White vinegar

by Jill Jennifer Jones

This story is part of our 'Travelling with Kids' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our recent travel writing competition.

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The ocean warm beneath my body, I floated listening to the irregular rhythm of the waves lapping against the shore. The fading afternoon sun caressed my eyelids like a warm parting kiss. Lazily, I opened my eyes and took in the empty beach, blue sky and few plump white clouds poised motionless above. This part of Western Australia was heavenly. Sparsely populated, largely untainted by human presence, refreshingly pure.

I heard splashing behind me. Rolling over, I studied my son playing at catching tiny silvery fish darting beneath the water. To him, aged four, they must have seemed like sparkling jewels moving around his small body. He was laughing. “Mummy, look! They’re going into the clouds around my feet.” He started marching to whip up more sand to envelope the fish as they ducked and dived from his grasping fingers. I turned back over and looked up at the sky. Taking a deep breath, I relaxed fully, as I exhaled. Peace...

A piercing cry shattered my calm. “Mummy!” Instantly his scream alerted my maternal instincts. A shark? No. Weren’t we too close to the shore? I spun over to see him clutching his arm and wailing. “Something got me. It hurts. It hurts.” I dove towards him, sending an agitated furrow of water twirling in my wake.

A swelling rubbery-looking welt was forming on his arm. Dragging him sharply out of the water, my actions betrayed me, as I tried to speak calmly. “ It’s ok darling. A jellyfish bit you.” Jack’s big blue eyes shot me a look of absolute terror. I kicked myself – why had I used the word ‘bit’? Only a few days before Jack and I had chatted about the dangers of sharks. “Oh.” He wailed. “Is my arm going to come off? Mummy, stop it hurting.” “No, sweetie. He’s stung you, that’s all. It will get better.” I said it with conviction, but didn’t know if it was true.

I looked at his arm. The welt was spreading out in a strange tentacle-like pattern. At least half an inch high and six inches long at its farthest edges. Its imprint showed he had caught the jellyfish in his elbow’s inner crease, squeezing it as he panicked. The jellyfish had done its worst in retaliation. My mind was swimming. Some jellyfish stings were fatal.

Panicking inside, I wrapped a towel around him and hastily gathered our things. After four years as a Mum, I knew better than to show openly my own fear. I kissed him on the ear, whispering, “Come on, let’s get something to make it better.” The sandy path up to the hotel was rough with thistles. With Jack sobbing, we made our way over a scrappy boardwalk route, dodging spiky plants, rough pieces of blue rope and other debris washed up on the tide.

Hearing the commotion, the owner came out to meet us. Taking one look at Jack’s swollen arm, he muttered “white vinegar” and ran off towards the kitchen.

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