Sea Urchins

The jetty is wide, built out of greying wood and rusted metal. The morning sun gleams and glitters on the ocean, casting shadows onto the row of old fishing boats docked in a wavering line.

We sit on the edge, bottles of soft drink clutched in hands, the backs of our necks sweating a little.

Below our dangling feet, we spot a crab scuttling sideways on the ocean floor, clutching a prize of mangled fish flesh in its claws. Its claws are comically larger than its body, and they sway with the ocean current.

The water is deep beneath us, but so clear we can see every stone, sea urchin, shell. Across the stretch of blue in front of us is a small sand bank, giving way to the endless expanse of the ocean beyond.

On top of a streetlight down the road, we watch a pelican and a seagull in a Mexican standoff, each trying to intimidate the other into acquiescing the prized perch.

The pelican flaps its broad wings majestically, but the seagull has the stubborn countenance of a practiced scrounger. For a while, they sit still and stare at each other, forced so close on the streetlight that their beaks could almost touch.

We try to take a photo, but the moment is lost before our phones are out of pockets – the seagull takes to the air in a huff, conceding defeat with little grace.

Behind us, we hear a sudden burst of voices, and the dragging sound of wheels on the jetty. Four teenage boys are riding bikes and scooters towards us, yelling loudly to each other as they come.

‘Oi, I rekcon it’s too low, eh?’

‘Nah, it’s perfect. Don’t be a wuss!’

‘Are ya gonna jump in? I bet you don’t, you pussy.’

‘Don’t fucking call me a pussy!’

We shrink back a little at the noise, but when I glance back and catch a glimpse of them, I smile. They are young, and three of them are nut brown, the fourth tinged red from the sun.

They drop their bikes at the end of the jetty, and lope over to the edge, inspecting the water more closely.

‘Glen, are ya gonna get in?’ one of them says, pushing long black hair out of his eyes.

‘You guys go first, I’m gonna ride down to the boardwalk first.’

‘Don’t be such a pussy!’ one of them calls again, but their friend is already riding away, raising a middle-finger salute behind him as he pedals.

The boys start pulling off shirts, and pulling down shorts to reveal swimmers underneath.

‘Go on then, ya showoff,’ one laughs, nudging the boy with the long hair.

‘You’re just pissed I can jump better than you, ya nob,’ he replies.

But in a moment, he runs to the end of the jetty, and leaps into the air. His body twists gracefully, an arcing somersault that is so beautiful it looks almost slow motion, before dropping down to meet the ocean below.

‘Fuck!’ he yells as he surfaces. ‘It’s fucking cold!’

One of his friends runs to join him, flinging himself off the edge of the jetty in an artless dive. His splash causes spray to catch us in the face, and he smiles sheepishly as he surfaces.

‘Sorry mate,’ he calls, before ducking back under water.

The third boy is still on the jetty, peering nervously over.

‘Is it really fucking cold?’ he asks.

‘Of course it is, ya cunt, just get in,’ the first boy shouts.

‘Nah, I don’t wanna freeze my balls off.’

The second boy clambers up the metal ladder hanging from the jetty, and starts walking over to his friend, who backs away.

‘Don’t you fucking dare,’ he says, but the boy grabs him and starts trying to drag him towards the edge.

They are both shouting now – one laughing and pulling his friend, and the other angry and resisting with all his might.

‘Fuck, OFF!’ the boy finally yells, breaking free from his friend. There is blood running down his elbow, and for a moment I am afraid something sinister has happened, but his lifts his arm and howls in annoyance.

‘You made my fucking scab come off, you dickhead!’

‘That’s fucking gross, man, put a bandaid on it.’

The boy with the scab starts to cry, his face crumpling in a way that reveals his age – half child, half teenager.

At that moment, a young woman walks past, her skin the same nut brown as the boys, a little girl and dog in tow.

‘What you lot up to?’ she smiles. ‘Not fighting?’

‘Nah, he just hurt his scab,’ the second boy says nonchalantly, as his friend raises a tear-stained face.

She peers over the jetty at the first boy, still bobbing up and down in the water.

‘What’s it like? Freezing?’ she asks.

‘No, it’s lovely,’ he replies, his tone oddly polite in contrast to the swearing of a few moments ago.

The woman smiles again, and wanders off down the jetty as he clambers out of the water to join his friends.

We stand up to leave, the sun having turned the tops of our shoulders brown, and warmed our backs through our shirts.

I glance back at the boys. Their hair, wet from the ocean, stands up in spikes on their heads like the spines of sea urchins.

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