Daniel Sauve-Rogan is a writer currently living and working in San Jose, California. They have had poetry published online and in print at The Inviable Bear, Runaway Parade, The Red Wheelbarrow, and Citizen Brooklyn.
A Very Useless and Relaxing Time
"It would be lovely to go away somewhere, wouldn't it?" She said.
"I thought we were away."
"No, but somewhere real. Somewhere where things are happening, with people. And we could go dancing."
He did not speak or open his eyes. The air was salty and the sun was bright. The breath of silence filled with the low pulse of surf pulling back into the ocean and the whisper of rustling grass. Somewhere a gull crooned twice; a second responded. The sand was warm, and Collin was drunk. Not completely spent or sloppy but warm and cozily drunk. He pulled closer to her.
She was sitting up, perched with her hands dug into the sand, staring out over the ocean with defiant aplomb. She wore a monstrously sized, floppy hat to protect her pail skin from the Adriatic sun. Her skin felt oily and she smelled heavily of sunscreen.
Collin was at ease, lost in the enveloping warmth of the afternoon and the steady pulse of her body as she took long, relaxed breaths. He knew how dissatisfied she was with, well, almost everything, especially him. Collin didn't worry about that because they were here on his money, so he would do what he damn well pleased. Today, and for the entirety of the last week, that meant drinking on a beach in Croatia and nothing else. Occasionally, he took the paddle board out or went for a swim. Collin loved the water, loved its smell, its taste, but most of all, its presence.
They'd rented a small and pretty house on a small and pretty strip of land that was secluded and quiet. About twenty minutes away was a fishing village that they could not pronounce the name of; they had only visited twice to buy food and alcohol. Collin was curious to spend more time there, but she was mistrusting of every local because she was too beautiful and white to go anywhere in this world without being stalked by wandering, vicious eyes. Eyes intent on dragging her into the darkness and holding her and doing cruel, unspeakable things. But everyone they'd met was perfectly pleasant. Collin tried to tell her there was nothing to worry about, but her fear had been buried in a deep and indistinguishable place by her parents. No one scoffed as they pointed and fumbled between Croatian, Italian and English--fortunately, desires for food and drink are globally understood. Pointing helps. She complained about the ordeal but Collin enjoyed the miscommunication. He excelled at charades. He'd learned a great deal about it during his time in New York City talking to bodega employees and giving tourists directions. He’d spent the last five years in Manhattan after being brought in by the McPherson Company to manage a boutique hotel they'd spent two years renovating. It was an historic building in the West Village with a lengthy history he'd learned from one of the bellboys named Thomas. Thomas could be very quiet, but he was nice, reserved and knowledgeable about all things that interested him. He'd been the one to turn Collin on to Croatia. She had wanted to go to France.
"Are you ashamed of me?" She said. He could hear sand streaming out her closed first like an hourglass.
"No," he said. "What the hell would give you that idea?"
"You never bring me anywhere with people. I don't need you to show me off or anything, but I feel hidden. You seclude me to places like this," she gripped another handful of sand, "and it's getting old, Collin."
"Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, but I thought you hated all of my friends."
"I don't hate them, I just think they frightfully boring. If they go out it's to a bar or a restaurant or a movie. They're not particularly social. I want to meet people, to do things, to--"
"--go dancing. I know. You've said it a thousand times. And I've told you a thousand times that--"
"--I don't dance. I know." She grabbed another fistful of sand.
"And I never have, so stop acting like this is something new and pass me the rakija."
She brushed her hand off on her thigh and stretched her lean body towards their small cooler and grabbed the slender yellow-brown bottle. Collin sat up and took the bottle from her tenderly.
"Besides, it's not like I force you to do anything. I told you we should spend some time soaking in the Adriatic and you accepted, so voila!" He unscrewed the metal cap and took a long swill of the sweet honeyed liquid. He offered her the bottle but she pretended not to notice. Collin took another long drink, basking in the silence. The cool warmth ran through his body and he felt supreme satisfaction with their location; with the sun and the surf, and his answer.
