Rock pooling

by Lynda Collins

The tide was still on its way out, but there were already lots of rock pools exposed. Kate and Peter climbed carefully over the slippery stones. Both in their twenties, they were both older than most of the people out beachcombing, but they had both been doing this together for a long time. Maybe five or so years, just as long as they had been a couple.

“Here’s a good one,” said Katie, pointing to a pool nearby. Shrimp sunned themselves in the summer light on the surface of the water.

“I guess so,” said Peter glumly. He held the bucket out to her.

Katie sighed inwardly. In the past, a trip to the seaside had always cheered him up, but for the last few weeks, he’d been in a strange mood, and there didn’t seem to be anything that she could do to help him out of it. She was beginning to run out of things to try and the will to try them.

She took the bucket, wedging it into a gap between two rocks.

Katie dipped the net gently into the water, before carefully moving it forwards through the pool. And then, suddenly, she flicked her wrists, lifting the net out of the water. Inside the green mesh of the net, brownish-translucent creatures hopped and twitched.

“Look,” she said, quickly transferring the shrimp from the net to her bucket. “Five shrimp and a blenny.” She couldn’t help but feel the same childish excitement of discovery that she always did.

Peter leaned over and peered into the bucket. “Yeah.” It was little more than a grunt.

Katie felt something break inside her. She put the net down. “Can you talk to me?” she said. “You’ve been in a funk for weeks. What’s going on?”

Peter immediately looked guilty. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.


“No.” He forced a smile. “Come on, let’s not do this now. Let’s just enjoy ourselves.”

Katie grimaced, but she didn’t want to force her point. Instead she shrugged and lent at the side of the pool and looked down. Crabs scuttled through the seaweed jungle, small fish darted from one hiding place to another. Blood-red, blobby creatures hugged the walls- closed sea anemones- and further in, three fat starfish roved slowly through the rock pool.

Very gently she lifted one of the starfish and lifted it out of the water. Starfish had always been Peter’s favourite. With a smile she turned and showed it to him. He didn’t even reach for it this time. Instead he stared at his feet.

“It’s just… I don’t think that we’re working anymore,” said Peter.

So he did want to talk after all. It should have come as a massive shock to her. What was more surprising to her was the fact that she wasn’t upset. Deep down, she’d seen it coming. Deeper down, she’d felt the same. “How long have you felt this way?”

“I don’t know. A little while. I still love you,” he said, “but I just think that the magic has faded between us, and I don’t know how to get it back.”

“I see.”

“We can try again,” he said, “maybe get some professional help. I’ve got some information on couple’s therapists?” He couldn’t hide the reluctance in his voice.

He sighed. “If I’m honest, I’ve been mostly staying with you to keep you happy, but it just doesn’t make me happy anymore.”

Katie didn’t answer. She looked down at the starfish in her hand. Its little feet held tightly to her skin, holding on only because instinct told it to. She thought about what Peter was telling her and realised that like him, she had been staying with him for his benefit, holding on to him by instinct. Both of them had been trying to help the other, both of them had only hurt themselves by doing so.

The starfish began to walk over her hand, slowly, but determinedly. And she made a decision. She decided to let them both go.

The starfish slipped back into the water with the barest hint of a ripple.


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