The beach at Basin Head was bright and hot in the summer, and it was empty. We felt like we had the whole island to ourselves. At the base of the first hill the view opened to grass and sand against the far blue of the ocean beyond. There was a small canal dissecting the two halves of beach. An unoccupied white lifeguard chair was off to one side. We wore sandals to not burn our feet on the hot sand.
There was a little bridge over the canal that Patti remembered from her family’s trips to the east. We stood at its middle, leaned over, and stared into the deep, cold waters that led to the Atlantic.
She talked about how she used to jump off the bridge with her brother and swim out by the canal.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to do that anymore,” I said. “Look at the sign.”
“That’s stupid,” she said. “People are so afraid of getting hurt. It’s just water.”
“I guess it’s because it’s unsupervised.”
Patti rocked gently against the railing and I knew she was remembering.
“Do you want to do it anyway?” I asked.
“Not really. Do you?”
“No. Let’s just go to the beach.”
We crossed the bridge and headed down to the water. When I look back at it now I think she probably wanted to jump.
The sand was uncomfortable in our sandals. We set out our towels beside each other, put on sunglasses, laid down, and started tanning. I was paler than the sand. The ocean made a soothing sound and that was all I could hear as I lay still, with sand in my hair, seeing reddened sunlight through closed eyelids. In little time, I shifted onto my stomach, lay my head down on crossed arms and felt the sun on my back. I turned to look at Patti. She had her eyes closed yet turned away from me.
Maybe we were tired.
When we were too hot, and my shirt was burning on my back, we went into the sea and stood like pylons, waiting for some boat to do circles around us.
“I wonder what Arnie’s doing right now,” she said finally.
I tried ignoring her by digging a hole in the sand beneath the water with my foot. I sank purposefully into the bottom. “Why do you care what he’s doing now? I thought you were done with him,” I said.
“I am. I am so done with him.”
Her lips shut tightly. I realized I had never seen her this close to naked. Her skin was so bright. Somehow, I looked away.
When she went to dry off, I stayed out in the waves doing a front-crawl so I didn’t look too eager to follow her in. In a minute I was bored, so I sat on the shallow seabed and looked across the ocean. It’s fun because the ocean keeps lifting you up and over, rolling back and pushing under you, until you’re further out than you ever expected to be.
As I looked back to the beach I probably stared. I went back.
We sat in silence for a half hour, enjoying the way the waves moved. As I could feel myself begin to burn, I watched the round olive skin of her shoulder, or the place above her bikini bottom, rise and fall with her breath.
“We could stop for dinner tomorrow. I think we have enough money for it,” I said.
“What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking lobster. We haven’t had lobster yet.”
“Well, we have to have lobster. We can’t come to the East Coast and not have lobster.”
“Okay, sounds good.”
Again, I looked away. I wanted things so badly I felt it all down my back. The waves offered no words.
“It’s getting hot. Want to go back in?” I said.
“Nah, I don’t really feel like more swimming. Do you want to just go now?”
We hadn’t been there for long. But we rolled the towels and left.
Patti had my beat-up camera and wanted to take a picture of us together. She held it as we smiled and embraced, with a space in between so the camera would later show a stretch of sand separating us, and she took the picture. I could feel her skin, still wet.
We walked back across the bridge. I felt close to the ocean. It was comforting to watch something so limitless.
On the sandy trail back to the gift shop and washrooms, there were outdoor showers. They looked like sad, upturned flowers. We turned on the water. It was almost better to be dirty the water was so cold. We had travel-sized shampoos in the backpack I handed first to her. We showered together in our swimsuits. We avoided looking at each other as we washed our hair, though of course I did look at her: wet and shiny and exquisite — flushed from the sun.
Streams of water flowed from her hair as she leaned and twisted it out in the sand.
We used the sinks in the separate bathrooms afterward to brush our teeth. We couldn’t afford to stay in hotels.
I came out before she did so I walked around the gift shop for something to do. I could still only hear the ocean, except the sound now mixed with a distant wind chime. I listened to the metallic ringing and thought I could hear the sink run in the women’s bathroom. I thought of running water — and of baths.
Another pair of tourists finished their walk on the beach and came up the trail. One was a friendly-looking man in his fifties, sunburned and largely built. He was with his wife, who wore a big white beach hat and a matching white outfit. His wife went into the washroom and he waited outside beside me.
“Beautiful day, it is,” he said.
“Me and my wife, we are from Montréal” — I noticed his slight accent then — “We come here every summer.”
“It’s a good vacation. And it’s much cheaper than going overseas,” I said. It felt like I was looking past him. I didn’t feel like giving him the time of day.
He smiled. “Where are you from?”
“A long drive also. My son he lives there.”
“It is nice there too.”
“Yes, it is.”
Patti and the man’s wife came out of the bathroom together, also making conversation, and suddenly I felt very old and married, as if we were two retired couples on some Mediterranean cruise together. I looked down into an imaginary champagne glass. It had the word ‘fiftieth’ written across the side in lipstick.
The man was very careful not to ask what we were, and I was careful not to tell him.
We made small talk. Patti really seemed to like them, but not enough to stay too long. We left the beach, and ended up leaving the province in the morning.
We stopped in the parking lot of a church and I pissed in the bushes while she read magazines in the van. We had a makeshift bed in the back seat. It was the only place to sleep.
As she fell asleep her hand came out from the blankets and made its way around my chest.
I turned away from her. But I kept her hand around my stomach.
Sometime in the night she must have realized what she was doing and slid it back to her side, hoping not to wake me.
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