Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

 Strangers

 

 

 

The air had never smelt so sweet as if of wild roses, with all the skimpily-clad bodies of men and women along Larvotto Beach in Monte Carlo. The mere sight of countless, toned bodies, rippled abs, men in tight shorts, women in bikinis, thongs, the copious amounts of flesh on display, made the air even sweeter by the second.  They tasted the sweetness on the tips of their tongues as though they were spoilt for choice. The sweetness was too much, unbearable even, and Walter propped himself up on his elbows, nudged Madison, who lay on a towel next to him and asked, “What do you think of him over there, the one in the pink shorts? Pretty hot, wouldn’t you say? Fantastic body.”

Madison peered ahead as if she were looking into a mirror, seeing the outside world rather than her own reflection. All these bronzed bodies formed a perfect rhythm against the waves of the sea. She raised her Bvlgari sunglasses over her forehead, squinted her eyes under the lemon sun and said, “Which one? Point him out to me . . .”  And with her incisive, blade-like gaze, she scanned the beach, the golden sand. A throng of young, athletic men splashed about like wild horses and threw a ball from one to another, their deep, gruff voices filling the air with laughter. Everything, for the moment, seemed glorious, expensive, nothing less than chic. Yet Madison thought she saw a giant, white wave rise in the distance, close to the horizon, about to engulf everything in its way, and her glassy, grey eyes intensified. Her heart pinched for a second, but it turned out to be nothing. Yachts sailed across the waters, and she tried to not close her eyes. The number of people from one end of the beach to the other filled her with something more consuming than longing, more than desire itself. Again, Madison’s eyes combed through the surface of the beach, filtering things out.

Walter leaned in to whisper, “Look over to your left, about thirty yards away, next to the ice-cream vendor.”

She saw toned thighs, muscular backs, perky breasts. Beautiful women with sun-kissed hair oiled milky, suntan lotion on their glossy skin. Slowly, she scanned another section of the beach; a cascade of bodies heaved along the surf of the sea.

“Ah . . .  yes . . .  I see him.”

“So, what do you think of him, be honest?” Walter asked eagerly. He leaned in closer to her, his toes touching hers. His porcelain, mask-like face brightened. “You think we have a chance?”

“Not sure yet, he’s got a good pair of arms, I’ll give him that.”

“What do you think of him over there then?”

“Too skinny,” Madison replied nonchalantly.

“And the one with the dog over there?”

“Nice stomach.”

Walter paused. “And that woman in the yellow bikini?”

“Stunning, love her blonde hair. Yes, she’s a possibility.”

He paused again, his eyes reverting back to the guy in the pink shorts as though he were the only person on the beach. He kept his gaze on him, his lips quivered; then he leaned back down, still looking ahead at the same guy. Simultaneously, Madison stared at him too, at his rippled legs, his thick-set neck. Could she? She wondered. It was possible. She dwelled on the idea for a minute or two, and her mind shifted from one extreme to the other in her assessment of him. Yes, anything was possible.

“I want you to get him for me,” he said. “For us.”

“I’m not so sure, Walter.”

He did not reply, and she noticed the way he miserably ran his fingers across his chest, as if deflated. This time she got up, bent over him, and kissed him on his cheek, and a faint smile appeared on his broody face. She kissed his hand and held it tightly; he gripped her. They’d always been close, inseparable, and had hardly spent a day apart from one another. No one would have guessed they were brother and sister, Walter being the youngest. They each believed that the world could never care for them as much as they cared for one another. He squeezed her hand, then let go of her.

“Don’t be so miserable, Walter,” she said. “I don’t enjoy seeing you this way. Patience is key. Let’s just relax for a while.”

“That’s all we’ve been doing since we got here.”

“Oh, Walter, my Walter, all in good time, trust me.”

She sensed his disappointment. His desires sometimes were too strong and could get the better of him. She massaged his head, and he purred, “That feels real good, do it some more,” and he lay down calmly, not twitching.  She kissed him again, this time on his forehead. A light breeze brushed over them, and that heavy, sweet smell tickled their noses. Madison glanced over the beach; she could almost see through everyone. No one escaped the parameters of her gaze. Focusing on one person, she knew simultaneously what other people nearby were doing. The guy in the pink shorts moved up a few yards along the beach.

Walter remarked, “You can’t take your eyes off him now, can you?”

“Let’s just wait,” she said.

