My three year old brother explored the beach, armed with his red plastic pail and a little yellow shovel: the tools of all children taken to the seashore for a day. Shells, whole tiny swirls or broken bits of clam, made it into his bucket along with bits of driftwood. All suitable, acceptable items to be taken home and rinsed clean of salt and sand.
Then he saw the dead fish.
Silver scaled, eyes fogged, flat on the beach surrounded with seaweed - and beloved. Delighted he held it aloft, a treasure beyond those already collected.
My mother, firm, told him that the fish wouldn't be making the short trip home with us. But it rode in the red pail.
We lived in a court, the white Navy housing in a neat rectangle around a central parking area, and when we parked my mother warned my brother that the fish wouldn't be coming inside.
She won out on this.
But the fish remained in our little court, making the rounds from house to house. The other kids were fascinated and we tracked its decay, using sharp sticks to poke holes in its sides. I saw it last on top of an anthill, little red bodies swarming over the feast.
Then it disappeared, snatched by one of the local feline population.
Sitting at the beach this week has brought this memory up. I sat yesterday evening on the balcony, over twenty years later, telling my sister-in-law the story. While out on the beach my mother asked my brother if he remembered the dead fish.