They are sitting in herds. Or swarms. Spot-blown grey tadpoles resting mid-switch that Luke watches for an hour in the morning and an hour at night.
He found them in the reserve below sandstone where the water collects on its way towards the creek. It was the day he went across in the afternoon leaving the barbecue where Uncle Joe was eating sausages he picked up straight from the grill, chewing open-mouthed and sucking the air past them. He went across in the sound of cicadas hurling threats at the sun and found the foam specked black with broken shards from the beaks of crows.
But this foam was a prize worth rushing back and forth for. Home became an ice-cream container. Then a glass tank from under the verandah. They took days to grow into the water and more to sit and eat their yolk. Then for weeks they played in schools and Luke would chase them with a finger, sometimes catching the flick of a tail as it trilled the water. Or he’d rest a hand down and wait for them to kiss at the offer of new food.
Transfixed. He is transfixed his mum says. “Those are some kind of pet to be in love with.”
He is taking a quiet breath in the close sweat of the day.
An hour in the morning and an hour at night.
Now they are stretching legs backwards. They rest on elbows nudging out from their sides, sitting near the water’s break and sucking thimbles of air. Still too quick for a finger reaching in but he has to return them to the ice-cream container for the trip to school. He’s going to be the news for at least 4 days.
He has his hands chasing them, scattering grotesques through the water but too slow. Raising a hand from high, near his ear, he swoops. The splashes are to his elbow and a chamber of fingers, thumb and palm feels thrashing desperation. And Luke is flushing red, skin-crawling triumph with a hand retreating fast and clasping tight.
A moment’s thought: a crunching smear of elbows, tail and legs kicking in his mouth.
He releases the tadpole into the water of the ice-cream container.
This cold blot that left its spasm at the pad below his thumb.
He watches again. An hour of breath.