Sand and Salt

The kids’ legs are covered in Narragansett. They hover at the water’s edge behind The Bluffs, near the fenced-in area saved for the piping plovers. The boys are searching for hermit crabs, mesh nets bending against the sand. Ollie’s only 8; last season’s swim trunks stretch tight across his legs. He’s a neighbor, but likes to hang around the big boys. He swings an orange bucket full of water over his head. Know why the water doesn’t come out? I ask. The kids pause and look at me. (We read this in my son’s science book.) Your arm’s exerting a force greater than the force of gravity. They shrug, pinch crabs between their forefingers and thumbs, and drop them into a bucket. One spider crab pinches Ollie and he yells, This one bit me!. He drops it to the sand, shows us the pink mark on his fingers. The crab scurries away, but Ollie dashes after it. He grabs it in his fist and holds it up to the sun, yanking out the front claws, first right, then left. A violent, desperate act. “Ollie, that’s mean; how would you feel if someone yanked off your arms?” He stops for a moment, thinking. Looks remorseful and tries to push the claw back into the crab’s shoulder. “You can’t put it back, Ollie.” He throws the crab in the bucket; it lies still, lifeless, over the scrambling pile. Later, the boys will hurl clumps of mussels back into the bay. They’ll swim across the channel where the current pulls against their arms, where the water is cold and unforgiving. They’ll be tossed along downstream like old driftwood, until they land on the opposite shore.