The afternoon rolled on, at first in pure goldenness, everything seemed peaceful, ordinary, nothing had felt ordinary for a long time, so just the thought of being ordinary felt good; but in the distance, touching the skin of the sea, she noticed grey clouds like a swarm of angry flies or locusts moving in whilst Walter got up and strolled to the ice-cream vendor to buy himself an ice lolly. Madison supposed she should have gone with him; they could have snaked through the crowds together, sifting people out as they went along. Walter turned back, they nodded, and even in the absence of words, they each knew what the other was thinking: You want this as much as I do. If we don’t do this, we’ll die, it’s what we are, it’s what we’ll always be. She hoped he wouldn’t jump to anything, that he wouldn’t be hasty and make a fatal blunder, and concurrently, she imagined that they were both talking to that guy in the pink shorts, that they were with him on a street somewhere in Monte Carlo, and he agreed to go with them on their walk, and she’d turn to Walter to say, Slowly now, you know what to do, as they lured the guy away into a shadier street, all the while realising they wouldn’t be able to prevent themselves from doing what they had to do.      

Walter sparked up a conversation with a woman by the ice-cream vendor, his face full of conviviality; maybe he’d picked someone different, maybe he was using her as a practice run, but Madison wished he wouldn’t take so long. Both of them, since their residence at the Port Plaza Hotel for two weeks, had established an orderly schedule, of looking groomed, civil, approachable like any other person, and coming to the beach every day where they made sure they were extra alert. The man in the pink shorts joined the queue for an ice cream, and Walter drifted towards him and ignited a conversation. Madison sat up. She wanted to yell out to him, No, not now, don’t do anything now—and she and Walter stared at one another as he made shortcuts away from his conversation. The swarm of clouds rolled in closer to the beach. What if they were angry flies, and not clouds at all? Then suddenly, still bathed in sunshine, the heavens opened, the wind picked up speed, and spits of rain darted down like sharp, little needles. The clouds swallowed the sun; the grey swarm in the distance became stormier as it moved in faster over the sea’s surface. A woman hollered, a child cried, and everyone hustled about as they hurried off the beach. Quickly, Madison gathered her and Walter’s belongings. She saw him poking his head about in the crowds. The guy in the pink shorts had gone. Walter tossed his ice lolly away and walking off, they left behind empty stretches of sand.

She asked, “Why’d you do that?”

“I don’t want it anymore,” he replied, sulkily. His voice reverberated ominously.

“We need to hurry back to the hotel.”

He looked unsure. “You promised we would today.”

“I know.”

He stared at her. “We could pick anyone. Just think what we could do together.”

“We should go back to the hotel.”

Walter breathed noisily. The rain began to slam down in heavier sheets, and they raced into the hotel. She noticed the veins along his hands were visible and blue, and the sight of them unnerved her. She would have to give him what he needed; in fact, they both hungered for it.

He faced her directly and said, “We could have had that guy. We could have had him now,” and she knew beneath her brother’s words lay an unavoidable truth. She looked around. It was futile to think they were like other humans. Her veins bulged and snaked along her forehead. Walter deplored the rain; the rain cast a strange gloom over him. It would take him a while, maybe days now for his spirits to heighten and normalise, though this present moment his depressed state of mind hardened inside him. The bristly voices of the hotel guests made him dizzy. Madison pressed the elevator button and held the door for him as his gaze wavered across the lobby, constantly looking out. He grinned, catching the eye of a young woman who resembled a Gucci model he’d seen semi-nude on the cover of Vanity Fair. For a minute, Walter stood and blinked. Convinced of her being a catwalk model, he imagined his icy hands curled around her as though she was something so small that she fit snugly like a bird in his palms. So small he could keep her in his hands forever. His liking for her had an undercurrent of hatred.  

“You coming?” Madison asked.

“Yes.”

She kissed his shoulder, and they returned to their room, where they stripped naked. Walter dried himself and said, “I’m going to the balcony,” from which he looked down over the beach. They had the best view of Monte Carlo from their room. The approaching sense of what would surely happen, of what they’d do, came upon him. Madison took a shower and she knew, for no specific reason,that her brother lingered near the bathroom and watched her as she showered. He watched her as she lathered the soap over her body, her neck. He slunk into the bathroom, near the shower door, stood motionless there, then moved out when she finished. From the balcony, he glanced at her as she slipped into her clothes. She found him leaning over the balcony in just a pair of trousers. The rain had stopped. She went up to him and wrapped her arms round his waist; he took her hands and pressed them against his chest. He didn’t tremble, and neither did she.

“Look at all those people down there,” he said.   