"I just," she shook her hair lightly against the breeze, calculating her words, "I just thought it would get better, you know? We've been at this for three years and--you do love me, don't you?"
Collin pulled the bottle from his lips, screwed the cap back on and planted it firmly in the sand. "Of course," he said. “If I didn't love you, you wouldn't be here." He smiled at her reassuringly.
"True." The word died on her lips. “But that’s not how this is supposed to work,” her voice as insubstantial as the breeze. She unstrapped her bikini and laid on her chest. "Would you mind rubbing sunscreen on my back?"
"You stink enough already." He smiled.
She swatted his shoulder playfully, "You know I'm perfectly incapable of tanning. I'm too sweet and delicate for this climate." She held herself up on her elbows and smiled at him from under her large floppy hat.
"What would your mother say if I brought you back with sun spots." He smacked her hat off and squeezed her side in the exact spot she was most ticklish.
She screamed and rolled defensively onto her back in the sand and, whether for the alcohol or the sun or the sound of the surf or the very real possibility that he actually did truly love her, Collin rolled with her. He took her in his arms and kissed her deeply, and she tossed sand at him and he pushed her into the surf, and they splashed through the clear, salty water before collapsing in each other’s arms in the soft, warm sand. They made love and felt as young and happy as they ever had.
For a time, she was happy. She did love him, but as often came to her at night, the feeling that they simply weren't compatible returned. Even if they were perfectly capable of having a good time or of loving each other, at a certain point that wasn't enough. There, in the sun, she knew she could never see Collin again. For now, it made sense to allow herself to enjoy this time; that she should allow him the same pleasure. She motioned for the rakija and took deep unbridled gulps of the sweet, stinging liquid. She was sweating and covered in sand and they were both completely naked. Her long auburn hair hung in salty clumps.
It was a very useless and relaxing time, she thought. But youth was hers to lose, and she knew that deep down, Collin only wanted for her to be happy. At least as far is it didn't impede his own happiness. That had to count for something. At least as far as they could share this moment. Beyond it, she knew he was useless, emotionally stunted; he would never be good for anyone with an ounce of self-possession. That was not her--had never been.
Before dinner, she left Collin on the beach to shower off the sand and the sweat and the salt that coated her entirely. They had polished off the rakija from the cooler, so Collin had nothing left to do but lay on his back and tan his naked body. She would bring wine when she returned--they’d had plenty of rakija for one day--and then they could start cooking. Left alone, she knew he would sleep off the alcohol, so she could take her time. The walk back to the house was only about fifty yards but sand quickly gave way to large, unsteady rocks. She navigated them carefully with her sandals, sure to test her footing before committing to the next step. The rakija had done its job: she was drunk.
Once inside, she poured a glass of water from the tap and drank it in a single gulp. Then another. She kicked off her sandals and placed her hat on the table. Walking into the bathroom, she immediately cranked the hot water to its highest setting. She closed the window to ensure the room would fill with steam. She turned to the mirror over the sink and fussed with her salty hair; it could be worse. She splashed cold water on her face and felt refreshed. Maybe it was the rakija or the endorphins still coursing through her, but she began to make faces at herself in the mirror: smoky sexy faces; goofy, tongue-out faces; frightful monster faces. She closed her eyes one at a time and furled her brow and danced with her chin while her lips pursed and popped and smiled. Her face. She loved her face. In every shape it made.
She took a step back and grabbed her breasts with both hands. The steam began to cloud the mirror as she removed her top and shimmied out of her bottom. Still, she could not take her eyes off of herself. She stared until the steam made it impossible to see her own reflection. She pulled back the curtain from the shower and stepped blissfully into the billowing steam. The water burned her skin and she turned bright red, basking in the mild pain as it stripped the grit from her body. Then, she jammed the valve towards cold: an icy shock to her steaming pink skin. Her hands caressed and squeezed every part of herself, jolting from one curve to the other: a marvel to herself.
