The tide washed between Dalia’s thighs, receded, bubbled and fizzed as it was dragged back out to the blue ocean. From the deck her uncle watched—he was entertaining guests from work. On the soft grey shore clear blobs of jellyfish sat happy and inert. At first the children had been throwing them back into the water, or poking them with sticks, simply to see another hard thing interfere with the unbroken, clear and living boundary, to pierce and then sit inside it—the thought that fascinated them and her was that of absorption—the living of the unliving, adapting painfully and grotesquely something foreign, and accomodating it by sheer necessity. They looked like treats of something, Dalia thought, especially the ones with things sticking out out if them, like lollipops, and wondered what they tasted like.
From the waterfront cafe came an almost invisible shower of streamers, so far away it was; cracks, pops and cheers, the streamers quickly floating out to the beach, as though escaping. Someone tried to grasp a handful as it whisked away—she watched his tan gut bulge and drop from his now untucked undershirt. The laughing continued, and Dalia turned her attention back to the limitless horizon, digging aimlessly in the slop beside her, between her. There was a faint orange speck out there she had kept her eye on—it was closer now than when she had first noticed it. It shimmered and warped inside the rising translucent waves from the surface of the water, but gradually, she noticed, was becoming clearer.
She had had a strange day. A guest had asked her to organise the other children’s shoes, because she had been sitting there among them, feeling and enjoying the patterns, the glitter, the chrome-coloured shoelaces and eyelets. She hadn’t wanted to handle them all or spend energy arranging them, but the lady had been so insistent, so ready to give praise that she had set aside her enjoyment of the shoes to organise them, even though some of them were foul. Dalia had waited by them when they were arranged according to size, straightened with the laces all tied and tucked, something that had taken her an age, but the lady never returned to inspect her work or congratulate her.
Sometime later they had all watched an interactive television show where they were all expected to call out the answers to puzzles unfolding on the television, and Dalia had been the worst of all the kids—misinterpreting every possible clue, and when she began to cry her father had put her on the bench and wiped away her tears and got her to blow her nose, and one of the boys had laughed at the sound it had made.
Dalia lay back on the surf, listening to the effervescence and making her outstretched hand and fingers jump positions as she shut each eye alternately, winking, winking. From the deck one of the adults called to her, telling her to come back up to the beach house. Arching her back she saw him, upside down, beckoning her with a gentle wave.
Out on the ocean the shimmering orange blob had advanced—it was waving too, reaching up an arm to say, “Here, out here, come to me,” but she had instructions to follow, was afraid of the ocean, and inside she remembered was the cream and red jelly cake that she had first said she didn’t want any of, but now felt quite hungry for. Standing, she waved her goodbye to the man rising and falling on the deep and daunting ocean’s waves and running, prayed that there was cake.