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Carla sniffed the spray as the breeze brought it from gentle breakers, tickling her nose with a curl of her own hair, which, on occasion, she caught in her teeth, playing with her hair even as the toddler played with the sea. The sand beneath the towel was firm, but it gave when she ground in her heels. Seagulls were competing somewhere in the distance, becoming as thin pencil sketchings against a brilliant blue sky. One seagull dove nearer, and its call mingled with the squealing of the toddler. Carla smiled again as she saw him bounding away from the tickling fingers of the sea, chasing her son as a father might do, thundering with great primal power, but relenting for the sake of mirth. He expended so much motion in his legs and arms, she thought, in a perfect caricature of a running toddler, yet moving only so slowly.
It wasn’t a gun shot, but her mind had to go to that possibility first because of all the news. Nevertheless, a startling cracking sound had come to her senses, perhaps through her feet and not through her ears. Was it an earthquake? Yet the earth did not move. She was sure something critical had sounded out, perhaps beneath the waves, a tremendous unleashing in an eyeblink of time. She pondered.
A shriek awakened her from her meanderings, that shriek which every mother perceives before she hears it, the change from play-acted fear to genuine terror. She was on her feet, running to him, his eyes filled with pain, his mouth in a howl for Mommy. She was to him in one, two, three leaps.
“What’s wrong?” she cried out to him. “Tell Mommy what hurts.” Between sobs, he babbled sensibly enough that she learned he had a boo-boo on his foot. She looked. His foot was indeed bleeding from the sole. What did he step on? She searched quickly, watching a wave recede. Yes, there it was: “You stepped on a sea urchin,” she said, kissing his foot, picking him up to carry him to her spot, where she thought she might have a paper towel to stop the bleeding, “a nasty little sea urchin.”