[ This is the second of three stories (In The Mirror, The Sun’s Path and Pieces) that have pretty adult themes – perhaps too graphic for this site. But I want to make their message clear. Hidden beneath the desires and distractions of this life, there is an a priori knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. We do not often follow the narrow path of the right, but it is there, winding its way through our lives, close by to the road we have chosen. We should all look for that path and follow it for a while. It does not lead to success or riches or fame. It is not a shield from danger or despair or failure. It leads inexorably, though, to happiness, and its destination is the salvation each of us seeks. ]
The soft white clouds that hung like cotton tufts on a blue background seemed drawn toward the sun’s path and then devoured by the sun’s hunger to strike the earth. The tanned faces of the sunbathers noticed this lemmings’ trek only as brief shadows across their closed eyes. A gentle breeze blew each time a cloud moved into the sun’s way, and there was a momentary respite from the intense heat before the sun’s onslaught broke through the cloud. Will was annoyed every time a cloud cast its shadow over the beach. He relished the intensity of the heat reflected off the white shingle of coast. It was almost a challenge to remain in the sun’s natural fury. The clouds cheapened the challenge, but one by one they hurried towards the sun and angered Will with their insistence.
“I’m getting in the water,” he told his wife as yet another cloud darkened his brow.
Julianne sat placidly, without answering, in the shade of a large umbrella stuck firmly into the sand. She watched her husband recede into the salty blue water, marking the anger in his stride with a small smile.
Will stopped with the water lapping around his feet and glared up at the sun as the cloud dissipated, then ran out, knees high, and dove into the ocean, disappearing. He burst out of the water after several yards and lazily treaded water. Then he swam out in the direction of the small reef a hundred yards offshore. At the reef, he knifed his body into the ocean again and saw the girl swimming among the flowing coral with her goggles and snorkel.
Even in the water’s liquid light, a light that made a swimmer’s skin a pallid white, the girl was still brown. Her strong legs sliced expertly through the water and her dark hair, pulled back in a ponytail, floated like a train in the tidal currents. Will swam towards the girl, holding his breath, until he was close enough to touch her. She was reaching down into the sand of the reef to retrieve a good-sized starfish. She turned suddenly, the undulating starfish slipping from her hand, and gave Will a startled look, his shadow passing across her face as he floated above her. Will, out of breath, rose back to the surface, and the girl returned to the reef to find the starfish again before she, too, headed for the surface.
“You scared me, Señor,” she gasped as she pulled her goggles off. “I thought you were a shark, your shadow.”
Will found her young face full of mystery – large brown eyes, a straight Indian nose and the full lips of a mulatto. It was the mixture of cultures in her face that drew his gaze, and her eyes full of innocence.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Will apologized. “Do you often see sharks here in the reef?”
“Not often, Señor,” she replied simply, putting the writhing starfish in a small, black mesh bag strapped over her back.
“Do you collect the starfish?” Will asked, pointed at the bag as they treaded water above the reef.
“Yes, for the tourists,” she said.
“Are you going in to the shore now?” Will asked, as that was his own plan.
“I must stay a while longer,” the girl answered, Will thought with a touch of regret. “I come every day to the reef,” she added.
“Perhaps I will see you again,” Will smiled before he started with his strong stroke to the shore.
When he was close enough to shore to stand, Will walked the rest of the way to the beach. He sat down next to his wife once again, and said, “The water is the only place you can get out of this heat.”
“But you love the heat,” Julianne answered him. “Who was that girl you popped out of the water with, out by the reef?” she asked without, really, much curiosity.
“A local girl I suppose,” Will answered as his eyes went involuntarily out to the reef. “She was collecting starfish,” he explained without having to.
“Well hurry and dry yourself,” Julianne instructed, “so we can get back to our rooms before lunch.”
“I think I’ll stay a few minutes more while the clouds are staying away,” he said, his eyes scanning the sky.
He watched attentively as his wife slipped on her sandals and stuffed her colorfully striped towels into her canvas beach bag. “Bring the umbrella with you when you come. I’ll wait lunch for you until you come up.”
Will sat on his own striped towel in the sand and looked out into the ocean. After only a short time the girl came in from the reef. She walked up on the beach many yards from where Will sat, but he watched her closely. She was quite young, he decided, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old. Her breasts were still small buds and her hips were slim, but she walked regally, with a confidence that decried her age.
After she had gone Will gathered up his towel and Julianne’s umbrella, and went up to their hotel overlooking the beach. He deposited the umbrella at the desk and went to the rooms. His wife was still finishing her toilet, and the chambermaid was in the room changing the linens. Her crisp black uniform with the small white linen apron and white collar revived for an instant the memory of his affair with her when he and his wife first came to this resort many years before. She smiled openly at him, and he smiled back perfunctorily.
“Give the girl your things so she can have them washed,” Julianne called out from the bathroom. The maid’s grin broadened, but Will handed her the towel without encouragement and his swimming trunks. “You didn’t stay out long,” Julianne continued her conversation through the bathroom door.
“Just long enough to let the sun dry me properly,” Will answered, going to the bureau and putting on another pair of shorts.
