Today’s SFB story comes to us from guest author Mike McCarthy. Mike lives with his family in Germany. He has published several stories on fictionontheweb.co.uk. Enjoy.
How the hell am I going to tell her?
There´s an old couple, mid seventies, at least. They´re like us, not age wise, but
in their habits. Every evening we all wait until the other hotel guests have gone
in to get ready for their evening meal.
Then we go into the pool. That is me, my girl friend and the man. He reminds
me of a Greek shipping magnate. Maybe it´s his chiseled features, deeply
tanned, dried out skin and floppy, grey, slightly too long, hair.
So we swim, the three of us, I´m usually in the middle, for some reason, while
the man´s wife sits on a lounger swathed in some garish, multi-coloured
voluminous garment, reading a book through her huge wrap around shades
under that old beehive hair style, a wobbly, towering edifice of rigid, sprayed,
blond locks, like the leaning Tower of Pisa.
She´s a voracious reader. I don´t know what she´s reading or has read since I
first started observing them, but I do notice, every evening, she has a different
There´s something about measuring your life by the number of books you´ve
read, or even that the type of books you read has some bearing on your longevity
or your health. Yes, it´s ill formed as far as theories go but I´m working on it.
Every now and again the man´s wife looks up and watches her husband,
sometimes they exchange glances. I don´t detect any great feeling in these
glimpses, but they seem to be important to them.
My girl friend usually stays in the pool longer than me. I try to at least equal her
time in the water but I just hit a block and then I give up. I think I’ve got the
lowest boredom threshold in the history of mankind. I get out first, even before
the man, giving my girl friend a brief wave.
Finally, the high point of my day comes. My girl friend steps out of the pool,
Aristotle carries on swimming inexorably. My girl friend is smiling, she´s got
one over on me, again. But that´s OK, we´re not competitive.
She stands in front of me and smoothes her hair back. She´s got a vulnerable sort
of face. More so, inexplicably I feel, when she smiles. Which she does, a lot.
Anyway, that´s my signal to go to the bar. I love this sequence. I don´t want it to
end. From the second she looks at me and everything that follows until we go to
our room, I would like it all to be on a continuous loop, like Groundhog Day.
I go to the bar and order two large ouzos in long glasses with ice.
I always have a chat with the barman during the day, usually about football and I
always leave a tip. He in turn is very generous with the ouzo.
I look around, just as my girl friend is bending over her beach bag. She pulls out
our books and puts mine on my lounger.
I watch her fiddling around with the contents of her beach bag, taking things out
and rearranging and lying things beside her, as I carry the glasses over. I always
get the same feeling at this moment, I have to bite my lip to stop the tears. She
looks up, sliding on her sun glasses and gives me an innocent wave. She always
How the hell am I going to tell her?
As I sit down I hand her her glass and she grabs and twists the tip of my nose.
We clink glasses, smile and open our books.
This is what I call my ouzo moment. Sheer perfection. Well, it was.
I can´t concentrate on reading today, my eyes keep wandering over to Ari and
his wife. I bet they´ve been married forever. Children, grand children maybe
even great grandchildren. I bet he´s opened bank accounts for all of them. He
looks like a typical pater familias. I can see him sitting at the head of a long
table, groaning under the weight of a boozy banquet in a big, tree shaded
garden, dispensing words of wisdom to his family members. Holding court with
a glass of red wine, his wife beside him, probably cradling one of the small
Then it happens, I suddenly find myself locking eyes with the woman, after
we´d both been watching Ari. I nod at her, feeling embarrassed. She gives me a
funny look I feel and goes back to her book.
She can sense it. Body language reveals more than we realize, so say the
I lean back, watch her through half closed eyes, and catch her staring at me.
As I return to my book I notice Ari is floating on his back. He´ll do this for a
short while before getting out. Sure enough, after a couple of minutes he wades
to the side and hoists himself out of the pool.
The skin on his body is brown and leathery and is starting to hang from him like
it´s melting in slow motion. I can see he was once a well built man. He´s short
and stocky with an intimidating barrel chest and a big gut. He´s got a stern,
arrogant expression on his face, a ‘don´t fuck with me’, manner.
My girl friend, well she´s more than that, we´ve been together more years than
we haven´t, has still got her nose buried in her book. She told me it´s about a
small boy who´s been kidnapped. She finds stories where children are the
principal characters riveting.
To be honest, she´s a bloody diamond. I´d be lost without her. I´m sure she´d
cope much better without me. Then again, I´ve always thought of women as the
She´s got her towel, Fulham Football Club, she´s a big fan, draped over her
shoulders. Her book is balanced on her knees and she´s holding her glass
balanced on the book.
There´s a light, welcoming breeze so the glass serves as a paper weight.
I hope the breeze is the prelude to some rain, just to break the intense heat we´ve
been labouring under. I´m no great sun worshipper, give me the shade any day
of the week, but my girl friend, she loves it. That´s why we´re here.
I´m reading a book about the Stones, the millionth, probably. I´m a sucker for
books about the rock star heroes of my generation, especially Mick and the
boys. I think, as long as the Stones are around, everything in my life will be OK.
Even they can´t keep going forever, though.
My glass is half full and I want to down it in one and order another. I think I
should resist the temptation. My girl friend wouldn´t like it. She´s not a killjoy.
She´d be right though. When I start, I find it difficult to stop.
Ari is squatting in front of his wife, with his back to us. He´s gesticulating
excitedly about something, while his wife is trying to attract a waiter´s attention.
She must have succeeded because she´s now holding two fingers in the air.
