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My First and Absolutely Last Summer on Cape Cod by Stephen S. Hale

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“Well gang, it’s that time of year again,” said Uncle Fred in his loud voice. “Time to head for
the big cape.”

“Which cape is that?” asked Uncle John.

“You know, that big one that sticks way out into the ocean. The water’s much colder on the north side. Cape Cod. Lots of cod offshore on George’s Bank. We named that bank after Grampa George, who was impressed with the rich waters. Ha ha ha. I just love that Cape seafood. Hey John, remember when we were at the tip of the Cape and that shark tried to take a bite out of you? Ha ha. The squeals that came from you!”

 

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As Uncle John defended his honor, I asked Mother, “Where’s Cape Cod? What will we do there?”

“Oh, the Cape is lovely,” she said. “It’s up north. You were born near there. We’ll socialize with the neighbors, do a little fishing, hit the beaches.”

I’d never been back to the Cape. But the name sounded intriguing — Cod! I was excited to go see it for myself, even though the talk about sharks made me a little worried. “Will we be able to find the way without getting lost?” I asked.

“Hey, I’m a good pilot,” said Uncle Fred. “I know this great place where the Cape takes a sharp bend to the north and there’s a couple skinny islands,” he continued. “Terrific fishing, just terrific.”

“Yeah, but remember we ran into a little trouble there two or three years ago,” said Uncle John. “We got stuck on a shoal and were lucky to get off, powering back and forth, huffing and puffing. Eddy darn near lost his life.”

“There’s lots of shoals in that area. You gotta be careful. The important thing is for everyone to stick together.”

We set out for the Cape. My family likes to travel in a large group — uncles, aunts, cousins, the whole gang. Grampa was complaining the whole way, “Holy mackerel, we didn’t have this much traffic when I first came here. Is the whole dang population heading for the Cape?”

Once we got there, I forgot the long trip. The place was fascinating. Such charming nooks and crannies. The things to see, the clear, clean water. And the seafood! I caught a really tasty fish. The crabs were great, and we even tried some squid.

One day, we all went on an excursion to a place Uncle Fred knew that had especially good food. My family loves to all eat together. As we got nearer, the terrain narrowed down, and sandy banks rose up on both sides of us. I got confused about where we were going and decided to follow my cousins Suzy and Claire. They’re really adventurous, always poking around and exploring things. My Aunt Mary was just behind us. She was also a natural explorer, especially when there was a chance of getting something for less than what you’d expect.

I saw Suzy dash into a narrow passage. I hesitated. I thought she was following Uncle Fred, but maybe she was just dragging a red herring across our path to tease Aunt Mary. I’d never go in there by myself. But Uncle Fred had said, “Always stick together.”

We plunged through. I could hear the chatter of other family members coming in behind us. We came into a broader area. Suddenly, the water shoaled, and we went straight up onto a beach. We flopped around, beating our flippers and flukes on the sand, trying to get back to deeper water, but it was no use. Stranded!

I began breathing heavily. Was this what Uncle John had been talking about? How it felt when you were stuck up on the sand, like Cousin Eddy? To my left and right, I could see 20 or 30 other members of the family up on the beach or in shallow water. Some were thrashing around, huffing and puffing, wailing; some were just lying there.

I don’t know how long I lay on the sand. My body felt heavy out of water, and I had trouble breathing. The hot sun beat down on me, sunburning and blistering my gray-black skin. The heat soaked right through my blubber. The squid I’d had for lunch was restless in my stomach. That stupid Suzy! Why did she swim onto the beach? I was feeling very tired. The tide had gone out, and I was about two lengths from the water’s edge. Other members of the family were lying around. None of them were flopping anymore. Uncle Fred was quiet, for once.

Then I saw some strange creatures about half my length coming toward us along the beach. Their funny heads were attached to their bodies by short stalks. And instead of swimming horizontally, they were positioned vertically. They moved along on just their tail flukes, which were split in two. A few of them were carrying things at the end of their flippers, and I thought how odd it was that they didn’t carry them in their mouths. They didn’t look like they were having any trouble breathing.

With their flippers, the splitflukes grabbed hold of Suzy. Oh-oh, they must be some weird kind of shark, I thought. They wrestled her down to the water. Probably wanted to wash the sand off before they ate her. But she broke loose and swam away. She wailed mournfully and turned back to shore to see where the rest of us were. The splitflukes looked at Claire, but she was lying very still. Some others threw a soft skin over me and dumped water on the skin.

The splitflukes seemed to be trying to help us. But they got attacked by some very strange predators! One predator moved across the beach on four round things. Inside its body I could see two splitflukes that it had caught. One jumped out and got away when the thing stopped. Another predator, swimming on the surface of the water and propelled by one tiny whirling fin, had gotten three splitflukes, who were pathetically waving their flippers for help from their friends on the beach. I felt sorry for them.

But the splitflukes on the beach didn’t scatter for cover. Two of them went over to Claire. One of them held in its flipper something that looked like a long needlefish or sand eel, only it was shinier. I wondered if it was going to try to feed her. Instead, it stuck the needlefish thing right into her side. Don’t they know where her mouth is? I wondered. Her breathing became less labored, and she became peaceful. Drops of water ran from one of the splitfluke’s eyes.

At last the tide came back to me. A splitfluke attached a little metal parasite to my left flipper. Several others slung a skin under my head and dragged me into the water. I heard Uncle John clicking and whistling out by the channel, and I swam to him. We and some others headed out.

I’m not going back to Cape Cod. Ever.

 

God Bless America© 2003 Timshel Literature