“I’m almost through in here, you can come in and start your bath if you like,” Julianne continued.
“Very good,” Will said and opened the bathroom door without even looking at the maid again. The smile disappeared from her Latina face, and she left the room without a word.
“I thought we would walk into the town and eat at one of the local places,” Julianne said as Will looked down at her smiling reflection in the mirror. She knew of his affair with the chambermaid, just as she knew of most of his liaisons, but they had become as meaningless to her as they were to Will. She watched her husband in the glass as he slipped off his shorts and stepped into the shower, and she loved him. More importantly she knew Will loved her just as steadfastly.
Will turned on the shower and began rinsing the sand and sweat from his body. He remembered when he received his first post at the embassy in Madrid. It was where he met Julianne. He met many women there. Many women he slept with, and each affair was a denigration of his character that he loathed and that stayed forever with him. He consoled his conscience with the idea that his affairs were mere machinations of the body and that his self remained with Julianne. He married her when he got the news of his transfer to Lima, and they had remained together.
After Lima they had been sent to Mexico City. It was during the Mexican tenure that they found their resort. Even after they were permanently posted to the State Department in Washington, they took their month’s vacation at the comfortable hotel on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Throughout the years Will’s infidelities continued; known by Julianne, Will felt sure. They became annoyances as well as brief pleasures, and Will dreaded each new interlude even as he pursued it. Julianne never reproached him, but often smiled at him with the knowing look Will had come to recognize. He was like a potted plant in a darkened closet. He grew inexorably toward the light under the door, but he also grew to fear the fullness of the light if the door was ever opened.
Once out of the shower, he shaved and dressed quickly and left the hotel with Julianne shortly after noon. They walked up to the Mexican village that sat about a mile from the beach. There were mostly Americans walking about the main street of the town, window shopping and sitting on the patios of the several restaurants. Will saw the girl sitting in the shade of one of the restaurants with her collection of starfish and shells arrayed around her. She saw him also, and looked at him with what would have been a coy smile were it not for the innocence of her eyes.
“Let’s try this place,” Will suggested, indicating the cantina where the girl sat. “See the girl there,” he said as they approached, “she’s the girl I saw collecting starfish out at the reef this morning.” She looked older now than the sixteen or seventeen years Will had surmised from her silhouette as she walked on the beach. Perhaps even the age of consent. Her figure appeared fuller in the white peasant dress she wore, and her hair fell loosely about her shoulders instead of pulled back in a ponytail.
“We must buy something from her then,” Julianne suggested.
“Do you have the starfish you found this morning while I was with you?” Will asked.
“It is not dry yet,” the girl answered. “Maybe tomorrow it will be ready.”
“Then tomorrow we will surely come back to buy it from you,” Julianne told the girl and led her husband past the girl into the cantina. They ate at one of the tables inside, out of the heat, under a slow moving fan. Julianne decided the place had all the trappings of a tourist Mexican food restaurant, despite the spicy rice and wonderful cheese enchiladas. There were new restaurants and shops in the town almost every year, and Will and Julianne had not eaten at this particular place before. It was not one of their regular haunts, but it was quite passable.
When the meal was over, they had the waiter bring them a margarita out on the patio. They watched the tourists walk up and down the avenue, and Will looked over at the girl selling shells. Their eyes met and the girl smiled at him again, but Will marked the lack of innocence as she demurred her eyes from his stare.
The next morning Will and Julianne went out to the beach again. Will stopped at the hotel desk to get Julianne’s umbrella and caught up with her at their usual spot along the shore. They both spread out their towels, Will planted Julianne’s umbrella in the sand at just the right angle, and each resigned themselves to their separate comforts; Julianne pulled a novel from her canvas bag and Will aligned himself with the path of the sun.
After an hour or more of a cloudless morning sky, Will got up and rummaged through Julianne’s bag for his mask and snorkel. He walked out into the surf with the apparatus around his neck. When he got deeper in the water he submerged and adjusted the mask and snorkel and headed out to the reef.
The girl was there among the swirling coral. She saw him coming, and wasn’t startled by him. She received his caress like an old lover and they floated to the surface in a communal embrace. Their lips met in a first kiss after they removed their masks. Her mouth was full, and he was moved by her ardor. They let the tide carry them along the line of the reef as they made languid love floating in the gentle waters.
In the aftermath of love, Will mused carelessly about the girl. It was the only few minutes he would have to enjoy the encounter before he chastised himself for his folly. But for those few minutes he loved the girl. He found Latin women exciting in particular. Their passions were so near the surface. It was amazing, really, the variety of women, and above them all was Julianne.
He knew it was time to return to shore. He swam with the girl back to the sandy beach. They had floated far down the coastline and Will walked with the girl to where she kept her collection of shells. He asked her if he might have the starfish she had found when he first saw her.
“It would be a great memento of our love,” he told her. She smiled and he kissed her once more before he left her with her collection.
Will hurried back to his wife. He walked up the beach to her and showed her the starfish. “I went into town and got this from the girl we saw yesterday,” he said.
Julianne took it from him without a word, and Will lay down on his towel, searching the sky first for clouds that might cross the sun. Then he closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth.
© 2011 Wasted Space Publishing