I’m finding it more than difficult to put down in words all I know, and all that I would rather not know. Only I can tell you how I see the world, and how last summer played out for me. But I am an unreliable witness, so you shouldn’t trust me completely. I am painting a picture of what my life was like back then, and the enormity of the changes that ensued.
I was never unhappy – I was just dull. A robot going through the mechanisms of what I thought were the normal things to do. Waking up in the morning became a task only to be elevated when I took up full-time smoking. Without a job, my days were filled with reading, listening to my records, and taking long walks down to the pictures to watch old black and white movies. David would often get annoyed at me if I walked home late after dark. He always said it wasn’t safe for a woman to be walking alone in the dark; that it was unusual. I liked the darkness. In the evening, when the sun had set and the world quietened down, I would walk back in a peaceful slumber, peering through the warm, yellow windows of families settling down in front of the TV, or couples on their porches reading. Maybe it was unusual for a woman to be taking long walks in the night by herself, but David knew when he married me that I wasn’t exactly normal.
We married when I was only twenty-one and he was thirty-two. He had a quiet charm about him that was so endearing I couldn’t help but fall madly in love with him. He made me honestly laugh, and blush through my freckles. When talking to me, he would often tilt his head to the side and furrow his eyebrows, as if trying to figure out a math equation. I suppose I was very young back then, but he’s developed me into the person I am now which I find both lovely and frightening. When we married, David was working hard at becoming partner at his law firm, and a mere six-months later he did it. We moved to a much bigger house at the top of the hill with the prospect of children in years to come. That night, we celebrated under a quiet full moon with bubbles of champagne and caviar.
I think it was after my first miscarriage when something shifted between us. All of a sudden ten years had passed and we were no different than the ten years previous. I can’t tell you the exact moment when we fell out of love with each other, but I can tell you that we never resented one another for it, and I still cared about him deeply. So how can I sit here and justify all that I did to the only man I could trust, and to the only man I thought I was ever going to love? Circumstances change. People change. I changed, I suppose. I grew tired of being tired. I was caught in a fog with no way of getting out. My days were spent lying in front of the TV re-watching old movies that made me wail until David would come home, pick me up and take me to bed. It felt like I was stuck in a shifted world, stuck in between reality and what I desired on the movie screen. I started to see everything like a Hollywood movie: things would appear in slow motion, the moonlight was no longer real, but clever mood lightning from electric fuses. I felt like my chance encounter with James was fate, that we were destined for one another, and that perhaps he had rescued me in more than one way. Maybe he did.
David woke me up at around twelve in the afternoon. Apparently it was Saturday, and I had agreed to go with him to the beach. On the drive down, I leaned my head against the window to feel the first rays on sunshine on my cheeks. I hadn’t felt it for a long time. We got to the beach and set our towels down on the rough sand. David soon fell asleep reading his book, and my mind wondered to the ocean. The seawater has always fascinated me, even as a child. I would terrify my poor father by bolting into the sea, even then impatient to dive in headfirst. The sounds of children playing around me were muffled when I caught the eye of a handsome lifeguard standing near me watching the surf. He looked at me and smiled, and I looked away embarrassed. I hopped up and ran into the surf, feeling the harsh coldness of the water before I embraced it with a dive. I swam out about fifty metres and floated on my back, feeling the sun kiss my skin, slowly burn it. As usual, my mind wondered, dragging me away from the ocean, and into a parallel universe where I wasn’t who I was in reality. My daydream was broken when I felt myself being carried away by the tide, and I suddenly panicked. It felt a lot like vertigo, the sensation that I would allow myself to be taken away was so overpowering that I started kicking and swimming towards the shore. But my efforts were wasted. The last thing I remember was calling out for help, and watching the shore get smaller and smaller.
That was when James saved my life. Back to the shore, James carried me, newly-wed-style back to the beach and kissed life back into me. I woke up blurry eyed, to see his intensely worried face over me, and right there, right at that moment, something changed inside of me. Maybe it was my relief at being alive, but all I could feel was his rough hands at the small of my back, and smell the salt and sweat pouring off him. I smiled up at him, and saw a spark ignite in his brown eyes. David swiftly took me home to bed, suddenly terrified at the thought of losing me. That night we didn’t make love. Instead, he held me incredibly close to him as he fell into slumber, and I fell into staring at the wall, thinking about the beach.