Her book is in her other hand and I can just make out the cover from here. I can
see a picture of what looks like a woman in a huge, flowing green dress standing
on the battlements of a castle, I think her hand is shielding her eyes as she stares
in to the distance. I have a feeling, longingly.
Just as Ari sinks slowly onto his lounger the waiter arrives with a small tray and
two long glasses containing a dark liquid and a portion of what looks like
Ari hands the waiter some money and salutes him.
They each take a glass and then, as if by mutual agreement, they look at me and
raise their glasses, smiling. I can´t believe it. I wave back awkwardly. Ari then
pulls a pile of papers out from a plastic bag, slips on his black rimmed glasses
and starts thumbing through them.
Are they us in the future?
This feels like a film, where something innocuous happens that is the prelude to
an unpredictable and life changing series of events. Or the truth leaks out.
My girl friend reaches out a hand and scratches my head, but she never lifts her
eyes from her book.
How the hell am I going to tell her?
Today is the first day for ages when she hasn´t made a reference to her figure.
Up to now she´s always left her towel at the edge of the pool so she could wrap
herself in it, preventing anyone looking at her body. Today she doesn´t care,
she´s much more relaxed. It makes me think of my physical deficiencies.
I´m no oil painting, anymore I should say, my girl friend always used to tell me I
was good looking. Used to. But now, she always says, that was never the
attraction for her.
I´m still fit, but I can feel the passing of time. I´m still slim, but my face is well
and truly ravaged and I´ve got the beginnings of a potbelly. I´ve still got my
hair, all grey now. And, well, I´m worried. Worried sick, actually.
I glance up, Ari is ploughing through his papers like a man possessed.
Although she´s past her best, she´s not the only one, Ari´s wife still exudes class
and an acceptance of her deterioration. I can´t see much of her face or body but
she´s got something she´ll never lose. Bearing.
I notice the way she looks at Ari, you can tell a lot by the positioning of the
She takes it all in, his barely concealed frustration with his own mortality and
the fact that his wife is no longer the Roman goddess of her younger years.
That´s it, I´ll call her Diana.
Diana can read him like a book. She knows he still considers himself a potent
and virile force. A macho.
Time waits for no man, Ari.
She´ll always be there for him. Will he for her?
My girl friend is tolerant. I´ve seen that look in her eyes when I drink too much.
She´ll never leave me. She´d do anything for me.
I would for her. Now more than ever.
She´s reading and sipping her drink. She´s in her own little world. I bet it´s a
lovely place to be. I should know. I´m in it.
Ari would leave Diana, his ego demands it. He would consider himself helpless.
Just one more fling, I bet he´s had more than a few, before he slides into his
dotage. But the likes of Ari always need one more one last time.
Do Ari and Diana see themselves in us? Maybe that´s why Diana gave me that
funny look. No. She knows.
My girl friend is turning the pages faster now and she´s finished her drink. I
really fancy another one, it seems appropriate somehow.
‘Fancy another one?’ I ask her hopefully.
She looks up immediately.
‘If you can´t over indulge on holiday, when can you?’ She laughs.
She knows I´m dying for one.
I head for the bar, the barman is under siege, but as soon as he sees me he
prepares two very generous ouzos. Furthermore, he indicates payment is not
necessary. I smile. I won´t forget that.
I bring the drinks back. My girl friend takes hers absent mindedly, but then
remembers and we touch glasses.
It´s funny, I´ve been taking her for granted for ages, but since we´ve arrived
here, I´ve changed for the better.
She notices it. She would have waited for ever.
Better late than never. Is that true, if it´s too late?
Ari is waving his arm like a drowning man trying to attract the waiter, their
glasses are empty. He´s just not the type to go and get his drinks. He has to be
I bet he´ll have to pay. Eventually the waiter notices him and after another
prolonged wait, brings their drinks over. I think he made Ari wait deliberately.
And Ari does have to pay. In fact, he almost throws a note at the waiter and
waves him away imperiously. I see Diana´s lower face tighten. Ari´s definitely
got previous in his dealings with staff. Diana doesn´t like it. Not one bit.
I bet he´s more than capable of throwing the odd tantrum. Maybe not just the
My girl friend´s coming to the end of her book. I don´t have to look to know. I
can hear how rapidly she is turning the pages.
I don´t want that book to end.
She´s forgotten her drink, I´m tempted to pour some into my glass.
There´s a tear running down her cheek, for some reason.
No! It´s not possible. Of course not. It must be the book.
I look over at Diana, she´s glaring at Ari. He´s cursing and screwing up pages
and hurling them in the vague direction of a rubbish bin.
My Stones´ book is lying face down on my lounger. I´m enjoying it. I´m at a
crucial part where they´re about to go into tax exile and record my all time
favourite Stones’ album, ‘Exile on Main Street’.
Maybe, if I never finish it I`ll……?
Diana´s becoming increasingly distracted by Ari´s behaviour. She should be
used to it by now. She ought to concentrate on the many high points I´m sure
they´ve had. All she´s got to do, and him as well, if he could spare some of his
precious time, is to reminisce about all those children.
My girl friend and I never got around to even talking about talking about having
children. Was that a conscious decision? I would say sub-conscious.
I´ll have to read back over what I read today. Supposing I don´t?
My girl friend won´t need to. Nor will Diana. Ari won´t care. I wonder if he´s
ever read a book. I can´t imagine it somehow. Maybe he reads to his grand
children. I can imagine that, but with one eye on his watch.
How the hell am I going to tell her?
I think she already knows.
She´ll bring up the subject tonight.
She´s made of sterner stuff than me.
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