The cool water calmed and steadied her. The pulsing waves of the rakija mellowed, and she was left with only her bliss. She washed herself delicately before shampooing her hair--as the steam dissipated, she finally emerged from the shower. She bundled her hair with a towel before patting herself dry and walked through the house stark naked. Entering the bedroom, her eyes lingered on her duffle bag, its contents spread across the dresser; it would take no time at all... no time.
But, instead, she grabbed a striped linen dress and pulled it over herself. The fabric was soft, perfectly fit. With nothing between the dress and herself, she felt rejuvenated. Again, she grabbed both of her breasts, gently tracing the outline of her nipples in the fabric.
What fun there is to have, will never happen at your expense. A permanent smile set into her freshly clean face.
She dried her hair, grabbed a chilled bottle of chardonnay and returned to the beach barefoot.
Collin felt a tickle on his inner thigh. It began at his knee and traced slowly up the inside of his leg, caressed him, and continued up his body until it cradled his face.
“How long was I out?” He asked with his eyes closed.
“Oh, who’s to say? Not long.” She jammed the chilled bottle of chardonnay into his stomach and he shot up reflexively; he was awake.
“Woah! Not fair! Not fair.” He gazed at her freshly clean face. The breezy pulling her dress tight against her body. A dream, he thought.
“Come on--I’m absolutely starving, and I know you’ll have a fit if I get it going without you.”
He uncorked the wine and stood reluctantly, unsteady on the sand. “Yes, yes. Just, ah,” he looked down at his undressed, flaccid self, “have you seen my shorts?”
“Behind the cooler.”
“Ah.” Collin redressed as the fog of his drunken nap ebbed and he regained clarity.
They began foraging driftwood and dried grass for their barbeque on the beach. Collin created a makeshift fire pit in the sand and filled it with dried grass before building a shaky teepee out of the wood. He smiled at the prospect of starting a fire. Ever since his days as a Scout, he'd loved building fires. His father always joked that it was a primal necessity and the only sure way to make their ancestors proud.
They sat and dried themselves by the fire. The night began to set and the Mediterranean sparkled out before them brighter than the stars, a pulsing, deep azure. Collin tended to the fire, tamping it down to a low flame so they could cook. She was perfectly capable of tending the fire herself, but Collin insisted. He stumbled to the cooler and grabbed four husks of corn that he threw directly onto the fire, sure to leave space between them so as not to suffocate the radiant coals.
He plopped into the sand beside her and leaned on her shoulder, "Now, we wait." He held his hand out for the bottle. She took a sip and handed it to him gently. He kissed the crook of her neck before settling comfortably onto her lap. He was at the perfect angle to drink without spilling while still being as comfortable and close to her as he wanted.
“You smell fantastic.”
“And you smell terrible.”
She smiled in reply: “God, no.”
They sat in silence watching the flames dance and pop while the bright husks curled against the heat. "I'm sorry I never take you dancing," he said.
"I know. That doesn't mean it will ever change," she smirked. "I'm just better at putting up with you than you are at putting up with me."
"You can say that again," he laughed. "But, I am sorry."
She ran her fingers through his damp, thinning hair, "I know. I know."
The corn hissed in the fire. She reached out with a pair of tongs and took great care flipping each of them over.
"Almost done, eh?" He rolled over, curling against her.
"Almost. I think we're ready for the sausages if you want to grab the skewers."
He planted his arm on her leg and pushed himself up. She met his eye; her gaze was at once condescending and comforting. He struggled to his feet and found the skewers in one of their bags. He opened the pack of sausages and slid them onto the metal, one for her and one for him. He planted them deep into the sand so that they would hover over the flames without falling. She pulled the corn off of the fire and let it sit for a minute on top of the cooler before handing him one of the cobs. They ravaged the sweet, juicy corn and threw the discarded husks back into the fire to burn. The sausages were beginning to blacken and there was a steady hiss from the fire as fat dripped off the links onto the coals. Collin adjusted the skewers away from the fire and grabbed his second cob. After finishing, he removed the sausages from the fire and placed them on top of the cooler. He took a swig of the wine and offered it to her, but she was still focused on her second cob, thinking drunkenly that she had never tasted anything this good in all the world.