“Everyone’s so beautiful,” Madison replied.

For thirty minutes they stared across the streets below them. She focused on the sea. To her relief, the grey swarm that swirled near the horizon had retreated. The rain had eased off, and people started to venture out again, possibly to a restaurant, a nightclub or a casino. Walter remained leaning over in a fixed position like a statue. The urge to do something with their hands and the equal urge to entice someone overwhelmed both of them, though with Walter, the cravings increased to a higher level than Madison’s. He knew they would get lucky; he felt they already had. She rubbed his chest and with him exchanged a glance with a man getting into his silver Porsche. She wondered: What if she could get him to come into their bedroom? The thought made her jerk back a little.

Walter curved his head back at her and said, “I want him.”

“Who?” she said, no longer peering down at the street.

“That guy we saw on the beach. I found out his name. He’s called Tyler. He mentioned he’ll be at the beach tomorrow. He also said he goes out a lot at night . . . I want him.”

Madison became silent, then said, “He’ll be ours. I’ll make sure I get him for us.”

They both experienced a certain pleasure in this, pleasure in knowing what this could bring for them. They agreed, as long as they behaved in a friendly manner and went about their day leisurely with certain rituals, they would be fine. They took a nap together on the same bed, and she held him close to her and noticed how in his sleep Walter shivered, his body always turning cold when he lay down for sleep. Hours later, night crept into the room. She saw the moon shine high in the sky like a bright disc. The night was always their favourite part of the day.

As she continued to hold him, he said, “You have to get him.”

“I will.”

She stroked his neck. He suddenly got up from the bed. “Let’s go out, explore the place. We can go to a bar or a club for drinks. We might catch him if we’re lucky.”

“All right, I’ll get changed.”

She wore a knee-length, Versace backless gold dress; he dressed himself in a crisp white shirt and black Armani trousers, perfectly groomed. Walter made doubly sure his nails were trimmed and filed straight; he inspected underneath them to check that they weren’t soiled with dirt; then he inspected his teeth and quickly flossed them, whilst she put on her tinted shades again and made sure she carefully pinned her hair up. She made sure each strand of her hair had been pressed down properly, to maintain the shape.

“Have you checked your nails?” he asked, strangely.

“Yes,” Madison replied. “They’re clean.”

He looked at her nails himself. “So they are . . . beautiful.”

They smiled at one another, then made their way out. Nothing in the night was as familiar to them as they’d expected. The streets were alien to them, and in a way that increased their determination to get what they desired. In the night they withdrew into anonymity. The hairs on their arms prickled and rose, and their eyes drifted towards the moon; then Madison turned to view the sea. It was totally black.  She didn’t know if the waves were crashing forward or receding. She couldn’t help but think the sea would remain black, that she and Walter would stay forever in the dark. Neither of them trembled, and as they linked arms their eyes became alert. The key was not to attract unwanted attention. They walked slowly, studying the movements of people, the way people’s bodies twitched or bent forward. What they looked for in someone was a slight nervousness, a vulnerability, a twinkle in the eye, which got them hooked, making it difficult to take their gaze off an individual. The key component lay in the most subtle of gestures, even in something as marginal as the way someone flicked their hair back. They predicted where each person was heading, and she gave him a tug, then said, “I saw that guy over there in the suit giving you the eye. What do you think?”

Walter looked over and said, “Let’s see where he goes. We can follow him.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” she said.

She took off her shades.

“Where should we take him when we get him?” he asked.

“We’ll find a place . . .”

The man glanced back, caught Madison’s eyes, and winked.         

“We’ll walk steadily behind him,” she said.

They felt braver, exalted, everything they smelled was ten times as strong as it normally would have been, a trail of woody perfume, even fear. She saw that Walter gave no indication of fear.  They trotted forward a little faster so as not to lose him. Maybe this person was heading somewhere to meet up with friends,which would alter the circumstances, but everyone, they knew, ended up on their own at some point in the night. Madison and Walter each felt the rapid beat of the other’s heart. The man moved forward casually, he wasn’t restless just yet, and a few other tourists passed them, but no one to make them worry about anything. They were still several feet behind, and he whispered, “Stay close to me.”

She said, “Of course. I don’t want to lose him as much as you don’t.”

