Out of one’s milieu, places are strange, people curious. He journeyed always as a different person. As if to journey at all he had to step out of himself.
He had now been staying in the same hotel for ten days. The terrace, where he sat, looked out over a sea so intensely blue he had the sensation of being on the edge of space.
It was in the midst of such a sensation that his eye, looking outward, saw a figure walking across the water, blue as the sky and the water itself. With a start, he shook himself free from the mirage and saw it was a figure reflected in his glass. He turned round, to see a young woman moving up behind him. ‘Oh,’ he said, as if to say, ‘It’s you!’ But he didn’t know her. On the other hand, he felt he had always known her. She had risen from the sea to claim him. As if under the same spell, although there were plenty of seats, she sat down beside him.
‘You’re Ellison,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ he replied, although he wasn’t. ‘I’m your Mr Ellison.’ A wonderful strangeness took hold of him. The real Mr Ellison slid quietly into the past.
‘And you are?’
‘Emma Briscoe. You can call me Emma.’
She paused. He would get used to these pauses. Before love. After love.
An unusual confidence came over him.
‘You’d like a drink?’
‘Yes, that would be nice. Thank you.’
How did he know it would be gin and tonic? On the other hand, why would it not be? Most women favoured its gentle fizzy lift and subtlety. He favoured it himself. It’s soporific, he thought. Just the thing.
For what though? Where was his fancy taking him? She leant across to put a staying hand on his arm. ‘I like mine with lots of ice.’
‘And you shall have it thus,’ he said, rather grandly.
And so he sat beside her, saying little. He was quietly aware of his cognisance enveloping her presence, of the sweep of sea melting, far out, into a silver line, of the pale sun enhancing the pale blonde of her hair. It seemed they were floating in the tableau of a past, present, and future that was uncannily still. Amazing, he thought, but he knew he was going to stay with this happenstance all the way.
‘Things don’t start until tomorrow,’ she said after a long silence.
‘There is no tomorrow,’ he heard himself say. And he took up her coat and briefcase and led her to the bowl of the hotel to the dining room. ‘Lunch for two,’ he said to the waiter. All that they consumed was aphrodisiac to the coupling under a bay window that reflected the shine of the sea.
She let him make love to her without any resistance. So acceptable was their lovemaking he experienced a wonderful still joy that consumed him. He had never been so gentle, nor had he ever anticipated such an overwhelming, joyous response. She gave deep gentle sounds of satisfaction, all accepting in herself, of herself, and of their mutual surrender. And he likewise.
Presently the day darkened, the light had slipped away. He held her hand. It seemed insubstantial, as if it were paper. He tried to thrust his fingers through her hair but her hair didn’t hold them: turned to reassure himself with another meeting of mouths but her mouth was a slack foetal thing. A sense of isolation overcame him. He saw that the light had gone, that the sun had sunk below the thin blue line of the end of the sea. He bent his head with sad acceptance. It doesn’t do, he thought, for a lonely man to fall asleep on a seat by the sea.