© 2013 Mike Finn. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written permission from email@example.com
The Beach, Downings, Donegal, Eire, June 2005
I didn’t cry until I reached the beach. Before then, I’d been too focused on carrying out my plan to allow the tears to come. I’d risen at dawn, ostensibly to go bird-watching while the beach was still deserted. The woman who ran the small hotel I was staying at had insisted on giving me a bag of sandwiches and thermos-flask of tea.
“You’ll be needing that once the cold gets to you,” she said. “It’s windy enough out there to chill you to the bone.”
I’d forced a smile, thanked her for the breakfast, made sure she saw me put my binoculars around my neck, told her I’d be back for lunch and set off for the beach
As I’d planned, the wide curve of beach was empty and I was alone. I left my coat, the binoculars and the breakfast bag above the high-tide mark and walked into the wind in a straight line across the fine sand of the beach to the water’s edge. When I stood still, my energy faded and I felt the tears come.
Robert had always hated it when I cried. He’d taken each tear as a sign of his failure to protect me from the world.
Well, he couldn’t protect me from anything any more; my tears could flow freely without any consequences for anyone but me.
So why was I trying to hold them back?
Perhaps because letting go of my tears, unleashing my grief, felt like a betrayal of who we, Robert and I, were; of who we should have been allowed to become?
The shallow slope of the beach calmed the waves coming in from the Atlantic, despite the wind that pushed my hair out behind me like a tail. I matched my breathing to the slow pulse of the waves riding up the beach and reached down to push off my shoes.
Keeping my focus on the horizon, where the future lies; declining to the see the present; feeling the stubborn pull of the past like a neglected child tugging my skirt to demand attention.
When the first cold waves washed across my feet, I finally let the tears flow, took a step into the ocean, still dressed in my tracksuit, and let the past grasp me by the ankles…
Glyfada Beach, Corfu, June 1998
The waves, huge and green and white-maned, roared when they crashed into the sand. I’d never seen anything like it. No wonder Calypso had lived here and Ulysses hadn’t been able to leave. I spread my arms and legs wide, tipped my face up towards the sun and offered myself to the Aegean like a prayer.
“Breath-taking, isn’t it?”
I stumbled on the sand, caught by surprise at the closeness of the voice. He reached out, preventing me from falling, bringing me to a halt in front of him. I could feel his strength and the heat of his hand on my arm. His naked chest was broad, bronzed, muscular, completely smooth and beaded with water. He was a gift from Poseidon and I wanted to brush my hand across his skin, the way I had learned to touch sculptures, absorbing their shape through my fingers.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
His voice was English and gentle. His hand was still on my arm. I made myself look up from his chest into his face, which was haloed by the sun. His lips were full, his smile was crooked and his eyes were like pieces of sky. He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen and I had no idea what to do or say.
He let go of my arm and immediately I knew I wanted him to touch me again. Reaching down past me, he picked up the sunglasses that I’d dropped on to the sand when I stumbled. They were cheap sunglasses from Boots. Suddenly I wanted them to be RayBans or to claim that they belonged to someone-else. Then he slid them onto my face, his strong hands briefly on either side of my head. I felt myself blush. I knew I had to say something.
My voice sounded like I hadn’t used it in a while.
“My name is Linda” I said and instinctively held out my hand.
I realized what I’d done and I wanted to die: I was eighteen years old, on my first ever holiday without my parents, by sheer luck I’d met Apollo on a beautiful beach in Greece and now I was trying to shake his hand as if we were in my mother’s drawing room.
Apollo’s smile widened then he took my hand and shook it.
“Hello, Linda. My name is Robert. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
His tone was tinged with amusement but not mockery and he kept hold of my hand after he shook it.
“So,” he said, “this is your first day at the beach.”
It wasn’t a question.
“I suppose you can tell by my horribly pale skin, that I’ve just arrived?” I said, looking down at my deathly white arms. “My mother says that with my red hair my skin is supposed to be pale,”
Oh, God, why did I mention my mother? It made me sound about ten years old. I decided to make up for it by sounding bold and adventurous.
“But I really want to get an all-over tan on this holiday.”
Robert laughed. “Actually, I knew today was your first day because I’m a Pre-Raphaelite fan and I’m sure I would have noticed the reincarnation of Christina Rossetti on her first day at the beach.”
I blushed. We’d study the Pre-Raphaelites for A Level English. My friends had all gushed over Dante Rossetti, but it was Christina’s poetry that I had fallen in love with.
I was so delighted to have found someone, a beautiful someone, who mentioned Rossetti that I found myself quoting the opening to my favourite poem:
“Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.”
“Well I certainly shall remember you but I was rather hoping that you wouldn’t be leaving yet.”
“No. I mean, it’s a poem. My favourite poem. By Christina Rossetti.”
“I know the poem. I’ve just never had poetry spoken to me by a beautiful, bikini-clad girl that I’ve just met.”
“I’m sorry. You must think me such a dork.”
“Of course. I now have no further desire to be seen with you. For all I know, you could me a member of the Chess Club”.
“Actually, I made it to Round Six of the UK Chess Challenge last year.”
“Brains and beauty. You must scare the hell out of the boys.”
“I’ve never been interested in boys.”
He raised an eyebrow in an unspoken question.
“Oh. No. I’m not a Lesbian. And besides, then I’d be on Lesbos, not Corfu. What I meant was, I’m only interested in men. I mean…”
I wound down into silence and dropped my gaze to the sand between my feet. I wanted the Earth to open up and swallow me.
Robert put his finger under my chin and tilted my head back so I could look into his eyes.
“If you were serious about the all-over tan,” he said, “you’re in the right place. There are lots of nudists at the far end of this beach. It’s not compulsory of course.”