"And you complained that I never take you anywhere, " he laughed.
"Shut up." She clapped him on the shoulder and handed him one of the skewers.
Collin laughed and bit into the burning link with a sharp crack of the blackened casing, "It's delicious."
She polished off the wine and they fell asleep in each other’s arms in the still night. Collin dreamed of the man he would have to be to make her happy. He even considered becoming that man before banishing the notion for good; it was lovely to think. She dreamed of nothing in particular. There was a subtle sense of weightlessness and a long unbroken breeze--that, she remembered clearly. The color blue featured prominently but she could not place it--she knew it without actually remembering it.
Collin woke to the early afternoon sun. His skin felt warm to the touch and he was alone on the beach. His head throbbed and his back was stiff. He lumbered up the path towards their small house, eager to finish his sleep on a mattress and to take a long gulp of cool water. There would be ibuprofen too, and a pillow. She would be waiting in bed. For the first time in a long time he truly looked forward to her presence. For once, he felt he'd done right by her. Pushing through the loose screen door, he saw a bottle of chardonnay sunk into a gleaming ice bucket on the kitchen counter, moisture beading on the polished metal. Wonderful, he thought, she's ready for me. Attached to the neck of the bottle with a light blue ribbon was a small note. He undid the simple knot and opened the folded paper. It was handwritten in pen. The black ink bled from the condensation radiating out capillaries and blotches from her neat script.
Collin, I have gone to Paris. This is not a challenge. To me, this seems the best way about it. By the time you have gotten this, I will be somewhere in Italy... if the weather holds... it should be a fantastic day for travel. I wish you all the best. I truly do. Au revoir, Audrey Ann Rickman.
Her signature was large and ornate. Collin held the scrap of paper and read the note three more times. He felt a flash of excitement and considered dropping everything to pursue her immediately. Instead, he uncorked the chardonnay and took a long, relaxed sip. She was right. Overhead, he heard the sound of a low-flying biplane and imagined she was in it. He knew it was a fantasy to think so. He imagined himself at the helm of the plane chasing his lost lover to Paris to win her back: a triumph of love and the human spirit. But that was a fantasy too. He stepped out through the sliding glass doors of their room onto the wooden patio that overlooked the beach and watched the plane disappear into the Adriatic.
I would have married her. He thought.
I should have married her. To think how lovely a wife she would have made--a mother. To grow old by her side...
I would have made her miserable. He knew.
She would have made me miserable.
He lifted the chardonnay in a ceremonial toast to the receding hum of the plane--to the future he did not deserve. He stared for a long while as his mind hunted down every scenario he could be the hero of... they all ended at the same point: they would never dance.
He smirked and walked back into the house.
It was a beautiful day, and after a shower and a quick nap, he would go into town to mingle with the locals.
Audrey hoisted her bag to her shoulder as the train pulled into the station. The rush of wind threatened to snatch her hat from her head and carry it deep into the blossoming morning. Even as the train stopped, the breeze continued unbroken. She felt supremely at ease--weightless as she stepped across the threshold into the train car. She heaved her bag into the overhead storage and took a seat by the window. She removed her hat and leaned against the glass. To her, it seemed as if everything had fallen away: there was no train station, there was no town around it and there was not one cloud in the sky above her. No, the sky was perfectly blue.
Gradually, the doors closed, and the passengers settled. The train moaned and creaked as it pulled away from the platform. They picked up speed accelerating out of the station until the world beyond was just a blur. But Audrey didn’t notice; she stared only at the motionless, perfect sky.
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