Night Swimming

by | Dec 8, 2020 | Fiction, Issue Eighteen

I was standing naked and cold the night the sea took my friend Tom. While Isabelle and I were ankle deep in foamy sea water, her arms folded around me, shivering and blanketed in goose bumps, we watched Marguerite, stagger out of the waves, alone, the moon highlighting all of her misplaced curves. She was scared and confused. But I knew this was coming, expecting it even.

            Tom and I were in our second week tramping through Europe in our post-college cliché: dog-eared Lonely Planets, dirty hostels, Eurorail passes, late night hash bars. Tom had just finished his degree in economics and would be off to Boston or New York, cities that would exist for me only as a return address. Tom hand wrote letters, and that told you all you needed to know about a person. I still had another year or two or three, as my major had taken on a life of its own, tip-toeing into something new each night as I slept.

            And so for the past two weeks, even as we bounded over double-decker buses in London and out kicked the can-can girls in the Moulin Rouge, I was always waiting for Tom to pop and vanish into the suds of an empty pint glass. Or I thought maybe he’d absorb into the dimpled fat of Marguerite’s thighs while she gyrated on top of him. I expected him to get crinkled and folded into his tattered map, veins running with rivers.

            But after finishing our third carafe of sangria and watching flamenco girls dance on the tops of palm trees, it was Tom of course who suggested night swimming. Before the girls and I could respond, he was running naked down the soft sand like a boy being chased, diving head first into a crashing black wave.

            We had met the girls our first night in San Sebastian. We stumbled into a museum after consuming every last tapa in Spain, and they stumbled out of a Goya painting. Isabelle was shy and horribly uninteresting, but her English was decent, and she was cute in every way you wanted a girl to be cute when you were flying home next Monday. Marguerite, however, was as large as her name, with a laugh to match.

            With a synchronized shrug, the girls and I were disrobing too, caught up in the intoxication of the warm Spain night and the longing to create memories so tangible you could lick them. As my feet slapped their way into the water, Isabelle jumped onto my back and held tight around my shoulders, and I knew that for years to come I would be able to close my eyes and feel her tiny hard nipples poking the flesh of my back.

            The four of us bobbed in the water like playful seals. Stories and jokes started but never finished. Our Spanish and their English inevitably becoming tangled and knotted like seaweed. We stumbled, cart-wheeled, and laughed over the sounds of vowels, never really wanting to get it just right.

            Then, for what seemed like an eternity, Isabelle and I listened to Marguerite’s swollen, syrupy laugh echoing off the surface of the water. She and Tom off playing in the darkness, while Isabelle and I kissed until our tongues grew weary and chips of red paint flaked off her lips and onto mine. I was carrying her slick naked body back to the shore as she whispered Spanish recipes in my ear when the distant laughing stopped.

            With the moon the size of Jupiter, Isabelle and I stood on the shore in silence watching Marguerite emerge alone from the black water like an ancient sea monster.

            And even though I never knew exactly how or when it would happen, the time had finally come just as I expected it would. I explained to the girls and they understood, but they still sat on the beach crying and crying and crying until the salt dissolved them away into the sand. But I didn’t shed a single tear, not for the girls, not for the two weeks, and not for Tom. Just a simple “goodbye” before returning to the world.

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