Now, more than 20 years later, the sand still feels good. The firmness of it. He would swim with Sarah. She would test it with her toes first. He was always surprised – suddenly tender – at the sight of her toes, pink and vulnerable. The nails of them looked like little shells, the wet lacquer of them. And she would walk on the balls of her feet. Her walking was always catlike, tentative. And he wanted to scoop her up and carry her into the surf. And not drop her in, but just hold her. She could swim well, better than Jack. She had been a lifeguard and was part of the swim team in college. He envied her ease in the water. She belonged there in a way he did not. He imagined that she was never frightened. Not of the murkiness when the waves stirred the sand at the bottom, or the dark shadow of a fish, or the ropy seaweed that could slap against your leg and surprise you.
Without Sarah, his swims were perfunctory. He remembered his father’s briskness. A breaststroke through the unhelpful waves. A few arbitrary turns and back-and-forths. And then back out on the beach to dry in the sun. Strange to be at the beach alone. He had always associated it with family, sitting with his mother and father under the northern sun. Or with Sarah, sitting on a blanket and digging her big toe into the sand. She always seemed at home there, her bare legs shiny with sunscreen and the freckles coming out on her cheeks.