Mags floated on her back, kicking her weight up and off the seabed. She was always amazed when she did this, that her body could have two separate sensations at the same time. With the sun shining on her forehead and chest; hot on her wet skin. The sea underneath her, magnificent and unknown. She felt her hair floating, splaying out like colouring pencils that have escaped from the tin and are rolling across the floor. The water lapped at her temples, and she closed her eyes.
She did not want to leave the sea. Once she was out of the sea, they would have to have the conversation. And once they started, they wouldn’t be able to finish until everything had been said. And there were things that she didn’t want to say, or hear.
She opened her eyes underwater and stared up at the blue sky. Was there any force or narrator up there who knew how this afternoon was going to turn out? Mags squeezed them shut again against the sting of the salt, blocking the world out. The pain made her turn upright and her hands moved to her eyes. Mags always felt like a child when rubbed her eyes like this, there was something vulnerable about it. Underneath her, the dark sand held the mould of her footprints, pushing up between her toes. Her hair plastered against her slim white neck.
Dylan was watching her from the shore. He was watching her in that was where you know the other person knows you are watching and so you have to focus hard on not watching them. He was pretending to watch at some paddle boarders to her left. He had heard them earlier, on the sand as they waded in. The first was more like a pudgy dinghy compared to the grace of the sail boat friend. The sail boat had been saying ‘look Ryan if you don’t try you don’t know. Nothing comes from nothing ok and KFC is not the answer.’ The dinghy had waded in after him, looking sullen but determined in a new wet suit that still had the tag on it.
He looked at the two dots floating around, his eyes darting back to his wife every minute. He became so irritated with this compulsion that he turned over so his back faced the sun and he pushed his forehead into the wet fabric of the towel.
‘Fuck’, he whispered. ‘Fuck fuck fuck’, he said again, and then more viciously ‘Fucking fuck!’ And he slammed his fist down onto the sand.
‘You’re at the beach, you’re not down the dog races now!’ The mother with a family of 4 children whispered as they walked past him. The children swung their buckets and spades and the littlest of them beamed at his expulsion and tried this word in their mouth. ‘Fuck!’ they said gleefully to one another.
‘Sorry sorry’, he called after them. The mother turned around and scowled at him, and they scuttled back to their umbrella some way down the beach.
Unable to settle on his front, he span back round so that he was now lying on his back and looked up at the blue expanse. ‘God’ he whispered. He closed his eyes and his salty fingers clasped together over his chest. ’God if you are up there, please could you just tell me what to do? How to look after her and me? Please? I’m sorry for swearing’. Behind the thin skin of his closed eyes, he saw nothing but a brilliant white, though he knew this was because the skin of his eyelids were so thin, not the presence of a greater spirit.
He squeezed his hands together tightly. Nothing happened. The seagulls continued to call above him and the waves crashed down on the sand only to draw back out again. But then everything was dark and he felt a chill fall over him and wet dripped down on his face. He opened his eyes.
It was Mags, standing over him, staring down at him. The droplets from her wet skin falling onto his face.
‘I’ve tried praying but nothing seems to happen’.
He closed his eyes again but did not move his hands. ‘Maybe God doesn’t like you and he’ll answer my prayers instead’, he said.
There was silence after this. He knew it was a stupid thing to say. Even as it was coming out of his mouth he was regretting it.
‘You know you’re really not as charming as people think you are’, she said, her gaze moving from him to look at the sand dunes behind. The scene that sat there, the cafe at the top of the dunes selling elegant bottles of beer and the cigarette smoke climbing out from the sides of the balcony, holiday goers squeezed in and fanning themselves with the plastic menus.
Dylan kept his eyes shut. He didn’t want her to think this about him. He hadn’t meant to have said this, but he didn’t know how to be around her anymore. ‘While you’re waiting on an answer I’m going to get some Caciques’ Without waiting for him to respond Mags left. He heard the sand moving underneath of her.
‘Wait please don’t go I’m sorry that I said that I didn’t mean it if there is a God they will love you more than anything in this world because you’re perfect, and you’re the best thing about me, and I think it’s all going to be fine!’ Dylan wanted to call out, but he didn’t.
Mags welcomed the cool of the cafe as she walked in. The pleasure of not having to wear shoes and the way the ground beneath her changed from the road’s hot concrete to the cool of the floorboards.
