St. Lucie Inlet, FL – March 29, 2013
A rock ripped a flap of skin off my big toe yesterday. It happened fast enough for me to watch blood ooze onto the sand for a moment before I felt the pain. Nothing is brighter red than your own blood.
Neosporin, bandages, duct tape, ten hours paddling, and a night of sleep left the toe swollen and tender. Caked blood filled the creases. My skin hung pale and dead, ready to be ripped off and replaced as soon as I could manage the will.
It took six pulls before it tore away.
I limped around on my left heel and packed the boat, trying to keep from smearing sand into the wound. I felt like some wild animal, a strange, injured creature, limping and bleeding, dragging the boat to the water on one foot.
A hundred feet away, a little red-headed girl splashed through the shallows collecting shells. Her dad trailed behind her, cheering every selection.
They’d paddled out at first light. I’d watched her race down the shore as soon as they landed, stooping for spirals and horns, shouting at her dad to hurry so she could raise each one up in triumph. I just wanted to get out of their way, but then I saw the plastic bag of shark teeth and sat for a moment, watching the girl pick through the water.
I meant to send them to my friend Joseph who I met at Thanksgiving in Memphis, but I kept forgetting them when I went to the post office. I fingered through the bag for the snaggletooth I’d found a month ago, then hobbled down the beach, limping in the sand like Long John Silver toward the girl and her dad.
She stared up at me, half hiding behind her dad’s legs, half curious. Then I held out the tooth in my fingers.
“It’s for you,” I said. “For coming all the way out to the island.”
I dropped the tooth in her palm and her eyes lit up. She held it like it was pirate’s treasure, mesmerized until her dad nudged her and she stammered out a thank you.
I waived goodbye and limped back to the boat, thinking about filtering sand with Vicki on the gulf coast and her search for a megalodon, of Memphis and how moments flow into each other, of how a hurt toe doesn’t matter much against little girl’s smile.