Sienna squatted low under a scrubby bush. The sun had barely cracked the horizon but it already singed the red earth outside her small circle of shade. As she scraped the stubborn scales off the fish, she listened for sounds of anyone sneaking up on her. Those Shackleton boys had stolen her catch for the last time.
When Sienna had complained about their thieving, Gran lifted her eyes from the pile of math quizzes she was marking and said, “You can’t beat bullies, love. Find somewhere else to fish. It’s a long river. Just watch out for the crocs.”
Thinking about Gran’s live-to-fight-another-day logic, Sienna snorted. She’d fished at this spot for the past five years and knew every nook and cranny of the riverbed. It belonged to her.
She ignored the bruises on her forearms where Kris Shackleton had held onto her the day before. Purple circles marked where he’d dug his fingertips into her skin while his scabby brothers had rifled through her cooler bag and found her freshly-caught prizes. When she walked past the shops later, she saw her catch laid out in the fishmonger’s window. There was the big barra with the cut she’d made to release the hook. The boys probably got loads of cash for her patient work.
What if someone stole all Gran’s math papers, and took the money paid for marking them? She’d change her tune then.
Loud shouts rose from the road next to the river. Sienna shoved the last fish into her bag and ran to the top of a nearby dune. She flattened her body in a trench she’d dug out before sunrise. A row of thick grasses hid her from view. From where she lay, she watched the boys tear down the rough path on their bikes, tyres spitting up dirt.
“Stupid bitch has been and gone,” said Jamie, the small one with the bitten nails and high thin voice. He kicked a blob of fish guts at Kris but missed and hit Troy’s brand new boardies instead. Jamie giggled when a red stain appeared. “Oh look. Troy’s on the rag!”
Troy lunged at Jamie and knocked him to the ground. They rolled and flopped, throwing ineffectual punches and cursing like drunks. When they tumbled closer to the river, Sienna held her breath. Maybe she’d gambled wrong. Maybe they’d find her hiding place after all.
They hit the edge of the water and kept wrestling. Kris stood on the beach above them, howling for blood. Seen only by Sienna, a long brown snout glided along the muddy river, metres away. She waited for nature to prove Gran wrong. You could fight bullies. You just had to lay the right trap.
© Maggie Bolitho
Photo from Wikimedia Commons — Barramundi with Barcoo Grunter © Nick Thorne