feeling. Small Pink Flipper-Fish caught his eye and blew him a kiss.
"Keith, you are wonderful! How can I ever thank you? You are the kindest, loveliest, most generous shark in the world!"
Keith blushed. He felt so many emotions: joy at his friend's obvious happiness, relief that he'd managed to help her, hope that Lizzy would soon come back and collect her, and a deep, deep sadness that he would soon have to return to his own home.
Keith let out a deep sigh as he moved his tail to turn around and head back to the deep water and his family. But something was wrong. He moved his tail again, more urgently, but he couldn't feel the water at all. He was higher up the beach than he had anticipated. He thrashed from side to side but although he could see it over his shoulder, the water was not reaching him.
He'd have to wait for the next big wave. His mother had told him that every seventh wave was bigger than the others. He counted - four, five, six...but the seventh wave, bigger though it was, only lapped gently at his caudal fin and was nowhere near enough to lift him from the sand so he could swim.
The tide was going out.
Small Pink Flipper-Fish watched helplessly as Keith grew weaker and weaker, drowsier and drowsier. She called to him.
"Keith! Hold on! The sea will be back later today!"
But Keith had been right. He could only live in the sea, and Small Pink Flipper-Fish's voice was getting fainter and fainter, as if she were further and further away. His eyes slowly closed. Small Pink Flipper-Fish sobbed in despair.
"Keith, I love you! You are my hero! I'll never forget you. My true friend."
These were the last words Keith heard as he drifted off into a sleep from which he would not wake up.
He was a hero.
He was loved.
He was a true friend.
He was not lonely any more.
"No-one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."
John 15:13 NRSV