Beach Scene by a_tannenbaumEdit


Beach Scene


I used to write a lot, a long time ago. I wrote all sorts of things: a diary, poems, letters, stories, and all my own advertising copy. It was pretty good, too. One thing you could say about it, it wasn’t stuff anybody else could have written.

But that was the first time around. The second time I didn’t write much at all except when I had to. I wrote essays at Girton and reports for the Met and for the BL, and they were as good as everything else I did. But they weren’t really important and I didn’t write anything else. Writing things down then was too dangerous, anyhow; writing has a way of getting into the wrong hands. I had a lot to hide: from him, from her, even from myself.

The third time began when I woke up in the hospital. Waking up took a long time, actually. I wasn’t all there, and in some ways I’m still not.

The questions started as soon as I got coherent enough to understand them. Then they got a bright idea, or rather took an old one from the Communist long interrogation technique. They gave me a notebook and said: write your life story for us, please.

She put a stop to all that, thank God. Joseph Carpenter decided he could still use me, even if he couldn’t trust me. But it got me into the writing habit again. I still keep notebooks. The memories come back in bits and pieces, like planks from a sunken ship washing up on shore, and when they do I write them down. Perhaps some day I’ll have enough to make a person out of them. They’re all I really have—or almost all.

So I’m jotting something down one day when she says, Nancy, you should write a story.

A story? Well, I can’t refuse her anything. So here it is. It’s even true.


I’m not very patient, as a rule, especially when it comes to things I want. But then again, some things are worth waiting for. So are some people.

I was in a good mood, so I didn’t mind much at first. I’d already had fun at the hotel that morning. I started off with a wonderful exchange of insults with Drake. Then I scrawled JOHN MAJOR SHAGS LOLLI on Joseph Carpenter’s Daily Telegraph when I saw it waiting on the breakfast tray outside his room. After that I took a long, slow walk past four handsome Spanish blokes sitting at poolside. It made for a nice warm-up.

It was a great day and a great place to wait, too. The sun was high and it was hot, but not too hot where we were. There was enough of a breeze coming off the water to make things just right. The sky was purest pale blue, an exact match for my string in fact. There wasn’t even a lot of glare, so I didn’t have much use for my sunglasses. I’d gone swimming a bit earlier, when we first got out there. She was too much of a chicken to do so, of course. The water was like a bath, just the way I’d draw one at home. The bottom of the cove was hard sand, with no stones or coral to cut your feet on. The sun dried me off very quickly when I was done.

I’d brought the things I needed. I was ready to carry them myself, but she insisted on stuffing them in her own hamper. I think that was just an excuse so that she could walk behind me and enjoy the view.

I make a smashing rum punch, and I’d mixed up a thermos full before we left the hotel. I had a gun, just in case: the M84 Beretta, along with two spare clips. I’m never without, even though she said I was being silly and Joseph Carpenter said it was “superfluous.” I also had my various lotions and creams. Bioengineering or not, it takes work to keep your body looking as good as mine.

She brought books, naturally. Half a dozen at least, I don’t know where she found room for them. I’d turned her on to Proust (the only decent pouf I’ve ever known), so she had a few volumes of that, as well as a couple of the Austens and Brontes that she’s read a million times.

I was lying right below the high-tide line and was she was just above it. She’d built a little beach library for herself with the books neatly arranged in two stacks, as safe from getting wet as she was.

I’d been lying right in front of her since I came out of the water. The others were there, too. That cramped things a bit. I don’t give a damn, but she does, bless her heart. She’s still the good English girl, what would the neighbours think and so on.

So we played our usual game. I stretched and turned now and then, just to see what it would do to her. I put another layer of lotion on and fiddled with the strings of my string. She snuck a peek at me once or twice when she thought I wasn’t looking: noticing but pretending not to notice. She’d give a quick glance, then blush and bury her face in "Swann in Love".

It can be a lot of fun, our little game, but it can also drive you mad.

Drake had guzzled a mai tai before leaving the hotel and had brought along a cooler with some beers. He was feeling no pain by now. He had been playing the fool for all he was worth: burying his boss in the sand, and chasing Wendy along the beach waving a piece of driftwood like a club.

I must admit the show was great to watch. It was worth the whole trip just to see Joseph Carpenter buried up to his neck and appealing for help. I had fun laughing at him and doing nothing.

Drake and Wendy had run about a quarter of a mile down the beach from us, but they came drifting back after a while. Drake was wet and didn’t have his club. Wendy looked extremely angry. She very rarely gets that way, but she’s frightening when she does. Drake looked very embarrassed.

“Honest, Wendy, I was just fooling around. You know I’d never hurt you.”

“I don’t know anything of the sort. Drake Anderson, you’re a disgrace when you’re drunk.”

“Well, did you have to push me in the water and hit me with that stick?”