They turned into a narrow, uphill street with buildings leaning towards them on either side. Their figures formed straight, thin silhouettes across the walls, increasing in size, then shrinking, as if the buildings themselves feared to acknowledge their presence. Their tall, angular figures no longer bore an impression of anything around them, as though they did not physically exist; if anyone were to see them, most likely they’d appear to be a dark shade or nothing at all, except an odd breeze you’d feel against your face, and you’d wonder where that breeze had come from, you’d think something, or someone, had gone through you. In his mind, Walter measured the distance between the two of them and the man in front, tantalisingly close. They crossed vertically and entered a narrower street, and the complete absence of anyone made everything even more alien. The street lighting made their faces appear whiter; they each turned into a stranger, cut off from whatever they thought they knew or were attached to. The man lingered a moment, his mobile phone buzzed, then he walked on. Walter and Madison turned into a side street. He calculated the man must be sixty yards in front now. The sudden, desperate urgency in their footsteps, which they both tried to control, echoed in their ears. Everything around them appeared to have thinned. There were no sounds, no flocks of tourists; Madison knew the conditions were perfect. She put her arm around Walter’s waist once more, bringing him in closer to her as she always did in these moments, where every second counted, where neither of them could afford to miss a beat. The street split into two further, even narrower streets; they hesitated, but the man turned right just as they’d hoped, where no streetlamps were lit, and the street seemed abandoned. Perhaps people dreaded to venture out here; each window resembled a little coffin. The man in front speeded up, he began to walk faster; they were closer to him now.

“You go next to him,” Madison said. “Take a few steps ahead, and I’ll stay behind him.”

“Yes, that sounds good to me,” he said.

They curved away from each other, and Walter imagined he had that man in his hands; he’d be so small in his hands. He raised his hands a little in the air whilst she clenched hers together. Their pace hastened forward; it resonated on the pavement, yet, unexpectedly, the man made a sharp turn left, in a flash, and Walter ran forward, looked over to his left, but he saw no one. Madison stopped to catch her breath, and in every direction there was nothing, not even the sea. The still, quiet street grew narrower. Everything seemed like a labyrinth. She heard a faint growl as if from a dog.

“We’ve lost him,” Walter said.

She stared at the dark alley ahead of them.

“What is that?”

He did not answer her straight away; he offered no clarification, then he stepped back to face her. “We could have had him,” he spurted out angrily. “If you weren’t so damn slow, like you were at the beach today, he would have been ours.”

She felt she was slipping; where to she did not know. In chilled silence she looked at him. A somewhat ironical expression formed on his face, in disbelief perhaps of what they’d missed. They rarely did, this had to be the first time; without fail before, they got what they wanted, but now someone had made a mistake, and Walter could not decide who to blame.

“I felt him in my hands. I almost had him,” he reiterated, and she thought all the streets had retreated into complete darkness. Something continued to growl down the alley. Whatever it might be, their presence disturbed it. She peered around, her head raised, noticing how every single window was shut.

“It doesn’t really matter,” she said to him.

He turned back and said, “I’m going down there,” and before Madison could do anything to change his mind, Walter vanished down the dark alley. Hours later, as she lay in bed in the hotel, he finally returned, slipped into bed in his clothes beside her. He smelled different. He reached out and ran his fingers through her hair, gently pulling it back. They both held each other in a way so the other could not move.

Walter slept through the entire morning, into the afternoon, whilst Madison went out for a walk by herself. Her stare skimmed through the surface of everything, as far as the beach, which lay abandoned save for several police officers and police cars. Curious, she sauntered to the beach. A crowd of people started to form, and the police officers spoke rapidly in French. A few of the officers pushed the crowd away from the scene. They shouted at the crowd to move back. Her heart beat faster. She saw a little boy shaking and crying as his father picked him up, embraced him, and patted his head. The little boy continued to cry as he rested his head on his father’s shoulder. She drew as close to the crowd as she physically could.

She asked a woman next to her, “Excuse me, what’s the trouble here?”

“Don’t you know?” the young woman replied. “They found a dead man washed up on the beach.”

Madison glared, bright-eyed.

“When did they discover the body?”

