Chapter no 30 – The Rips

Where the Crawdads Sing


From the beach, Kya ran to her rig and roared full throttle into the sea, headed straight for the rips. Holding her head back,

she screamed, “You mean, SHIT . . . SUMBITCH!” Sloppy and confused waves jerked the bow sideways, pulling against the tiller. As always, the ocean seemed angrier than the marsh. Deeper, it had more to say.

Long ago, Kya’d learned how to read ordinary currents and riptides; how to ride them out or break away by cutting perpendicular to their course. But she’d never headed straight into the deeper currents, some of them stirred by the Gulf Stream, which gushes four billion cubic feet of water every second, more power than all the land rivers on Earth combined—all streaming just beyond North Carolina’s outstretched arms. The surge produces cruel backcurrents, fisted eddies, and reverse circulations that swirl with coastal riptides, birthing one of the nastiest snake pits of the planet’s seas. Kya had avoided these areas all her life, but not now. Today she aimed straight for their throats, anything to outrun the pain, the anger.



Roiling water pushed toward her, rising under the bow and

yanking the boat starboard. It heaved heavily, then righted. She was pulled into a furious rip, which carried her a quarter faster. Turning out of it seemed too risky, so she fought to steer with the current, watching for sandbars, which formed ever-shifting barriers beneath the surface. One glancing touch could flip her.

Waves broke over her back, drenching her hair. Fast-moving, dark clouds streamed just above her head, blocking the sunlight

and obscuring the signs of eddies and turbulence. Sucking the day’s heat.

Still, fear eluded her, even as she longed to feel terrified, anything to dislodge the blade jammed against her heart.

Suddenly the dark tumbling waters of the current shifted, and the small rig spun starboard, rearing on its side. The force slammed her onto the bottom of the boat, seawater sloshing over her. Stunned, she sat in the water, bracing for another wave.

Of course, she was nowhere near the actual Gulf Stream. This was the training camp, the mere playing fields for the serious sea. But to her, she had ventured into the mean and meant to ride it out. Win something. Kill the pain.



Having lost all sense of symmetry and pattern, slate-colored waves broke from every angle. She dragged herself back into her seat and took the tiller but didn’t know where to steer. Land slung as a distant line, surfacing only now and then between whitecaps. Just when she glimpsed solid earth, the boat spun or tilted and she lost sight of it. She’d been so sure about riding the current, but it had grown muscular, hauling her farther into the furious, darkening sea. The clouds bunched and settled low, blocking the sun. Wet through, she shivered as her energy drained, making it difficult to steer. She’d brought no foul-weather gear, no food, no water.

Finally the fear came. From a place deeper than the sea. Fear from knowing she would be alone again. Probably always. A life sentence. Ugly gasping noises passed from her throat as the boat skewed and rolled broadside. Tipping dangerously with each wave.

By now six inches of foamy water covered the floor of the boat, burning her bare feet with its cold. How quickly the sea and clouds defeated the spring heat. Folding one arm over her chest, she tried to warm herself as she steered weakly with the other hand, not fighting the water, just moving with it.

At last, the waters calmed, and although the current swept her along to its own purpose, the ocean no longer thrashed and churned. Up ahead she saw a small, elongated sandbar, maybe a hundred feet long, glistening with sea and wet shells. Fighting the strong underflow, and just at the right second, Kya jerked the tiller and turned out of the current. She steered around to the leeward

side of the bar and, in the stiller waters, beached as gently as a first kiss. She stepped onto the narrow slip and sank to the sand. Lay back and felt the solid land against her.



She knew it wasn’t Chase she mourned, but a life defined by rejections. As the sky and clouds struggled overhead, she said out loud, “I have to do life alone. But I knew this. I’ve known a long time that people don’t stay.”

It hadn’t been a coincidence that Chase slyly mentioned marriage as bait, immediately bedded her, then dropped her for someone else. She knew from her studies that males go from one female to the next, so why had she fallen for this man? His fancy ski boat was the same as the pumped-up neck and outsized antlers of a buck deer in rut: appendages to ward off other males and attract one female after another. Yet she had fallen for the same ruse as Ma: leapfrogging sneaky fuckers. What lies had Pa told her; to what expensive restaurants had he taken her before his money gave out and he brought her home to his real territory—a swamp shack? Perhaps love is best left as a fallow field.

Speaking out loud, she recited an Amanda Hamilton poem:

“I must let go now. Let you go.

Love is too often

The answer for staying. Too seldom the reason For going.



I drop the line

And watch you drift away.

“All along You thought

The fiery current

Of your lover’s breast Pulled you to the deep. But it was my heart-tide Releasing you

To float adrift With seaweed.”



The weak sun found space between the heavy-bottomed clouds and touched the sandbar. Kya looked around. The current, the grand sweep of the sea, and this sand had conspired as a delicate catch-net, because all around her lay the most astonishing collection of shells she’d ever seen. The angle of the bar and its gentle flow gathered the shells on the leeward side and laid them gently upon the sand without breaking them. She spotted several rare ones and many of her favorites, intact and pearly. Still glistening.

Moving among them, she chose the most precious and stashed them in a pile. She flipped the boat, drained the water, and lined the shells carefully along the bottom seam. Now she planned her trip back by standing tall and studying the waters. She read the sea and, having learned from the shells, would embark from the leeward side and head straight for land from here. Avoiding the strongest current altogether.

As she pushed off, she knew no one would ever see this sandbar again. The elements had created a brief and shifting smile of sand, angled just so. The next tide, the next current would design another sandbar, and another, but never this one. Not the one who caught her. The one who told her a thing or two.

• • •

LATERWANDERING HER BEACH, she recited her favorite Amanda Hamilton poem.

“Fading moon, follow My footsteps

Through light unbroken By land shadows,

And share my senses That feel the cool Shoulders of silence.

“Only you know



How one side of a moment Is stretched by loneliness

For miles

To the other edge, And how much sky Is in one breath

When time slides backward From the sand.”

If anyone understood loneliness, the moon would.

Drifting back to the predictable cycles of tadpoles and the ballet of fireflies, Kya burrowed deeper into the wordless wilderness.

Nature seemed the only stone that would not slip midstream.

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