The land where we lived was by nature dry and dusty but that winter there'd been more rain than a duck would have dreamed of and when I glanced at Tin the mud was seeping up between his toes and he was sinking into the earth, shivering and half asleep. I shook him wakeful and hurried him along. "Where will we go, Tin?" I asked, not expecting any answer because he was generally reticent. "Will we go fishing?"
I had him moving at a trot and his head was joggling up and down, which I took to signify his agreement. There weren't any fish in the creek but he was at the age where you can fool them. He was certain to start whining sooner or later, anyway, no matter what we did, and the best I could do was stall that commotion as long as I could. I had a pin in the hem of my dress and I stopped to unfasten it and give it to him. He examined it carefully before looking at me quizzically through tangles of dandelion hair. "You can spike a fish with that," I explained. "That's your hook."
I could see he liked that sharp reflecting thing. It was half a mile to the creek and I put him on my back and hiked him most of the way, he being light as a feather. I talked to keep him distracted, telling him it was callous to stab my throat with the pin and what would the baby be, a new boy or a new girl? We had two of each already, not counting Mam and Da, so things were pretty equal as they stood and it would be a hard blow to the side that came away the minority. I thought it was a shame that only babies could be born, whichever it turned out being. I could think of plenty of other things I would have preferred to get for nothing.
The creek was typically a drool of a waterway but that afternoon it was running high because of all the rain and the bank was soft and oozy; Tin's feet disappeared to his ankles and he was covered in mud before he even reached the water. He was a dark child anyway, so it didn't look too bad on him. I set on a rock and left him to his devices and looked around, bored. There were white-trunked trees on either side of the creek and you could see where the rain had washed away the earth that had hidden their roots and the roots poked out knotted and naked, groping. It was that quiet, cold kind of day when the birds are surly and refusing to sing and the leaves on the branches aren't moving and seem like they never could. The creek was sluggish, hardly rippling, made from something thick and heavier than water. I was hungry, and could hear my stomach rumbling. I would have exchanged a new baby a hundred times over for a plate of something warm to eat.
When I looked again at Tin he was crouched staring and musing in the shallows with the seat of his pants drenched black, so I crawled forward to see what was diverting him. There was a fish there, swimming in his shadow. There was a whole crowd of fishes, when I looked harder, stranded in a pocket of rock as if the creek had splashed them there for safekeeping or for Tin's amusement alone. "Oh!" I exclaimed. The fish were the length of Tin's thumb, each of them, and not worth the hooking, but they were pretty and silvery, they looked like that hem pin come alive. Tin was sucking on the pin so I took it from him and stirred the rockpool's water and the fish spangled and flashed in agitation. I put a finger in the water and the whole crowd darted and tapped and knocked and nibbled. Tin's teeth were clickering with the cold now; he crossed the steppingstones to the opposite bank and from the way he tugged despondently at a handful of tree root and looked mournfully in the direction of home I could tell he was pondering the practicality of crying. He wandered a distance upstream, clutching the bank to steady himself, hoisting his knees so silt and water came pouring off his heels. "Tin," I said, "come and look at the dainty fishes."
He wouldn't; he turned his face to the mucky wall of the creek and stood there, up to his knees in water. I wasn't about to pander to his childishness so I took no notice of him. I caught a fish in the bowl of my palm and it lashed about while the water drained between my fingers and then lay flat on its side, heaving like a bellows. I petted it with a fingertip and touched it to my lips. It didn't taste like anything. "Look, Tin," I said, but he went on masquerading to be deaf. So, "Look, Tin," I said again, this time making my voice full of wonder and amazement which he could surely not resist, same as a cat can't resist investigating when you suggest there's something hidden she might like to see. If it works on a cat it should work on a four-year-old, but it didn't. Tin stayed where he was and when I glanced over my shoulder full of annoyance, he wasn't anywhere. And the creek bank looked different somehow, with clots of dryish earth rolling down its flank and plinking into the water and the ground all about torn through with a great cleave, and I could hear the dog-scratch sound of tree roots tearing. The creek bank had caved in, right on top of Tin. There was not a spot of him left to be seen. That tiny fish I had in my hand went slithering into the water.
THURSDAY'S CHILD by Sonya Hartnett. Copyright (c) 2000 by Sonya Hartnett. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.
Copyright © 2002 by Sonya Hartnett. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.