Picture supplied by Dave Thomas
"Mum, what are all those brown things in the water?"
Unburdened by beach paraphernalia and a few paces ahead, my daughter, Katie, is the first to catch sight of the sea in the tree-lined cove we have called home this week. Catching up to her, my wife peers down the path to the warming beach and into the gently lapping sea, and I can see her mouth tighten. She is considering the least disappointing answer to the child's question. This morning, the shallows are indeed dotted with numerous pale brown shapes, bobbing in time with the waves.
"Sorry, Katie," she says, putting her arm round our daughter's slumping shoulders, "they're jellyfish. I don't think there'll be any swimming in the sea this morning."
Disappointment is followed by defiance as Katie braves the shallowest of paddles. "I'm being careful, Mum," she calls from the water's edge. A few moments later comes bargaining, by way of a hopeful, "maybe they aren't the stinging ones."
Mum's reply comes from deep inside a book, "Look over there and tell me what you see." Katie turns her head. 'Over there' is a sea-damp and red-faced toddler, wrapped in a towel and a parent's embrace as he grips the bottom of his foot, tears streaming. For Katie then, acceptance as she gives up on the sea for the day and plods back up the beach. By way of consolation I pull out our family's latest holiday toy, a compact waterproof camera.
"Do you know, Katie, some jellyfish are really pretty. Why not see if you can get a good underwater photo of one over by those rock pools?" This brightens her day and off she trots, camera in hand. I can relax finally. Daughter has her mission, wife has her book, and on a tranquil beach far from home and worries, all is well with the world. Well, for a short time at least…
My wife is peering over her sunglasses, an incredulous frown across her brow.
"What on earth is she doing?"
Her attention has been caught by grumpy shouts from a recent arrival on the beach. Another mum, carrying a child's shrimping net and a bin bag in her sunburned arms, is seemingly intent on clearing some space in the shallows for her own child to play in. She scoops unfortunate jellies from the water's edge and dumps them, one after another into the bag, grunting her displeasure as she goes. She is joined briefly by a couple more parents using spades and buckets, but they have soon given up and returned to their sun-beds, their kids content with the sand for the day.
"Did she not see how many there are?" my wife mutters under her breath. "Thinks she's King Canute."
She chuckles at her own wit and returns to her book. Over by the rocks Katie is, at least, having fun, and a short time later has returned to show off her pictures.
"Look, Dad," she enthuses, "those jellyfish are pink on the inside. Aren't they beautiful?" and she shoves the screen in my face for extra emphasis. In fairness, a couple of her below-the-surface snaps have caught the creatures at their best; sunlight glints off translucent, pink-speckled bodies, little dome-shaped jewels suspended in the clear blue. Katie is all smiles now.
"And I made a new friend." She announces, calling to another girl who bounds across the sands to coo at the photos. She is instantly keen to share the experience.
"Hey! Mum!" she shouts across the beach. To my amusement, it's the sunburned woman at the water's edge who responds, she turns and I can see her face is now as red as her arms. The exertion of fighting the rising tide of jellies is taking a toll, and the water is, of course, no clearer. She stands guard over her now knee-high bag of jellyfish catch and glowers at her daughter, who is hailing her.
"Do you want to see some jellyfish pictures, Mum? They're so pretty."
The wide-eyed innocence of the child's question contrasts with the wild-eyed fury of the adult's reaction. Frazzled under the Mediterranean sun, wearied by the Sisyphean fishing task she has set herself, and riled by the girl's oblivious impertinence, Mrs Sunburn reaches her limit. People are staring, open mouthed. I've gritted my teeth. She's shouting and she's pointing. She takes an angry step towards us, but in her fury she misjudges the sloppy sand at the water's edge. Her shouts of rage are cut short as she stumbles backwards. There is only one thing to break her fall...
A large squelch. Gasps and grimaces from our fellow beach-goers. Stifled giggles from Katie, ever amused by the misfortune of others.
"You can't sit there, love," my wife observes dryly as the air turns blue around us. Mrs Sunburn slithers from her perch on to the sand, cursing and wincing as she goes. I overhear some wag note that at least now her rear end will match the rest of her.
Her whole family have no option but to beat a hasty and undignified retreat. Once they have reached the cypress-lined path at the back of the sand, I notice Katie has stopped laughing. She is staring at the bag, and the jellyfish left out in the sun.
That catch in her voice is familiar to any parent. Her eyes are set hard, top lip beginning to quiver.
"Come on then," I give her a nudge and climb to my feet, "I reckon some of them will still be alive."
The incoming tide has reached base of the bin-bag, so with as much care as we can muster, we tip it over and return the creatures to the waiting sea.
Dave Thomas lives in South Wales with his wife, two kids and two lurchers. He is a keen mountain biker, scuba diver and skier, and an irregular on the Sharm-el-Sheikh stand-up comedy scene. He is an IT geek on a career break, a part-time sweet-cone manufacturer and writes anything that might entertain his kids and family. He has completed several novels and short stories, but this is his first published work anywhere. He is a member of the Cardiff writers’ circle, where he is not allowed to read out any more of his poetry.