I sat with the small plastic cup in my hand. The door was locked. The corridors echoed with brisk footsteps. I could feel my wife flicking through Good Housekeeping in the waiting room. I wondered if it looked better for me if I was out of there quickly or took some time.
'I'll leave you to it,' she said, kissing me as much as she would in public. It was embarrassing enough without us going in together. I imagined the nurse winking as I left. It was better on my own.
‘Think about love, good karma,’ my wife said. I promised I would.
The magazine lay open. I wondered if some nurse had bought it, if it was part of her job. I wondered how long it had been here and how many other guys had sat looking at all these girls. Summer issue. I gazed past naked golden curves to the shore line. I wriggled my toes inside my shoes hoping to unearth sand from my soles. I felt nothing, one grain at a time my seaside mementos had been shed. One day at a time, a grain of sand shed till the glass of a couple of hours was dry.
I looked at the magazine and thought of cupie dolls in a row in shiny stores of mementoes. Postcards, ashtrays, chimes, buckets and spades, barometers with the seaside town’s name. There was an old couple walking round the store holding hands. They seemed happy. We watched them rake through the display of lobster crates to purchase commemorative shells. I saw you take note of them, the elastic of their faces loosened by years of smiles stretched between them. I said, ‘I wonder what they’re going to do with all those shells?’
‘Maybe he’s using them for a project,’ you said.
You looked at the couple and smiled, ‘He’s going to cover his wife’s entire body in shells.’
I pictured him with glue trying to preserve the woman he loved in one place and time. I pictured my wife somewhere on her lunch hour reading baby magazines. It didn’t matter. We walked side by side towards the pier.
‘We’re going to have stop,’ I said. You nodded sadly. What we were stopping wasn’t clear. It wasn’t as overt as touch, it was more time off. It started as going to survey buildings for work and taking our time going back.. When we were with each other we imagined if we leaned slightly closer, if we licked from the same ice-cream with different timing… It was a whole other world of possibility. Together we imagined ourselves beyond ourselves.
‘I mean, I feel bad, here, with you, while my wife keeps setting herself with hope, then being knocked down. Since she ...’ You stopped me there.
‘I know. I keep saying we’re doing nothing wrong. We are.’
You bought a sugar mouse. In the little room with artificial flowers I picture you sucking it slowly, its small features dissolved by your tongue. In a desperate act of trying to create fun, in an act of something we went on a Ferris wheel then stopped to have a photo taken of us on the pier. We stood behind cardboard cut outs and poked our faces through a picture of a muscle bound man and a woman with comic proportions in a string bikini. I was the woman, you were the man. Our eyes turned towards each other, aware of our comedy bodies so much easier our own. I put the Polaroid in my pocket as we walked across the dunes. I wanted to keep the photo as long as I could, a few hours. On the train home I stared at it, trying to burn it into a space behind my retina before I placed it carefully in the gutter near the station. I wanted someone to see it on a lonely walk home and look at it, for someone to be for a second in the presence of us as if we were real. I wanted them to recall seaside mementos of my own.
Maybe it was a dumb thing to do. It was possible the wind would blow if to the feet of my wife. By then it may be bleached by the sun, dirty and damp. I'd look at the image of the two of us and would hardly recognise it, deny it was us. Was there one?
My wife has no mementos of anything. She made a display of burning old photographs and cinema tickets, the relics of previous loves, the day we moved in. The stubs we make on holidays, trains, she just throws away. I bought no mementoes that last idle day. We didn't want to hurt anyone. We sat on the dunes so close our shadow cast one shape of our separate bodies. I smelt the salt and coconut on your skin. You were burning, your shoulders pink as the outside of a stick of rock with no writing in the centre. There were no words we could say.
I unbutton my flies, stare at the blurred sea line on a page and take a scrap of hardly anything from my wallet. It’s a pale layer of longing, the blistering strip I peeled off your skin, the delicate lines in it like an onion shedding a layer. Your skin, with no identifying marks to show it is you, is dry as paper, opaque. I keep it between the pages of a book. It looks like nothing. I hold it to my lips until the plastic cup is half full.