The season of bare shoulders

Isabelle remembers when he used to look like that, when the sight of his chest made her draw breath deeply, like drinking, and her hunger sighed in her, ancient and strong.

There was a time when Elliot could not see past her, when the mere whisper of her skin deafened him to everything else, and his heart sang like a choir, sacred and breaking.

Now, in their luxury condo paradise of honey breeze and cobalt sky, they find themselves in hell, each staring quietly at the half naked throng below. It is holiday season again and the town is filled to the lip, swimming in careless young perfection. On their balcony overlooking the Esplanade Isabelle and Elliot eat a healthy lunch, dying behind their shades, their silence an ungodly din.

She follows the chimera of lost sex down to the sand and wades in the shallows while the boys strut, tanned muscles silver with salty sweat and ocean. Their broad smiles and invincible swagger make her bite her bottom lip, an involuntary reflex of fire.

Not far behind, Elliot lingers, drowning in girls. He sees the tight stretch of fabric over firm breasts, the swooping arrow of valleys, and he feels like the rigid and unlovable rocks at the northern end of the beach; worn down by glory.

Neither have spoken of it, yet each knows it to be true. It is the verdict of mirrors. An accumulation of familiarity. The finality of bones.

…yet still he shaves with particular care, and she wears her ruby dress, the one that some find a little too daring.

The real estate agent did not tell them that they would spend their well-heeled days looking down from their spacious two-bedroom apartment upon the dreadful river of time. In both their hearts the echoes of heat and wonder resound, unifying them, prising them inexorably apart. From their absolute beachfront they watch an invasion of fine white sand, scratching away the vestiges of old polish.

In the mornings they jog, keeping as fit as they can, running from the shadows that follow. Of late, they have stopped half-way to share gossip with a younger couple. Isabelle and Elliot in baggy tops, the other two shirtless and firm.

She wants to follow a line of sweat with the tip of her index finger, down past his navel.

He wants to lift a stray hair from her face, brush it tenderly back behind her oyster soft ear.

“Do they remind you of us?” she asks him.

“Almost everything does,” he answers solemnly.

“I wonder where they’ll be in thirty-four years,” she muses.

“In love hopefully,” he says with a hiccup she cannot fail to understand.

Back in the master bedroom, they enact scenes of yore, trying to taste with flesh what now only fruits in thought. She engulfs him with a lifetime of knowing, and he streams into her like a ribbon of forever. In the closed-eye momentum of climbing they are briefly Lazarus. Elliot smells the sugar cane sweet of his darling. Isabelle rests her palms on the platform torso of her champion. It is gentle, predictable; nothing at all like the white light mystery they wish they had left unsolved.

If he could be totally honest with her, he would say, “I wish I didn’t know you.”

In reply, she would add, “If only you had kept more secrets.”

Over time, theirs were shown to be ordinary treasures, unearthed without drama. Now they have retired to the tropics with them. They are plentiful, like the near constant weather in their adopted part of the world. Yet, for all the predictable sunshine, there is an insidious burning, more like cancer than flames, warming to kill by stealth.

Unless they do something about it.


Next morning on the beach they catch their breath with their young friends.  Together, they complain about the tourists and agree to meet for dinner.

“Come round to our place,” the young man offers.

“He’s great in the kitchen,” his girlfriend boasts; and in this the older couple detect salacious undertones. Or so they believe. Hope. Fear.

Isabelle and Elliot wonder what to wear and allow themselves to imagine what might happen with a few too many drinks. Almost certainly nothing, just headaches and fantasy, yet still he shaves with particular care, and she wears her ruby dress, the one that some find a little too daring.

They walk in dusky syrup through streets sexed with necklines low and buttons undone. It is the season of bare shoulders, and everything smells and sounds and shakes with the subterranean rumble of feeding. The tropics are abundant. Fecund. Life inviting life.

“I think this is it,” Isabelle says, as they come to halt in front of a ramshackle, weatherboard bungalow. They can hear music coming from within. The kind of thing their kids listen to. There is a hint of incense.

Elliot holds his breath. For a moment he pictures the younger woman. Legs. Short skirt. Then remembers when his wife’s hemline used to float like a strand of feathers above skinny knees; and he when looks down, they are still there. She is still Isabelle. The rest is time.

Isabelle follows her husband’s gaze and smiles. “Sometimes,” she whispers, her hand on his forearm, “I don’t have to remember.”

After all, it is the season.





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