So, this is the ocean, I thought. The poets call it everything but what it is, poison from here to the horizon. My girlfriends in their candy colored bikinis ran ahead to the pier. They knew better than to be around me. How does it take rain and make it bitter, and why are we not angry, I asked the little crab who burrowed back into the wet sand as often as I unearthed him. Which is it, crab? Do you panic in the sun, or do I interrupt something like pleasure for you when I pull you out? My girlfriends were back with their ice creams; worse, they’d met a boy—boys! The crab had gone too deep. I saw only their bottoms from where I crouched, digging in up to my elbow. This one the boys will find irresistible. She’ll fight them off or let them play or pick the one she wants. This one will have to work for a living. This one just wants to be friends. The land at least grows crops and holds up buildings, whereas this soft sand gently yields and leads us on, until we’re in over our heads and the sea can suck us down. The boardwalk is all the sand can support, a porch to play on, a lure for the young, its underside lapped by the spray. Of course they’ve picked out one for me. This is how it begins: build or bury, sink or swim, choose what’s offered. I frighten him. I ask his name and he says something. I force his hand into my pants. This is mine, I tell him. Do you understand? He does. He says he does, but nobody does. We’re all thirsty, the water sparkles, and most of the world is salt.

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