There was a queue to check in his suitcase, a queue for security, a queue at the cigarette counter. There was a queue to get on the plane, even though Phil had forked out the five euro for priority boarding. A family of seven crowded into the seats in front, beside, and behind him, and spent the flight bickering and swapping places and being excited about air travel. Even the parents acted like it was their first time flying, like they had eaten too many sweets.
In Faro, he waited twenty minutes for his suitcase to come through the thick plastic flaps, and fifteen minutes at the lost luggage desk. He filled out three forms. As he was collecting the keys for his rental car, though, something reminded him that he was on holiday. Maybe it was the attendant’s smile, or the way her shorts crept up the back of her thighs when she leant down to get his GPS, but as he walked towards the rental lot, with the shining black tarmac under his feet and all that blue sky overhead, he felt the stress of his life in Dublin push up through his skin and out into the warm morning air like so much sweat.
He was looking forward to seeing his wife.
Two hours later he was lounging by the pool of his villa, cold beer in hand. Palm trees lined the perimeter of the garden, their paradise-shaped shadows reaching across the terracotta tiles. Jack and Saoirse were in the water, throwing around the beach ball he’d picked up on his way from the airport. Stretched out on her pink lilo, Carol bopped on the surface of the pool to the music of their childrens’ movements. Phil closed his eyes and felt the sun’s opiate rays on the skin of his face and his chest, and he lay still on the lounger and listened to the water splashing, the birds singing, his own breathing.
‘Will you cut it out!’
‘It was Jack,’ said Saoirse.
Carol rolled off her lilo and flopped into the water. She swam to the pool’s edge near where Phil was sitting, and, inhaling sharply, pushed herself up out of the pool. Phil watched her bronzed cleavage lurch and swell over the rim of her indigo swimsuit and felt his dick wake up. Carol was still a beautiful woman, from certain angles. Patting her face and shoulders with a white towel, she came over and stood close to his chair. He ran his index finger up the inside of her knee, intercepting the drops of pool water running down her leg. She stepped back out of his reach and towelled her hair.
‘Sandy asked us over for dinner tonight,’ she said. ‘Who’s Sandy?’
‘I told you about her. She’s in my Portuguese class.’ ‘Are you still doing those?’
‘You think I should have just quit?’
Phil took a mouthful from his beer.
‘What does she do?’
‘She’s writing her doctoral thesis, on geochemistry or something. Please don’t ask her about it, she can go on and on.’
‘It has to be tonight?’
‘Robert is going back to London in the morning.’
‘Her husband, Phil. I told you.’
‘I thought we’d have a quiet night in.’
She stopped drying her hair and looked at him.
‘I mean, it’s our first night together in nearly two months,’ he said. She resumed her towelling.
‘It’ll be fun, you’ll like her. And Robert’s a good laugh too.’
He drank another mouthful of beer.
‘We’ll bring the kids,’ she said. ‘We won’t stay late.’
After he had put Jack and Saoirse to bed for a nap, Phil stepped out into the sun room. Carol was collecting toys off the floor and rearranging the cushions on the sofas, and he stood for a moment and watched her. She wore lemon shorts and a light blue tank top that stretched across her breasts and the folds of her midriff. Most of the weight she had gained had settled on her trunk; her arse and legs looked almost as they did before she’d had children. He walked up behind her and reached around to place his palm flat against her stomach. She sniffed loudly and wrinkled her nose.
‘You’d better take a shower,’ she said, and she picked up the pile of toys and left the room. He looked out through the floor to ceiling windows at the For Sale sign on the front lawn, and wondered how he hadn’t noticed that on his way in.
Their en suite’s shower was also a sauna with built-in hydromassage jets. Phil splashed more water on the electric coals and relaxed on the fold-down seat. Breathing in the hot, thick air, he remembered the first time he had sat there. It was back when Saoirse was a baby and Jack an element of their family plan. The shower had been installed a few weeks before, while he was still in Dublin, as his birthday present to Carol. He’d been ushered out of his car, and his clothes, into the steaming heat, and she had gone straight onto her knees and given him a blow job. Then he remembered another time, before they were married, when she had spent a winter studying in Milan. He had surprised her half way through the semester by showing up at her flat, and he had fucked her, doggy style, right there on the carpet just inside her front door.
Through the steamed-up glass, he saw Carol walk into the bathroom, and he slid open the shower door with his toe. She put a towel next to the sink, and said over her shoulder as she left:
‘Don’t be all night in there.’
Phil knocked off the sauna and turned on the water jets. He moved his back and shoulders against the force of the spray, kneading his tired muscles, and thought, I’m going to miss this. He stepped out onto the cool tiles and dried himself off with the towel, then wiped the mirror and squared up to his reflection. The Carpe Diem tattoo that he had inscribed on his twenty-two-year-old pec sagged down either side of his nipple, like a frown.
‘I heard you got a new job.’
Phil looked up in surprise at Sandy, who was sitting across from his armchair on a giant bean bag. He wasn’t expecting to have to talk about this.