“Not sure, a few hours ago. That’s the boy who found him I think.” The woman pointed at the crying boy still being consoled, and Madison saw the man and child being questioned by the police. Seeing the body of the dead man on the beach, she realised he had a familiar appearance. His suit, the shoes. It was the same person she and Walter followed last night. Then, in the pit of her mind, she could see Walter going down that dark alley, she could see someone at the end of the alley waiting for him, and Walter moving down further, a smirk on his face, reaching out with his hands. The body of the man lay shrivelled in his clothes, his whole life sucked out of him as though he’d been dead for longer than he actually was, and Madison bit her tongue. She tasted her own blood; the taste of it made her dizzy and uneasy at the same time. She toyed with the idea that maybe this man had been drunk and swimming in the sea, or what if he’d been attacked by something in the sea, but the idea of being attacked by any kind of sea monster along the French coast was farcical, impossible. Beyond the crowd, the rays of the sun rippled over the waves of the sea, almost peaceful in a disturbing way, not a yacht in sight, yet in the horizon, the grey swarm whirled. The crowd descended into silence, and Madison stared at the crying child and his father as the police escorted them away. Thankfully, no one looked at her distrustfully, and for that she was grateful. A part of her knew she had to get back to Walter; most likely he was still in bed. People chattered nervously, deducing various theories on what the cause of death might be, a murderer on the loose, a stranger amongst them, an ugly thing to occur in France in this area, and Madison realised everyone began to look at people next to them with a hint of doubt. She made no comment, nor did she ask anyone any further questions.   

She heard someone say, “This gives me the creeps,” and another person said, “I’ve never seen anything like it; he looked totally bloodless.” Then the police announced the beach would be closed off until further notice. Local reporters started to appear, and she diverted her gaze off a flashing light from a camera. They were all urged to vacate the vicinity, and everyone left either disappointed or perversely intrigued with the morbidity of this death and the manner in which a life had been extinguished, and no one could conclude how or why. Madison exchanged a glance with a police officer, then looked down at her shoes. She heard her heart under her top. She sensed an invisible presence behind her, Walter perhaps, trying to console her in some way, whispering into her ear: This is the way it was meant to be, this is what they’d agreed on, together they’d walk down the middle of the track; regardless of how fast they went, they’d have to ride the same road together, there would be no turning back for either of them once they’d set foot on that road. She fumbled around in her pockets for her shades, but she rummaged around too hard, unable to find them. She’d either left them in the hotel or by accident dropped them on the beach. The crowd pushed into her, and repeatedly Madison appealed, “Excuse me! Excuse me . . . ” The paramedics zipped up the dead body into a black bag, then carried it into the back of an ambulance and drove away. The beach had been cordoned off with tape, and a dozen police officers patrolled it. Waves came crashing in, and seagulls flailed about as though they were fighting against the waves. She quickly moved away from the scene, and rather than go back to the hotel immediately, she remained in the same spot. She peered up at the hotel balcony. Walter looked ahead, right at her; then he went inside.

A few hours passed. She lingered around the beach, scanning its empty stretches, and everything appeared secluded. There weren’t many tourists about. Back in the hotel, she expected to find Walter in the restaurant, being casual, blissfully oblivious. A pair of police officers were questioning guests at random. She hurried up to their room, fast as she could, almost as though she were plunging off a cliff into nothing but air.  She opened the door to the room and found Walter in a chair in the corner, smoking. He held the cigarette in his hands for ten seconds, then put it on the ashtray.

“You certainly took your time,” he said. “I’d hoped we’d have breakfast together.”

She paused, scrutinising him.

“Walter, where did you go last night after you left me?”

“Nowhere special.”

“Anything you want to tell me?”

He looked up at her, smiling. “No, not really.”

“Have you heard what’s happened?”

“Yes.”

She went up to him. He rose up from his chair and enveloped his arms around her. “The police are downstairs. I wouldn’t have known what to say if they’d asked me anything.”

He told her to be quiet, nothing was going to happen to them, nothing had happened to them before. “You always react like this,” he said.

“I don’t want you to ever leave me alone like you did last night,” she urged. “Never, promise me, Walter.”

He brushed her hair back and examined her nails. “Where did you go after I left you?”

Madison swallowed, then said, “I came straight here and went to bed.”

A small, ironical laugh came out of Walter. She asked what was so funny, and he replied by saying that there wasn’t anything in particular; everything was the way it was meant to be. “Now you listen to me, we’ll be fine. Don’t panic. You always get the jitters for no reason, that’s your problem.”

He watched every step she made, and the way she moved, cautiously now, as though she were practising how she’d conduct herself in public from this moment and what impression she wanted to project. They looked at one another, and in unison this time, they laughed. He offered her a second cigarette and watched her smoke.

“Remember, we still have to get that guy we saw on the beach,” Walter said.

Madison stopped smoking. “What if he’s gone?”

“He won’t be. I’ve got a feeling on this one.”

