The Current and the Shark

The Current and the Shark by Kayla Davis - photo by Sonja Lippmann

I climb. I climb down the side of the mountain. Although my flimsy flip-flops are no match for the crumbling rocks, my father helps me down, supporting me as I slowly slide down the side. At the bottom of the cliff is my mother—I tumble into her, spraying her jet black bathing suit with bits of grime from the mountain. She laughs, then points toward the ocean and tells my grandparents where to set up their umbrellas. I kick off my flip-flops and toss them to the side, knowing that my dad will pick them up, and I run.

I run toward the water. The sand is warm under my feet, almost stinging my toes with its heat. I ignore the rocks and bits of shells nipping at my heels while I dash across the shore. I cross the line that separates the land from the sea, and the sand isn’t hot anymore. It’s gooey, almost gelatinous, and I spot little sand crabs digging themselves into the divide. I grab my grandmother’s old red pail, the only one we’ve got, and start digging where I see the bubbles. The sand crabs appear out of nowhere, so I spend a whole half hour making a nice little habitat within my bucket. They’ll be safe to grow up within this little world of theirs, able to paddle around without fear of a seagull or whatever else is invited in by their soft crustacean shells.

I make drip sand castles, using the wet sand to my advantage as I build towers the likes of which no one has seen ever before. My grandmother sits next to me, laughing, then gasping as my favorite tower falls down. I finally release the sand crabs, and watch them burrow away into the beach/ocean mixture. I eat lunch, crunching on the sand that has somehow infiltrated my gourmet peanut butter–banana sandwich and my strawberries, masterfully prepared by my grandmother, who cut the tops off just for me. I run my tongue along my teeth, trying to pry the grit off, but to no avail. I ask my grandfather about his book, and why he won’t come into the water with me after our meal. He just grunts and returns to his reading, clearly in the middle of an interesting chapter. Give him time, he’ll warm up, says my grandmother. Water’s too cold for him right now. I give him a hug, then run toward the ocean yet again.

This time, my mother follows me, jogging after me as we both cackle along the shore. Just as the water reaches chest level, she snatches me up in a hug, then dunks my dry head into the water, explaining that it’s the best way for me to get used to the temperature. She says that she’ll teach me how to bodysurf, since we don’t actually have a surfboard. They couldn’t get one in time. She teaches me to ride the waves, throwing her head back to laugh when seawater gets in my mouth and I spit out the salt. Finally, I am ready. I pull my goggles tight and begin.

We both swim out, avoiding other divers and the seaweed floating in the water. She floats in and out of my vision, and many people are wearing black bathing suits. The grime on her suit from earlier is washed away by the waves, but it’s still a bit worn from sliding down the small cliff that morning, as well as its years and years of experience braving the elements. After going out just a little too far for my liking, we meet up, at what seems like miles away from any sign of civilization. I bob up and down, barely keeping my head afloat as even the smaller waves begin to engulf the bottom half of my face. The only thing my toes touch are the little particles of dust in the otherwise crystalline water. I do my best to face back toward the shore, scanning the beach for any sign of my dad, any glimmer of sun on my grandpa’s glasses, any little glimpse of the multicolored umbrella housing my perfect family. My mom looks out to the seemingly empty skyline, surveying the thinning clouds. I love spending time with you, she murmurs. She turns to me. With a wink, she asks if I’m ready, and with a sour gulp I tell her, yes. I am ready.

Suddenly, a wave approaches behind us. I swim as fast as I can, trying to catch the break. I search. I don’t see my mom anymore. I figure I’ll find her on the shore. I dive under the wave, praying that the current pushes me forward, toward the shore, towards the drip castles, toward the sandy strawberries, toward my family.


I forgot to take a breath.

I didn’t breathe.


It’s too late. The current pushes me under and forward. I try to gasp for breath, my lungs filled with the saltwater, mixing with the steady stream of tears that are somehow in the back of my throat. I flip on my back. Maybe if I push up off of the sea floor, maybe I can get a breath in. I glance up at the surface of the water, giving thanks that I was able to tell which way I faced. I begin to push up, but suddenly, a dark figure floats over me. At first, I think it’s a shark. I begin to panic, but then realize that that’s not the case. Even discombobulated, I recognize the slight tear on the side of the bathing suit from sliding down the cliff—who else could it be?

I try to scream, but the sound doesn’t travel well underwater. My attempt at a squeak only results in a loss of breath.

My mother’s pass over me seems to take forever. And I am trapped. Trapped under the water, under the waves, under the current. I am frozen in the lukewarm water.

Finally, it is over.

I’m not sure how, but I assume I was pulled back to the shore, back to earth from my foamy prison. I spit salt onto the sand. There is seaweed wrapped around my right foot. I no longer have my goggles. I gasp for air.

My mom is waiting for me, unscathed, blissfully unaware of the terror I had gone through. Ready to go again? You know I always love spending time with you. She smiles, hoping I enjoyed it. It was her favorite pastime as a child, after all, and she is passing it down to me.

I force a grin, and nod.

And I run toward the water.

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