He thought about a jellyfish wrapping its tentacles around a leg – the panic, the screaming and kicking. When he was a child, he dreaded the water and the thought of the stinging salt in his nose and coughing up brine. Mostly, he was afraid of stepping on something sharp in the sandy murk: an urchin, a bit of shell that would cut his foot. He would come to the beach each year with his family and would grow bored and hot on the sand. He would find grains of it in his hair days afterwards, or in his clothes.
But in the water was cold and fear. The slippery feel of something on his leg – not a jellyfish, but a long strand of seaweed. Enough to cause minor panic, anyway. Enough for him to flail and kick his legs out. When the undertow sucked at him slightly and the salt filled his mouth, he knew it was time to come out, give up, and sit on the blanket with his mother. As far as he could tell, she never went in the water. She sat on her blanket, calm and placid, in a bathing suit that looked like black rubber. Her father would walk briskly up and down the beach with the air of an army officer. Jack didn’t walk with him; he couldn’t keep up. But when the sitting grew old and the swimming too frightening and exhausting, he would walk by himself. The hard ribs of sand under his feet felt good.