She didn’t answer, just stared at him across the room; they usually resorted to doing this every day at some point when they sat across from each other, with one staring at the other, sometimes hearing voices, either in their own heads, or they’d think there was another voice with them in the room. They’d listen quietly without a single utterance until the voices faded and silence became complete, all-encompassing. She noticed the way his long fingers were stretched and poised as he lit a second cigarette, the epitome of ultra-calm. In their minds, they explored the various people they’d each encountered in Monte Carlo, anyone who’d caught their attention, a snippet from a conversation that they’d been drawn to, a certain smell of a person even. Madison imagined herself to be in a red carpeted room, softly lit, with men and women frozen in glass chambers. Not a single one of them would be able to move, and in her imagination, the room went on for miles with frozen humans. She concentrated on a torso, a foot, an ankle of some woman’s. She’d touch the glass chambers, marvelling at whoever she was seeing.

For the next couple of days, they did not leave the hotel, and they had all their meals in their room. They went as far as the balcony, where Walter first saw the beach had been reopened. Gradually, tourists steered and gathered around the beach as though the body of a dead man had never been discovered. He stayed on the lookout. Soon, he knew he and Madison would have to go somewhere else, but wherever they went, they could be someone different, with different names. He heard Madison in the shower, singing to herself. Cautiously, Walter opened the bathroom door, and in the steamy room, he stared at Madison, as he forever would do. Her body had become paler. He did not enter the bathroom but turned away from it the very second she’d finished showering.

“We should head back to the beach tomorrow,” he said after she’d changed.       

“I think we should too.”

He smiled at her, then walked to the balcony and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. He felt peaceful in a way. Perhaps he hadn’t misjudged anything as he’d once thought; perhaps they still had enough time on their hands. 

The following day, a sea of bodies along the beach. Madison imagined them all in glass chambers. She took off her shades, wiped them, and put them over her head. It became apparent that the thriving, chaotic beach concealed numerous possibilities. Clouds loomed over the sea, but she sensed no threat of rain in the air. She looked at her lean legs and compared them with other women’s along the beach, a few of which she liked and wouldn’t have minded having as her own. Walter hadn’t stopped staring since they arrived at the beach. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” he asked.

She noticed his eyes fixed on a guy taking his T-shirt off, to reveal his burly shoulders. For a while, she said nothing, then remarked, “You know Walter, in the beginning I used to be scared, but not now. I don’t think we have anything to fear anymore.”

He took her hand in his and squeezed it. In cold silence, they watched. Neither of them wished to miss anything, not a beat. There were more children than they’d expected and Madison saw a pretty little girl playing with her brother, and they reminded her of her and Walter. People moved about with surprising ease, and even the distant cries of a group of women sounded jubilant. For a few moments she recalled the night she and Walter had followed that man in the night, and she could see him waiting for her; she’d believed it wasn’t Walter that he wanted but her. Her instinct had been to pursue him. She remembered the sound of footsteps, and the way the air had been alive; she’d breathed it in.

In the same way Walter was, Madison permitted herself to think of nothing, her gaze simply lingering over the surface of things, over people’s shoulders, a child’s head, when unexpectedly a silhouette flickered over them.

“Excuse me?” a man said.

Madison and Walter glanced up; the sun hurt their eyes. The guy in the pink shorts. Walter sat up, moving closer to Madison. The guy in the pink shorts hovered over them. “Sorry to bother you, but I noticed you from across the beach,” he said, then looking at Walter, “I spoke to you the other day?”

“Yes, that’s right, you did,” Walter remarked, as his hand slipped under Madison’s arm. She did not utter a word at first.

“Well, I’m with a group just over there,” he said, pointing in westerly direction. “Would you care to join us?”

Walter stared at Madison. She did not blink, nor did she hesitate this time. “I guess we would,” she said, clearing her throat; then she introduced herself and Walter to him. The man smiled at them both, then said, “That’s brilliant,” and they both rose up from the ground. The man stepped in front of them, against the sunshine and waves, and guided them to his group. She turned and saw a grey swarm rising in the horizon, and a stampede of children encircled them at first, filled with crazy giggles. They couldn’t understand where these children had come from. The circle of children strengthened around them in a tight band, as if they recognised them both, and then they disbanded and dispersed. As they tried to follow the guy in the pink shorts, the dark street of earlier in the week resurfaced in Madison’s mind.

 

Juned Subhan is a writer from England and a graduate of Glasgow University (English Literature). His poetry and fiction have been published in numerous journals, including in Joyce Carol Oates’s Ontario Review. Currently, he is working on a novel.