“Do you ever wonder where they go?” Anna was gazing down at the water rushing past her feet.
“Where who go?” I asked.
“The fish. Where do they go? Do they have a place they consider home? A final destination of sorts? Or do they just swim back and forth aimlessly all day?” Anna replied.
“They are fish, Anna. They swim, they eat, repeat.” I laughed as I tried to figure out where her mind was taking her.
Anna looked hurt. “Yeah, I know that Sara. That’s not what I meant. Oh, never mind.” She looked back down at the stream as several small fish swam under our feet and past the bridge.
She was serious. How was I supposed to know that? Ok, I will bite. I silently laughed at my own joke. Ok, reel me in Anna.
I nudged her leg. “Hey, I didn’t realize it was a serious question. What’s up? Where do you think they go?” I asked her seriously.
Anna was silent for a moment. She was looking into the water like it held the answers to all of her life questions. She sighed and said, “I don’t know. I guess I just wonder if they have a purpose. Are they headed towards something? Or is it really just as simple as swim, eat, repeat?” She gave me a rueful grin.
I looked at her and I realized we weren’t really talking about the fish at all. I took her hand and gave it a small squeeze. She squeezed back and we both knew without saying a word that we just wanted to sit in silence for a while.
It was a beautiful June day. The sun was shining and there was a slight breeze that helped keep the stifling heat at bay. We were surrounded by tall oak, maple, and loblolly pine trees. If you laid back and looked up, the bright blue sky was interrupted by large pines and smooth green leaves sprouting from the branches reaching out from all of the trees. An occasional white, fluffy cloud would make its way across the dancing leaves creating a colorful picture. The cracked wood from the old footbridge was warm against my back. I took a deep breath in and inhaled the lively scents of maple, oak and pine. Anna laid back next to me and did the same.
We found this place on one of our walks a couple of months ago. We were tired of the same three trails and wanted to find a hidden place we could call our own. We heard the sound of water in the distance and started walking towards it. We came to a small stream and made our way to the water’s edge. The water slowly trickled over small pebbles and large rocks. I kicked off one of my flip flops and stuck my big toe in. It was absolutely freezing since it was just early April. We were both ready for summer and itching for the pool to open. We looked at each other and started to laugh as we picked up our shoes and started to wade in. Our laughs turned into loud shrieking as the ice cold water numbed our toes. We kept wading further down the stream, laughing as we slipped and almost fell several times, when we saw it. Nestled in between several tall trees and overgrown bushes, and a few feet above the stream, was an old wooden footbridge. It looked like it hadn’t been touched in years. We hopped up on it and it moaned against the cold and our weight. It was a simple bridge with wood planks, and from one side of the stream to the other, it was only about four feet long. It was just wide enough for us to lay back on and keep our legs dangling over the edge. It was a great hidden gem and we instantly claimed it as our own.
Anna’s small sniffles brought me back to the present. She took a shuddered breath and blew it out abruptly. “I can’t make sense of it. And everyone keeps telling me he died a hero and everything happens for a reason.” She added air quotations around the last part. “Well I say its bullshit. There was no reason. I hate being at home because everyone keeps saying the same stupid shit.”
I stayed quiet, knowing I needed to just simply listen.
“He always used to tell me that all of us are here to serve a greater purpose. That we don’t just simply exist. He would go on and on about the greater good and doing the right thing.” She sat up suddenly and turned to look down at me. “What good did he do going over there and getting killed two weeks in?” She was shouting now. “What purpose did he serve? It was all for nothing!” Her shouts turned into sobs.
“Anna, I know none of this makes sense. And maybe it’s not supposed to.” I sat up and took her hands in mine. “Your brother did what he believed he needed to do. I am not going to sit here and tell you it’s all going to be okay and that there is a reason for everything. I don’t know any of that to be certain. But I do know that your brother did what he did for him. He went in knowing what could happen but did it anyway because he felt it was the path he needed to take.” I let out a sigh.
“I know.” Anna whispered. “It still isn’t fair and it doesn’t take the pain away.”
We sat in silence again. Anna and I had been best friends for years. I met Anna when I moved next door to her right before the start of the third grade. We had been inseparable ever since. We had just graduated high school and life was about to change drastically for the both of us. We were both going away to college and we would be four hours away from each other. Losing her brother was sudden and unexpected. It hurt to see her in so much pain.
A thought popped into my head. “Hey, do you remember the time we thought your brother was over Jake’s house so we decided to sneak into his room to take the flask he kept hidden in his desk?” I started to giggle.
Anna’s eyes lit up. “Oh my God, yes! We didn’t turn any lights on because my parents were still awake and we didn’t want them knowing we left my room.” She smiled.
“Yup! So we crept in and we were trying to find our way around using just our hands and memory of where everything was in his room. I made it to his desk when I heard a loud thump and you yelled out in horrible pain. All of a sudden your brother jumped out of bed in the dark and started shouting wondering who was in his room.” I was laughing hard now remembering the whole ordeal.
“My parents came running out of their bedroom and barreled into Tommy’s room, flicking the light on.” Anna was laughing now. “I just remember being on the ground curled up in a ball holding my toe. My mom was asking what had happened, Tommy was yelling at us asking what we were doing in his room, and dad just stood there looking confused as hell.”
“You were crying that you broke your toe. I looked at Tommy and he looked at me, then he looked at his desk and recognition swept through his eyes. I thought for sure he was going to throw us under the bus. Instead, he told us we were immature and needed to stop playing pranks on him because we were obviously terrible at it.” I grinned.
Anna’s tears had all but dried up. “He totally could have ratted us out. Instead, he walked over and looked down at me and said, ‘Does your toe hurt? From now on, every time you stub your toe, you will think of me.’” Anna looked at me with grateful eyes. “Thanks. I needed that.”
I looked at my watch. “Yeah, yeah. It’s getting dark, we should probably head home.”
We started to make our way off of the wooden footbridge. Our shoes were up on a small hill. As we started to make our way up the hill, I heard Anna let out a yelp. I looked back and she was on the ground holding her toe. She started to laugh which turned into tears. But they were happy tears, the kind of tears you cry when you are remembering something that fills your soul with joy. I started laughing with her as I helped her up. Nice one, Tommy! I silently thought.
When we were finally on our way, I glanced back at the old wooden footbridge and smiled. I wasn’t sure how many more talks we would have there, but it would always be our place. Anna would slowly heal and I would always be there when she needed me. I watched as a few small fish came to the surface to grab some dinner. Swim, eat, repeat.
Short Story By: Rebecca L. Taylor