My afternoon doze is interrupted when a cartoon-character beach ball bounces off my foot. I wipe the sweat-tears from my cheeks. My middle-aged face is the consistency of a candle left out at noon: my eyes feel full of cracking glass. His chair is empty. Bathroom, snack or another fleshy diversion? A freckled woman with a toddler on her hip slogs through the sand to retrieve the ball, apologizing. Don’t fret, dear. Been there. Done that. As the sun cools down on the bleached horizon, I fill the second journal, scribbling paragraphs of mourning, lessons learned, the loss of hope. I’m done. Who is he, that man whom I once loved more than my Self? No answer. I pick up my things and retreat to dress for dinner.
My look-translator functions still. From the shadows of our shuttered room, his glances broadcast false sincerity. I know what he wants. Withdrawn by day, at night he slides across the plain of King-size sheets and strokes me like he would a pet, until I soften. His hard need is insistent between my thighs. Even in the midst of this old habit, I feel vacated. I cover my eyes with my forearms and empty my mind as we rattle the salt-corroded bedsprings. When he’s done, he snaps on the table lamp and rustles the pages of his devotion book, Job stuck in the tropics with a disinclined wife.
Today, I can’t excavate enough inspiration to fill a page, so I seek refuge in distractions. A fresh gaggle of all-inclusive vacationers stumble out of their other-world cocoons onto endless sugar beach, their fish-belly flesh glowing in the equatorial blaze. They step gingerly across the flaming sand in wafts of suntan lotion, laughing and faking kicks at flotsam with their sturdy sandaled feet. The women are wrapped in lurid cover-ups. Their men sport floral shirts left daringly undone over the sparse turf of pale chests. At noon, they perch with the birds on the sea wall, turning faces pallid as unearthed wintry shoots, to the breeze. My spouse works his way through the liquor menu.
Gone are the cover-ups, replaced by gauzy sarongs. British beef-fed calves flash pink and white with sunburn salve. Up with the dawn, fortified with porridge and dark tea, the Hungarians plant themselves in lounge chairs under the nodding sea-grape trees by the beach-bar. They slather on sun block and drown thoughts of home with over-proof rum drinks. Fearful of germy ice, I sip lukewarm bottled water, which blocks nothing.
Expanses of breast and belly slathered with cocoa butter glisten like marinating meat. The tourists, with their upraised arms and widespread thighs, capture sun on parts that haven’t seen much light of day. They baste each other’s backs with oil then flop on towels to bake. Amidst blizzards of sand fleas, their limbs take on a charcoal hue. Some of the more daring seek solitude at the end of the beach and toast bare breasts. Behind their dark glasses, they act as if the steady foot traffic past their chairs is accidental.
An older woman – built like an eraser – heaves from the sea in front of me, froth foaming around her body. Her shapely legs look like they belong to someone slender. A man – shorter, greyer – dressed from neck to knee in circus-striped t-shirt, stumbles through the sand and proffers a tall sweating glass of amber liquid. She sips, then plants a kiss on the crown of his head. He slides a questing hand under the fold of her buttock and tugs her closer.
Passion is, perhaps, overrated; affection is not. Squeezed by a lurch of envy, I think of that wedding-day trio, fixed and smiling on glossy Kodak paper, with me snared in what turned out to be a counterfeit forever. A half-lived lifetime later, I’m preparing to flee. I shade my eyes with one hand and glance at the empty chair at my side, longing to feel anything again.
My suitcase is packed. I sit in the armchair by the window. A wedge of light spills from between the blinds and warms my shoulders. He picks up his beach gear and arranges his cap on his head, brushing a crumb of toast from the corner of his lip. “Are you coming,” he says as he heads for the door.
“No.” I flip to a page in the journal on my lap. “I have something to say to you.”