The beach beneath the cliffs was busy and unencumbered. It was hot but only as hot as the coolest of waves. Their coming and going rustled like a panicked wedding dress. People swam and sunbathed in the blue sea and on the sand of Sevillan orange. Valencia and I were racing each other on the shallows.
I had taught her to swim when she was five by throwing her into a public pool. She panicked like a lobster in boiling water. But after throwing out calming words to her she settled and began swimming – my god, swimming! Since then she never stopped. Five years on, she was beating me to the jagged rock at the end of the beach.
When she stopped for breath beside the rock, her feet resting on the shallow, murky sand, she raised her hand and ran it through her hair. I then saw a long, red fault line across her slender elbow.
“Looks like a jellyfish sting.”
I could see the corner of her lips were about to start fretting. She was tensed like a wave before hitting the shore. But I took hold of her other arm and said, “does it hurt?”
Her eyes suddenly eclipsed the brightness of gloom and she was happy again. Not just happy – curious.
“Where is it, I didn’t see it.”
“You wouldn’t, you were going so fast and it’s transparent.”
“What are jellyfish, dad?”
“Primitive animals, very primitive. Many millions of years old, from a time when animals didn’t even have brains.”
“How can it move without a brain?”
“It has a basic nervous system.”
We returned to the beach and Angele, her mother, put some vinegar on Valencia’s elbow. As she did I leaned down and told the girl in a low whisper, “you know, you should be putting pee on the sting.”
“Eww.” And then came the “really?”