Monday, October 7, 2013

Prompt: Swimming with jellyfish

I run along the wooden boardwalk over the sand and sea grass and climb the steep stairs to the top of the dunes. The view opens out to the broad sandy beach and the sparkling North Sea. Hand shielding my eyes, I seek out my German family’s strandkorb, our private oasis on the beach. It’s empty. I smile. I’ll have it all to myself for awhile. But first, a swim.

The North Sea is bright and cold, shocking against the skin, even in the heat of summer. It’s best to run in fast, dive into the first large wave, take the shock all over and then burst up into the warm air. I duck under, pull my hair out of my face. As I stand, feet sliding in the sand, I feel something bump my leg. I hop away, looking into the murky water to see what’s there. Through the numbing cold, the burn begins.

Jellyfish float in the water, tendrils trailing, all around me. Dozens, no, hundreds. Thousands, it turns out. Scrambling out of the water with a few other swimmers--they’re shouting in German, pulling me down, scrubbing my legs with sand. Someone tells me, in English, to go back to the beach house and wash with baking soda or vinegar. I cry all the way back up the steep stairs and along the boardwalk. I can’t escape the burning sensation, even though there’s nothing to see.

I’m lucky. Some swimmers have to go to the small island hospital. My legs are soothed with a vinegar wash, since my German mother has a full bottle of vinegar and only a little baking soda, and a cream ointment my German father brings back from the pharmacist.

The next day, we cross the boardwalk and climb the dune staircase. Looking out over the beach, we can see it is littered with quallen. There’s been an inversion out in the North Sea, the warm water on the surface cooling enough to sink down, pushing up the deep cold water – and some of the animals that live there. The quallen are helpless in the tidal flow. They drift to the shore and die, covering the beach in pink jelly piles. Men dig ditches and throw hundreds in quallen graves.

Three days we walk the shoreline amid the dying quallen. Three days we watch them floating in the shallows, filling the water so we cannot swim or play during the precious time we have left.

On the fourth day, they are gone from the water. More quallen graves are filled. Perhaps we’ll brave the water the next day.

We do. But there’s an unpleasant surprise. No quallen bodies, but tentacles torn and floating, nearly invisible in the water. One slaps against my left calf. I feel the familiar sting and scramble out of the water, far up the beach away from the quallen-contaminated sand, to scrub it off my leg. Crying angry, bitter tears.

The quallen have cheated me of my last few days in the North Sea. They’ve given me a painful memento – a thin straight scar up the back of my calf that takes twenty years to fade away.

Time writing:
~30 minutes, interrupted
October word count:

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