‘Por favor, ¿podría tener dos cervezas?’ She asked, the Spanish accent pushing out of her easily, confidently following her years of living in Madrid. She was grateful for this part of her, although less fluent now. But she could still hold an easy conversation without apologising or cringing at her own incompetency as Dylan did.
The bar man was a stocky with dark eyes and said nothing but moved his head slightly in understanding. He worked silently behind the bar and stood two bottles of beer in front of her. The condensation collected at the side of the glass. She imagined how these same rivulets would be rolling down her back as it dried from the sea, clearing a smooth path in their wake.
She handed over the money, smiling through tight lips. He took the money from her and tipped his head in an acknowledgement that their engagement was over. Mags took the bottles and walked back into the bright light. It stung her eyes, and she felt the remnants of the sea salt. She squinted in front of her. Then she saw Dylan’s outline, sitting up now and looking out at the sea. Even from a distance he appeared tense. He looked better since he had taken up running. She was aware, and had been for a while now, of more women looking at him. Their eyes momentarily and in a way that they couldn’t control raking over his body and taking him in. Those high cheek bones and his dark hair. He never noticed this though. Both a great talent and his weakest attribute was how unaware he could be.
As Mags neared him, she could tell that he didn’t know that she was there and so she stepped forward and held the cold beer to the back of his neck. He let out a gasp but didn’t move.
‘Is this God?’ He asked, a little stiffly, obviously trying to play and wind the barbs back in and make it all smooth again.
‘Well my friend, it may be the next best thing’, she sat down next to him on the other towel.
‘I hate it when you call me ‘friend’’ he said, looking at the waves and taking a sip of his beer. This wasn’t a slight this time, it was true. He did hate it, hated the friendly warmth and the ‘matey-ness’ of this greeting.
She chose not to acknowledge what he had just said. ‘The Cubans are so humble, and they don’t try too much. They just get on with it’.
They both sat looking at the ocean, their knees bent up and their wrists balanced on them.
‘I didn’t know he was your client’, Dylan said.
‘Impossible’, she said, still looking at the sea, although she was no longer aware of the noise of the waves or the children playing around them. Her body was completely dry now and her skin felt tight with the salt. The kiss of the sea all over her body.
‘I would never do anything to hurt you’.
Even though they were sitting next to one another, it felt as though there was a cavern between them. He turned to look at her, staring at her neck. It always reminded him of a swan, but she hadn’t liked this when he’d said it. Mags said that swans had extremely long necks and this comparison made her feel unbalanced. She could be so literal at times, so blinded by the real meaning because of her unwavering rationale. This is why she was such a good auditor.
‘Mags I had no idea this person knew who you were. How could I?’
Still the scene on the beach played out in front of them, a dog ran past them and with a parent on either side, the small form of a toddler was hoisted up and over the smallest waves. He squealed with delight.
‘I think only you know the answer to that’, she said.
‘Please don’t do this, don’t shut me out and make your answers all clipped like that. Please. Would you just look at me?’
Mags continued to look forward, taking another long sip of her beer. Dylan stared at her, his lips squeezing tightly together and his eyebrows making a thick block across his face. He stood up and stepped in front of her and sat down, cross-legged and blocking her view.
She stared past him at first and then looked at him.
‘I’m sorry, I really am, I had no idea that Benjamin was related to you at work, otherwise, I never would have said anything about the surrogate. How was I to know that he would be the kind of twat he’d turned out be?
They looked at one another, Dylan could see the salt on the end of her eyelashes. His forehead was creased and looked a little burnt.
He inhaled sharply and pushed on, his voice softer. ‘Surrogacy isn’t natural, and it’s understandable that you felt weird around her. We both know you didn’t mean to catch her with the Honda’.
The whole process had been a nightmare that they both thought was over, until recently. The surrogate, Ariel, kept suggesting that Dylan and her start a new life together. Despite Dylan’s unrelenting ignoring of these suggestions, it had created a problem.
Dylan watched his rationale driven wife grapple with the fact that not only could her body not create a child, and then the person that they had chosen to help with this matter continued trying to usurp her place in the small family that Dylan and Mags made together. Then a just a few short months in to the pregnancy, the baby had had to leave them. The doctors suggested stress. That was when Mags had not put the hand break on and rolled into her in first gear. She hadn’t even fallen over but she had decided to sue them. The anguish had been relentless.