“Now that you two have done playing Tarzan and Jane, do you suppose you could dig me out of this sand dune?” Joseph Carpenter asked. “I regret to say that Ms. Deep here—” He shot me a nasty glance—“Has been absolutely no help whatsoever.”

He didn’t say anything about my friend, of course. She’d been right there, too, reading away, but then she’s a bit of a pet with him. He often fails to treat her like an adult, which is one more reason why I can’t stand him.

“That’s Nancy to you, Joe,” I said to him. “We’re all on holiday, in case you’ve forgotten.”

Wendy glared at me. “Is that true? You wouldn’t help him?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” I said, grinning.

“Honestly, Nancy, how could you be like that?”

“Very easily,” I said. “I’m the bitch in this organisation, remember?”

Something moved behind her eyes. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I remember.”

She knelt down and began to dig up the sand with her hands. “Come on, Drake, this is all your fault,” she said.

“Oh, okay. I’m sorry, I guess.”

Between the two them they uncovered Joseph Carpenter pretty quickly. He had a little trouble standing up.

“Are you all right, sir?"

“Yes, Wendy, on the whole. Fortunately Mr. Anderson’s foolishness doesn’t seem to have done me any lasting damage. On the other hand, I have sand wedged in some very inappropriate places and my legs ache badly. I think I’ll go for a stroll round the point to get them fit again. Besides, I seem to have lost my taste for this company at the moment.” He looked at me and at Drake.

“Can I come with you, sir?”

“Yes, of course. We’re fellow victims, after all.”

Wendy picked up her picnic basket and they headed off down the beach without looking back.

That left just the three of us. It wasn’t an ideal combination.

Drake looked down at me. It wasn’t easy for him, poor man. It never was.

Normally I love the way men look at me, but in his case too many things were mixed up with it.

It was a pity. He looked damned nice in that little suit he was wearing.

“Hiya,” he said.


“How you doing?”

I smiled. It’s hard not to take the piss with him. “I’m always good, Drake. You know that.”

He looked past me. “Yeah. Guess I had too much, sort of.”

“It happens.”

“Uh-huh. Look, I think I’ll just go walk it off. I might take a while.”

“Good idea.”

He turned towards me again and his eyes got sharp.

“You two going to be OK by yourselves while I’m gone?”

“Yes, Drake,” I said. “We’ll be OK by ourselves.”


“Oh yes. Very positive.”

He nodded slowly and started off in the opposite direction from Joseph Carpenter and Wendy.

“Thanks, Drake,” I said.

If he heard me, he gave no sign. He didn’t look back either.


They were all gone.

I lay there for a while after Drake left, just enjoying it all. The sun felt wonderfully warm on my skin, and I let the warmth sink down inside me.

Now it was just the two of us, and everything was just right. I had no sense of urgency, no impatience at all. I knew what would happen, and I just wanted to let each second pass slowly and enjoy every one of them as they went by.

I turned and looked at her for a long time. Sometimes that’s almost enough by itself. I’d heard that was true for some people, but it had never happened to me with anyone before. I liked watching her read. So much of her is in her eyes.

I saw her eyes flicker in my direction, just for a second, before they went back to the page again. Then I was ready.

I stuck my leg out and poked her book with my toe. She gave a start and looked up.

“They’ve all left,” I said.

“Oh—yes, so they have.”

“As if you didn’t know. You are funny, aren’t you?” I said.

“I don’t understand. How am I funny?”

“I mean here we are, the two of us…But then there’s that straw in your fruit juice, for example.”

“Isn’t it cute, Nancy?”

“Yes, it certainly is that. You bought that in the hotel gift shop, didn’t you?”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” she said.

“And that swimsuit is undoubtedly the most unflattering thing I’ve ever seen you wear, which is saying a good deal. I imagine it would take you about a quarter of an hour to get out of it. I bet you’ve had that since you were fifteen.”

“How did you know?”

I laughed. “Call it my masculine intuition.”

She shrugged. “Oh, I know it’s a little old and all, but I just like it.”

“I know, it’s you. Besides," I said, “Nothing can really hide them anyhow.”

She turned a deeper shade of pink at that. She’s one of those English girls who will never be able to tan.

I looked up at her. “I’d like a purple drink,” I said.

“I’ll get you one,” she said. “I’ve a surprise for you with it, too.”

She handed me a thermos flask full of my punch. A heart-shaped pink-plastic straw, the mate of her blue one, was sticking out of it.

“Pink,” I said. “The girls’ color.”

“Do you like it?”

“I’ll cherish it. Thanks.”

I drank my punch through the straw, while she sipped her fruit cocktail.

“How’s the cocktail today?” I asked her.

“I must ask the hotel what recipe they use, it’s really excellent.”

“It ought to be, I spiked it with sambuca before we left the hotel.”

She burst into giggles and spattered juice down her front. I got some punch up my nose.

“You really enjoy teasing me, don’ t you Nancy?”

“Of course. Don’t you enjoy teasing me?”