‘That’s right,’ he said.
‘Congratulations!’ She turned to Robert, who was leaning back into the couch, next to Carol. ‘Phil got a position in AIB’s repossessions department.’ Phil looked at Carol.
‘It’s a growth industry,’ said Robert.
‘The department’s actually six times bigger than it was two years ago.’
‘What were you in before?’
‘Account management. Carol says you work in the City?’
‘Bonds. Goldman Sachs. Went quiet there for a while but we’ve bounced back pretty strong.’
Phil nodded, and swirled the ice in his glass. Then he looked at Sandy. ‘Carol tells me you’re into geochemistry?’
‘I told you not to ask about her thesis.’
Carol kicked her shoes into the corner of their room and began taking off her jewellery. Phil walked up to her back and unzipped her dress.
You look great tonight,’ he said, easing the light fabric over the tanned skin of her shoulder. ‘You’re black.’
‘I know,’ she said, with what seemed like a wistful stare at her arm.
Phil rubbed his nose against her neck, then turned her around to kiss her on the lips. She didn’t open her mouth, and after a couple of seconds she eased his hands off her hips, went into the en suite, and began brushing her teeth. Phil picked up his iPod and scrolled through the artists, going straight for Marvin Gaye. He lodged it on the sound system’s dock, and as the room filled with the rich bass tones of In Our Lifetime, he draped himself across the bed. Carol came back from the bathroom and began setting the alarm clock.
‘I made an appointment for Saoirse at the optician’s in the morning.’
‘She looks so confused when she squints. Her new teacher will get the wrong idea.’
‘Sometimes she really is just confused.’
‘Can you take her?’
‘You want me to take her?’
She swung the hangers along the rail of her wardrobe, and chose a white T-shirt. ‘I’m playing tennis with Helen.’
Phil propped himself up on his elbow. She shrugged.
‘We play every Wednesday.’
‘You arranged the appointment for the same morning as your tennis game?’
‘It will give you a chance to spend time with the children.’
‘I’m taking Jack as well, then? He’ll want to get glasses too.’
‘Can you put the music down a bit?’
Phil lay back onto his pillow and looked at the ceiling. He only had ten days to relax and enjoy the pool and the beaches and bars, and for the very last time, assuming they managed to find a buyer for the villa. Carol had been here with the kids for almost two months.
‘How much is this going to cost?’
‘Half what we’d pay in Dublin.’
‘Could she not get them through the PRSI or something?’
Carol walked around to the sound system and lowered the volume.
‘It hasn’t come to that, has it?’
He held out his hand towards her. Ignoring it, she pulled back the sheet he was lying on top of and got underneath. With much pulling and tugging, he managed to squirm in beside her. He slid his body along the mattress and pressed himself against her side. He kissed her shoulder, her cheek, her neck. She lay still, and flinched a little when his lips reached her earlobe. He sighed and rolled back onto his pillow, and felt his blood flush up his neck and into his face. He counted back through the weeks to the last time they had sex. Eleven, he decided: seven since she’d been here, and another four before she left Dublin. He wanted to say something. He had no idea how to say it. Then he felt her shift her weight, and her hand reached down into his boxer shorts. He smiled and closed his eyes.
But then he wondered why she had changed her mind. Was she just humouring him? Did she feel sorry for him? He thought of her sitting close to Robert on his white leather couch, absorbed by his stories, laughing at his stupid jokes. Robert who was still pulling in a hundred grand a year plus bonuses. Then he remembered again that blow job in the shower, and he lifted his arm and rested his fingers on top of her head. She leant towards him and kissed his face, and began moving her hand a little faster. For some reason he thought of his suitcase, floating somewhere in that non- place between airports.
‘Nothing. Don’t stop.’
He rolled onto his side, facing her, and reached down in the direction of her clitoris.
At first she crossed her legs, but then in slow, smooth increments, opened them. She moaned softly in his ear, and he felt himself grow again in her hand. He pulled up her nightdress, and she lifted her hips off the mattress to let him slide off her knickers. Kicking away his boxer shorts, he crawled in between her knees and entered her. He smiled again, and concentrated on his dick and tried to control his breathing as they moved their hips in unison. His mind went back to her flat in Milan, and he remembered the heat of the carpet under his knees, the feel of her hair tight in his fist. Pulling out, he grabbed her calf with both hands and tried to roll her over onto her face.
‘What are you…?’
He remembered the ease with which he used to swing her around. Planting his foot a little to the side, he pulled again at her leg, trying to steer her into position. After a moment she seemed to understand and rolled over and lay flat on her stomach. He wanted her up on her knees.
I can do this, he thought. He dug his fingers into each side of her waist and took a deep breath and heaved her midriff six inches off the mattress.
‘What the…? Ow!’
She slipped out of his grip and fell back onto her stomach. He reached around her again, pushed his hands in under her hips, and gritted his teeth.
‘I can do this,’ he said.