Dylan had joined a tae kwon do group to help with his stress and anger. One night he had gotten very drunk, vodka drunk, with his teacher. He had told him everything-the suggestions Ariel had been making, and then the horror of the miscarriage, and then the call from Mags in a voice he’d never heard her use before explaining she’d reversed into Ariel. At the time it had felt like the most worthwhile therapy session ever, until it was worked out that Mags was auditing Benjamin’s new company, and was using this information to force Mags to ignore gaping holes in the start-up’s accounts.
Thankfully she was one of the best auditors in her firm, and so the MD had paid for her to disappear in a 6 week holiday travelling around Cuba whilst the entire mess was cleaned up.
They had hardly spoken in Havana, instead distracting themselves with the vintage cars and lunchtimes dedicated to live music; the two of them sitting side by side in cafes where the leaves from the trees made up the ceiling. The only movement either of them had to make was to either buy one of the CDs that was pushed upon them after each act, or take the new cold Caciques that appeared on trays. At first Mags choose not to speak any Spanish, but was then so irritated by the long drawn out process of his pronunciation she had taken over. In Vinales, they had walked around the national park, ridden horses at one point, their hooves meeting the baked earth with soft clops. He was delighted to see her smile, finally, when he heard the cigar farm’s leader call to the horse she rode ‘keep up Mojito, come on boy!’ Still though, they had resisted one another’s attempts to broach the subject. Instead they had agreed that they would only talk about ‘everything’, when they where in Trinidad. It had been odd, knowing that this great ugly thing was lurking between them, and accepting the fact that they were not yet ready to face it. This was there second afternoon in Trinidad.
‘There were things that he said that you said and I didn’t know that you felt that way. And’, she continued, stiffly, looking past him again ‘I’m hurt by the face that you would tell him things that you couldn’t tell me’.
Dylan’s mouth fell open. He wasn’t angry, but was at a loss of what to say. His eyebrows looked like the brows on a cartoon, rounded and hurt.
‘Like what?’ he asked.
‘Like, there was a time that you were actually thinking about taking up Ariel’s offer and that she smelled nice’.
‘What? Mags that isn’t true so I don’t know why you think I would have said -’
‘Or how much you felt like the process was was turning me into someone that you didn’t know anymore’.
He scoffed, ‘you rolled your car into someone!’
‘Only in first gear’ she said looking at her towel.
‘Yes only in first’, he said. Very slowly, he moved his hands and held her face. She looked down at the ground.
‘Mags, you have to believe me. Watching you go through this whole saga, has been as hard as, if not more, experiencing this myself. I would never have wanted to leave you for Ariel. Maybe I made some meaningless comment, because I was drunk and being self indulgent. And there was that week that you moved the position of the clothes bin and kept telling me off when I kept throwing my clothes in the place where is used to be. But I would never choose anyone over you’.
Tears started to slip from her eyes.
‘What was it you said to me?’ He said, laughing, ‘only pilchards cry at the beach?’
‘No, actually it’s just the salt in my eyes. When I was in the sea, and the sun is getting in them’.
‘Right’, he said, taking off his own sunglasses and placing them on her, the arms of the frames slipping through her wet hair. ‘Even though, I know that your heart, and my heart, have been broken, and I wish that we were here under different circumstances, there is still no one else that I would rather be here with, than you.’
Mags squared her face so it was looking straight at Dylan now, though he couldn’t see her eyes. He’d lost his ray bans on the horse trek and so these were just a pair from a local shop. They were large and blocky. They made her look like a storm trooper. But he didn’t say that.
Instead, she leant her head forward and rested it on his shoulder, and he moved his hand up so that they were placed on her shoulders blades, where her wings would be if she was an angel.
They stayed like this for a while, the beach starting to clear around them. As day goers were swapped for the night crowds that covered the beaches with fire. Orange light cast over the tall figures that stood and talked on the sand, and the moon hung high and shone it’s white light down on the sea that was now soothed like a sleeping infant. The stars twinkled, seeing everything. Seeing Dylan and Mags, seeing Benjamin and Ariel although they were continents away. Seeing the silent barman and the children and the mother who had scorned Dylan for swearing. No one can predict what is next for ourselves, but as long as we can trust that we are held between the sand and the sea and the stars, we are exactly where we need to be.