“Well…” She looked down and wouldn’t meet my eyes. It’s something she does. That’s when you notice how long her eyelashes are.

She turned her head away and gazed off in the direction Drake had taken.

“They’ll be a while,” I said.

She nodded slowly. Then she turned back to me and looked at me shyly. She put her drink and her book down very carefully.

“I’m sorry I made you wait,” she said in a near-whisper. “It’s the books. It’s hard.”

“I’ll always wait.”

She crouched on hands and knees and crawled cautiously across the high-tide line. Then she came just a little closer, like a kitten trying to decide whether you were going to pet her or not.

I leaned back on my elbows and waited some more. I had to.

It couldn’t be me this time. It couldn’t be a surprise, or an accident, or some writer’s artistic experiment, either. It had to be all her.

The air between us was full of something I didn’t have a name for.

She reached out with one hand and caught the very loose knot of my string between her fingertips. Her fingers trembled, as if they were handling a lit fuse. Her lips parted, but she still couldn’t look at me.

Then she gave a gentle tug and the string came undone and it was all her at last. The only thing I had to do was to use my power a little. I let her in, just far enough, and held her there, and then it was perfect because she did it all, everything.

I remember looking into her glasses for a moment. She thinks he can still see through them. And for just a second, just before I stopped thinking completely, I thought that I had done what he hadn’t, that I had done what he couldn’t do. It was as if I was speaking to him. "Do you like what you see, Donny? Do I meet with your approval, am I good enough? Aren’t you jealous, Donny? Aren’t I the best book you’ve ever read through her eyes? Donny, Donny, Donny, if I can be half as good to her as you were I’ll be happy."

That took no time at all. Then the tide came in and went around and through us and carried us away.


There. Did you like that? Wasn’t that nice and poetic?

I know. I can hear you complaining as you sit there: “Come on, Makuhari, is that all? What about the naughty bits? What a bloody cheat, after all that build up. Suddenly you get all romantic and euphemistic, all crashing seas and so forth. You’re a prude after all, even you.”

I know, I know. To some extent I sympathise. I used to hate that in books and film too, the old fadeout just as things get real. But there are some things I simply can’t write, and now I think I know why fadeouts exist.

A prude? Me? There’s nothing I haven’t done. I know all the words, every one of them, in at least half a dozen languages. I use them all the time. I speak them to her, sometimes in a gentle whisper when we’re alone, sometimes more loudly when we’re in public. I do it to make her laugh or blush. She’s cuter than ever then. She knows very well what the words mean, though, and she shows me that she does. But that’s between us.

It’s all between us, which is why I can’t write some of it except in a certain way and can’t write some of it at all. Words are precious, she’s taught me that. When you tell a story about yourself you give away something of yourself, and what I have now is so precious I can hardly bear to give even a little bit of it away.

It’s different now anyhow. I could give you blow by blow with some people because I didn’t give a damn. I can’t do that now, with her. I told her once that it wasn’t like it is in books. She showed me that once in a while—once in a very great while—it is. And when it is, you have to use different words; or better yet, no words at all. Some text is better left sub.

She believes that, and because she does I’ve come to believe it, too. Drake’s right about her; she gets under your skin in more ways than one. You start to think like her, even without realising it.

She might read this, and that matters a lot. My only hope about writing now is that someday I can write something that will be worthy of her, something I won’t be ashamed to show to her.

By the way, it took her a lot less than a quarter of an hour. I was quite proud of her.


She lay down to rest after she was done. I left her and swam far out into the cove, naked and clean and happy. The water and the sky and the land were all beautiful. I turned over and swam on my back. Then I looked up and saw a glider far above the cove, swirling slowly on the updrafts like a great white pigeon.

I suppose I should have worried or wondered if it was Dokusensha or whomever, but instead I just admired it because it was so pale and graceful. I thought of Otto for the first time since I had killed him. I felt sorry for him. He’d never done anything but rave about his gliders. Poor Otto, I thought, all you really needed was what I have now.

I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what Joseph Carpenter was up to or what he would do next. I knew I didn’t trust him any more than he trusted me, and I knew he hated me for taking her away from him.

I didn’t even know if it would last. I knew I was competing with a dead man, with a pretty and mixed-up girl far away, and with every book ever printed. I knew that she would always be shy, always hesitant and uncertain. We would still play our game.

Yet right then, that day, none of it mattered. Everything was perfect. That’s why I’ve written it down, so that I can take it out and have it again even if someone tries to play tricks with my memory.

The sun was starting to get lower. I was far out in the cove, almost far enough to see the points, but I couldn’t see any of the others. They hadn’t started back yet. They were giving us all the time in the world, though I wasn’t sure why. That was nice of them.

I couldn’t take it for granted, though. I swam back in and when I got in far enough I stretched my legs and found the bottom. I walked in from there, hiding nothing, to where she lay waiting for me.

This time it was my turn.

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