Wednesday, May 13

Rum & Raisin Is Not Suitable For Children

AND SO I SAT down outside of the café to enjoy my ice cream.
The café was on the prom’, a tight little building with only one window – for the exchange of treats for cash – that was fastened shut against the weather during winter when the water smashed into it on the back of the wind. I sat down to take it easy and to give my bare feet a rest from the floor that was so very hot and my bare feet were not calloused enough for the heat.
I had left the group and taken five minutes away on my own, and for that I enjoyed my ice cream even more; it was cold and wet and chased away the dull, salty flavour I had in my mouth. It was good to take a break from the group. Leaning back in my chair, I looked at the sea, which was laid along the edge of the land like toothpaste. The sea’s blue fingernail made quiet sounds and children danced in it. The two o’clock sun beat down and my shoulder skin was cracking underneath it. My body was very exposed, uncomfortably, and its nakedness was unused to the most natural of elements.
A couple (because in my life and in your mind a ‘couple’ is a man and a woman, though a man and a man would have been happier and a woman and a woman more stunning) approached the café but I did not see them – I heard the man on his phone as he interrupted the sound of the surf, the children dancing.
She (because in my life and in your mind she is wearing a bikini but, for this unhealthy excursion, she has covered herself in a thin shirt that accepts the tops of her legs like swords) is ordering a pair of ice creams (without asking what he wants) and pays for them after a wait (during which she turns to the sea). I still have not seen her.
Now, I see her. At first I see the arm around her elbow and think that it is kind to look upon because her elbow is delicate and jagged. She licks her ice cream; her tongue swirling it.
He talks on his phone. His phone is his biggest friend. Carefully he negotiates his own tongue around the ice cream, while keeping the conversation unbroken. I surmise that it is a conversation relating to his profession, which he keeps serious enough to be discussed at the beach.
She sits down at the small table next to me. I think it is rum & raisin. I did not see rum & raisin at the counter. How much rum is in there? I wonder. Can children order a rum & raisin ice cream? Two scoops maximum?
‘Lovely day, isn’t it?’
‘It is… So hot… Feel like I’m on holiday.’
‘Where you from?’
‘Braintree… You?’
‘Coggeshall… Just visiting for the day… Nice to get away, y’know?’
‘I do.’
When she sat down, all of her cellulite dimples woke up and legs looked like the foam at the edge of the toothpaste. Middle-age makes it sound like you have a ending in mind, some glorious, heroic death. I watched her tongue and the sparkling reflection off her sunglasses. In my mind I removed her sunglasses, looked at her eyes and took a deep breath.
‘Good-bye.’
I followed her because strangers who captivate one in an instant are not to be squandered.
Her husband talked and licked. She put one foot in front of the other, balancing on an invisible line, and took herself back to their patch. She licked her rum & raisin ice cream. Maintaining a safe distance, I followed them – their way was the opposite to that back to my group.
When they sat in the sand, so too did I sit in the sand. The sand swelled up around me as a bruise takes in a black eye. Her husband would soon get off the sand; I did not mind.
As she swallowed the stiff spike of her cone, she undressed and I saw.
It is indeed a criminal act to see such saws.
I have heard it among my peers that women age worse than men; that men, if strict enough, will age well and women pitter-patter out so that all the awe they spun in their youth disappears, leaving them blunt and unremarkable. Such a opinion I do not agree with! They simply trade one beauty for another and so the latter was unsheathed to me – and every other young man on the beach that day who had escaped away from his group.
The paunch, stripped in marks, trying to keep up with the infant – so she was a mother! – shimmered in the sunlight. Every flesh tied to her was loosened and descending slightly so that, with the most precarious movement, they shook.
Over all of her, though, was a carelessness I found myself unused to. She was the only organism on the beach, between the rock-hidden mussels and the sharpened crabs. She lay down to bathe in the sun like Lawrence’s greatest heroine.
I took her in.
Her husband sat on the sand, his free hand moving through it, playing absentmindedly, while the other held the phone fast. Then he reached and patted her thigh where the cellulite had stirred.
My ice cream was nearing its end as I sat in the sand there, gazing; some of it had even run down my hand. I have not much to tell you, other than the crowd of older women I was surrounded by. It was not my wish to voyeur but I found myself immersed and overwhelmed. From my pocket I produced a rollie and enjoyed the sea frothing at the shelf of children’s feet. The sun came down on me like a piano from the twelfth floor. I understand it is not much of a pastime, but it is leisurely and without sex that I remark upon the wonderment this stranger offered me, as she bathed and did not move a muscle beneath that most local of stars.
Some time passed. I am not sure; I cannot tell you how much time. The afternoon went on. The stranger saw me many times and did not acknowledge me. Her eyes met mine and both were held in each other’s hands. She flipped from her front to her back. Her husband was off his phone and was also sunbathing. She was solid, among the blur of other bathers; she stalwart and beautiful; she unlike me. She was on her front when she raised her head to check if I was still there. I was, of course, I was.
‘Where’ve you been?’
‘Sorry, I bumped into the mum of an old school friend… We got chatting.’

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