A little boy and his father walked along a dank sidewalk in silence. The street they walked was deserted, leaving only the trickle of unresolved raindrops diving off trees and cars to echo across the pavement – except of course for the clicks of the steps of the walking duo.
The boy ripped a chunk of bread from the loaf in his hands and thrust it triumphantly into the air, shards of crust forming a trail behind him as he walked.
“None of that, now,” the boy’s father said, swiftly pulling the loaf out of the boy’s hands and tucking it under his shoulder before the boy could think to look up. He forced a gentle smile. “That’s for the birds, remember?”
The boy twisted his mouth to the side and looked down disappointed, kicking a puddle up into the air with his raggedy sneakers. Water seeped into his heel, adding a squish to his step.
“Where are we going?” the boy asked.
“The pier. It’s far from home, I know.”
The boy bobbed his head in comprehension, still looking down. “How come?”
“Because the pier is fun! You don’t like the pier?”
The boy shrugged, carefully placing his foot to avoid a crack in the sidewalk.
“I dunno. I’ve never been.”
“Ah. Well, I suppose that’s my fault.”
The boy was silent.
“Who was that man yesterday?” the boy asked.
The father rubbed his brow. “What man?”
“The man with the nice hat that asked you all those questions about my mother.”
The father coughed a few times into his prickly beard, then spit into a nearby puddle. “I don’t know,” he croaked. He cleared his throat, his voice regaining strength. “He didn’t say.”
“Well why was he asking you all that stuff?”
The boy’s father looked up at the murky sky and chuckled.
“What’s so funny?”
“I wish I still thought there were answers to those sorts of questions.”
The boy looked puzzled, his blue eyes searching the chin of his father’s beard. “What sorts of questions?”
The father smiled lightly. “Why are we going to the pier this afternoon, Peter?”
“Because it’s fun. You said it was fun.”
Nodding, the boy’s father grinned. “I suppose I did, didn’t I? I guess that has to be as good a reason as any.”
The pair walked the rest of the way in silence, the boy returning his focus to the bread. He carefully shredded off pieces from the chunk left in his right hand and ground them up in the other until only the powder of the dough remained.
The pier was as quiet as it had ever been. Wood rotted from every corner and the carousel chimed ‘pop goes the weasel’ like its power was constantly winding down. The call of unseen seagulls echoed across the waters and a few boats creaked as the waves, rolling across the sea through the aid of a barely tangible wind, strained their ties to the boardwalk.
“What do you want to do first?” the father asked, pushing energy into his voice.
The boy spied a seagull behind the legs of a bench facing the sea.
“Let’s feed the birds!” the boy cried, and he sprinted to the bench.
His father chased after him, barely keeping pace. When the boy reached the bench, the man grabbed him by the collar and yanked him around.
“Don’t run off like that, you coul— ”
“I need the bread now, sir.”
The man sighed, and handed him the bread. Pushing the boy over, he sat down next to him, stretching his arms along the back of the bench. As he carefully watched the seagull wind around the bench legs, the boy cocked a piece of bread behind his ear.
“You’ve never seen the ocean before, have you Peter?”
As the seagull neared the edge of the boardwalk, Peter flung his piece of bread. The seagull swiftly evaded it and flew out to sea as if he had planned on the departure all along.
“Don’t toss the bread so hard; you have to let it go gentle. Always let the seagull come to you. See, like th—”
“Where’d my bread go?”
“It tumbled off the side. I said you have to be gentle, remember?”
“Is it dead?”
“Is what dead?”
The man chuckled.
“Is it one of those kinds of questions?”
The man cracked a smile and coughed. “No, no – the bread is fine. It can float, you know. It’ll probably drift away at sea for a few days, but then some lucky seagull will pick it up and eat it.”
The young boy looked down and began to cry.
“Don’t cry, now,” the man said gently. “You were going to feed it to a seagull, anyway, now weren’t you?”
“But I wanted to feed it to that seagull.”
The man swallowed hard, and began to speak flustered, “Well what does it matter if it’s not the same seagull? One seagull’s just as good as the next isn’t it? You can’t tell me that there’s something special about that seagull. You don’t know all the seagulls in the world, do you? Can’t you just know that sometime, somewhere that bread will be eaten, and that’s all there is to it?”
The boy looked away from his father and stopped crying. He began swinging his legs, listening closely to the trickle of waves underneath him, breathing deeply.
“I like cotton candy,” he said finally.
His father’s expression drew stoic. “I can get you some if you’d like,” he said quietly.
The boy nodded ponderously. “I’d like that.”
“Here,” the man said, carefully tearing off a small piece of bread and handing it to the boy. “Try and see how many birds you can get around you.”
The boy watched as the man walked across the boardwalk and around the corner of a boathouse, and then began to cry. He sat and doused the bread in his tears until the soggy wheat oozed through his fingers and fell onto the boardwalk. As the sun began to set on the calm of the sea, a concerned sailor walked over to the little boy.
The man, however, had long since departed. He had walked around the corner of the boathouse, broken into a brisk stride, and ran. The little boy never saw the man again.
DASH ELHAUGE is a sophomore in an as of yet to be determined major at Brown University. When he's not writing he is generally drinking beer, attempting to locate his glasses, or trying to find access points to roofs of school buildings. Right now he is probably watching Adventure Time and fiddling around on his guitar, if we're being perfectly honest here. He would like to thank Synecdoche for publishing his old stories.