A Sleepy Sky
David stood on the beach, looking at rocks, and pondering, not for the first time this trip, the idea that he has been unable to shake for a month or so, that all relationships seem to either start in cliche, or end in cliche, or both.
Because of this, he didn’t notice the approach of the not-too-tall girl with the almost-pear shape and the sun-hat in her hand. When she spoke, it caught him by surprise – at the same instant, without realising, he makes her for a local.
“Odd, ain’t they?” Is the first thing she says to him. David didn’t used to be able to tell the difference between an Australian and a New Zealand accent, but at some point since getting to the island, his ear had learned the difference. He couldn’t tell you what that difference was, but he could hear it. He suspected, that like almost everything else, his ears were smarter then he was.
Somewhere deep, he felt a pleasant flush at the fact that no conversation he had ever had had started exactly that way.
“Oh…!” He said. And then, recovering: “Yes, yes they are.” He turned to her, and that’s when he saw the not-quite-ripeness of her figure, the almost-smallness. She was looking out at the rocks, and after a beat too long of taking her in, he returned his attention to them. They stood in silence. He tried not to think about the cuteness of her dark hair and pixie features, or the smart choices that she had made in outfit, the summer dress, the straw hat.
After all, this trip was supposed to be about grounding himself again. The cliched ending that he’d left back home was one of the nastier ones – the ex-girlfriend doing a hatchet-job on the man’s character and confidence on the way out of a still-twitching relationship – and falling for some foreign cutie that he’d never see again seemed like just the sort of stupid that someone with impeded judgement and something to prove to themselves might be capable of.
“They remind me of that show, ‘Monkey Magic’?” She said. She held her forearm across her forehead, shading her eyes as she looked up at him. “You know, the one where the hairy fella smashes out of a big stone egg at the beginning?”
He looked back at her, a little taken aback. “You remember that?”
“Fuck yeah. I loved that show.”
“That or a giant stone testicle, but, y’know, didn’t want to make a bad impression.”
She cracked a broad grin at the side of his face, until she was satisfied to see the start of a smile form there, and then plopped the hat on her head proudly.
“Leah”, by the way.” She said, clearing a patch of sand flat, and sitting.
“Oh, yeah, I’m David. I’m just… on holiday…” He hunkered down, trying to meet her halfway.
“Shocker… Which part of England are you from, David?”
“Oh, you won’t know it… It’s in the South. Southerton?” He blushed, as if giving away that much information meant he was no longer hidden, anonymous, a stranger abroad.
“Seriously?” She beamed at him, eyes wide. “I live in Postmouth, about, what, half-an-hour away?”
He looked incredulously back at her. “That seems a little bit implausible, doesn’t it?”
“No!” She wrinkled her nose at him. “We go shopping in Southerton all the time. On the main precinct, and down at the MallLand there. Cheeky arse. I wouldn’t lie!”
“Sorry, I mean… you just… Sound like you’re from here.”
“I was, once. Came back for a funeral. Flying back later today.”
“Oh, sorry to hear that. Anyone close?”
She grinned at that. “Well, I flew out here to watch them get buried. What do you think?”
They sat there, in more silence. It was something that the place had an abundance of.
“A big concrete walnut.” He blurted.
“God’s marbles.” She responded.
“Mountain poo.” He almost snickered.
She laughed at that. He liked how that felt.
“Are they actually…? I mean, are they actual stone spheres, sitting on the beach but half-submerged, or, what, just half-spheres, that look like full ones because of the reflection?” David asked, and then instantly regretted, feeling self-conscious about not knowing.
“I don’t have the first clue, to be honest.” She said, allowing puzzlement onto her face. “It’s an interesting question. You could stick around and wait for low tide, have a look-see.”
Silence again. Here in New Zealand, here with her, silence seemed a comfortable option.
“So what brings you out here by yourself, David? Why were you stood alone, all moody on a beach?” She played absently with the sand at her feet, digging holes for them. “You look too old and tired to be a backpacker.”
“You know what I mean…” He faked a sulk. “Oh, c’mon, don’t be daft. You must only be a couple years older then I am. But I mean… It’s not a cheap trip. It’s not a typical summer holiday kind of place. Most people, on their own, they come here either ‘cos they think it’ll change their life, or to get away from it.”
“Jesus, you don’t know a bloke called Harris, do you? You sound just like him…” David settled back onto his back, closed his eyes. “If you must know, I had a bad break-up, a couple of months ago. A really bad one. I had to take some time off work – well, they kind of forced me to. And I’ve just haven’t seemed to be able to put things back together since.”
He kept his eyes closed, more because he was uncertain of what her reaction would be, and he suddenly seemed to care very much about it.
“So, well, to change my life, or to run away from it? I guess this trip was kind of both.”
“Oh, hell, I’m sorry.” The softness in her voice brought his eyes open, and he looked across at her.
“It’s fine. What about you? Is there a boyfriend waiting back with your luggage?”
“Well, a husband.” She looked down, blushing. “Except, well, he’s back in England. He didn’t want to come out with me. Tell the truth, I didn’t much want him to.”
They chatted some more, about old TV shows that they both loved, or hated, or about which they could argue; about long distance travelling; about the places he should visit in his remaining few days. It was still a long way before low-tide when she stood up, and brushed sand off of her bottom. He got to his feet awkwardly.
“Time to off, then?” He said.
“‘Fraid so. I haven’t really left enough time to pack, so…” She smiled shyly up at him, and held out her hand. “It was very nice meeting you, David. Good luck back home.”
“Nice meeting you too, Leah.” He shook her hand carefully, aware of how small her fingers were in his own. “I don’t suppose… should we exchange numbers? I mean, just in case you’re shopping one day and fancy a coffee?”
“Well, now, I’m a strong believer in fate…” She said. “I mean, I’m sure that if we met all the way out here, and we’re supposed to cross paths again, it’ll happen in it’s own time.” Her mouth creased again, coyly, as the hand-shake ended. She looked up at him for a second longer then you’d think, and then dropped her eyes away, seeming to think about something.
When she looked back up at him, she was beaming again. And then she was off up the beach.
David sat back down, and sat a while longer, but not long enough to answer his question about the stones. His mind swam, only half with thoughts about her, and half abuzz with metaphors and philosophies and such. He thought about how the spheres were, their lower hemisphere submerged, or only a reflection, and likened it to everything – to being south of the equator, and how his own life, back in that other hemisphere, felt like it was underwater compared to this one.
In short, he thought too much. But he realised that that was down to this new, utterly charming, and utterly unattainable girl. He’d likely never see her again, he guessed, but that was almost okay. This way, he got to feel that bright new spark of attraction; to forget, or rather, to fail to remember, the sour taste of the last girl who made him feel this way, who set him thinking of possibilities and deeper truths.
He might never see her again, but that was okay. This way, it’d always be one of those meetings, that had so much potential, and couldn’t be ruined by two egos vying with each other over too much time.
He started to get a little hungry. He walked back up the beach, back to where his rental car was parked, solitary and road-dusty. There was a small piece of paper, folded and propped under the wiper. He opened it.
There was a phone number written there, in blue ink, with an area code that he recognised from back home. Underneath it, in tidy, feminine block-capitals were three words: Sod fate anyway!
David smiled as he got in the car, and smiled all the way back to the motel.
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