The next day, I walked down to the beach, taking my time. I found James at the same spot where I first encountered him; feet apart, back straight, arms folded, his eyes focussed hard on the beach. He was tall, broad-shouldered and slightly freckled from the sun which also streaked his hair golden. He had large, friendly brown eyes and a cheeky, boyish grin that twinkled with dimples. Hesitantly, I went up to him and introduced myself, thanking him for his work yesterday. He smiled and said it was no problem, it was his job and he was just happy that I was safe. “My shift ends in five minutes, if you want to come up to the club house for a drink?” He asked.
I obliged. Five minutes later we were walking up to the old, weathered beach house on top of the hill. Forty-five minutes later we were naked and entangled. I’m not sure how exactly it happened, but one minute we were talking about the weather, and the next he was kissing me deeply, cupping my face in between his large hands. The act of betrayal felt delicious and sour all at the same time. At that time, I was seeing the world through the lens of a camera; everything that happened to me was, in my mind, an act of fate, rather than an act of my own selfish, self-inflicted circumstances. I was more than aware of what I was doing. We met up at the beach house four more times that week, and each time we did I felt no better and no worse. My days suddenly had purpose; I was waking up earlier, eating breakfast and seeing more of the environment around me. I think David noticed a change in me too: instead of coming home to find me sobbing on the couch, he would come home to find me reading outside on the lounge by the pool. Sometimes he would come home to find I wasn’t there at all.
The summer was unusually long, and often on lazy days, David and I would lounge around the pool before I wandered off to see James. One afternoon, David became tired of the pool and suggested we go down to the beach again, saying it would build my strength up: “You have to try to get into that ocean again, Cecelia. You can’t let it pull you down, you shouldn’t be afraid of it.” He said. Well, what could I say? We walked down to the local beach holding hands. As sheer luck would have it, James didn’t seem to be on patrol that afternoon, so we enjoyed a warm afternoon relaxing. However, as we were walking back, David stopped abruptly, “Say, isn’t that the lifeguard who saved your life, Cee?” He asked.
My heart stopped for a brief moment as I saw – as if in slow motion – David call out to James and walk over for a friendly handshake. The hairs at the back on my neck pricked up, and my knees seemed to wobble on the spot. If the reader would allow me a brief moment of indulgence: create a softer lighting and zoom in to a mid to close-up angle. We were standing there as if it were the most normal thing in the world. David thanked James for rescuing me, and I noticed there were more freckles on his bare shoulders, and a significant strain in his eyes I hadn’t noticed before. As the saying goes: you could cut the tension with a knife, however David was none the wiser. I realised two things at that moment: one was my potential to create chaos amongst men, and the second was my potential to love and adore James whole-heartedly. Every inch of my body wanted me to throw myself into his arms and let him hold me. My other instinct was to run into the ocean and let the tide once again take me out. Snapping out of my reverie, I realised that David was inviting James to dinner and cocktails at our home that night, as a late thankyou. I looked up briefly and caught a glance from James that was so filled with longing, I almost cried out.
That night, James knocked on our door at eight-o-clock sharp, and I felt a jolt run through my chest down to my stomach. Keeping a calm, composed face, I answered the door with a smile and lead him into our home. David was smoking outside, and jumped up with a smile plastered on his face and ordered James to sit down to share a bottle of wine with us. Despite the weighted down feeling in my stomach, the night went pleasantly well; James and I exchanged dull conversation as if we were old neighbours, and the wine kept my heart from bursting out of my chest. Soon finished with the first bottle, David jumped up to fetch some more wine from the cellar: “Hang on a minute I won’t be too long! You two occupy yourselves for a tic.” He said, and jogged into the house.
Frightened with the prospect of being left alone with James, I stood up and walked towards the pool, looking out onto the houses below. A familiar tingling at the back of my neck told me that James was standing behind me. He pulled me towards him and whispered sweet nothings into my ear; he said he couldn’t suffer any longer: “I love you, Cee. I can’t keep on like this any more. I’m sick of the sneaking around, the maliciousness. You need to tell David about us. I want to be with you. Don’t you love me too?” He asked.
It took me a full minute before I looked into his eyes and saw what I was afraid of seeing; that he was completely genuine. The love that welled up inside of me was frightening, and I looked into his eyes and traced the outline of his lips with my thumb: “Of course I do. This hasn’t been easy for me either. You don’t understand what this is like for me. I can’t just snap my fingers and everything will be peachy, James. I love you, but these things take time. You need to be patient.”
Lost in our collective euphoria, we didn’t notice David standing in the doorframe holding a bottle of Merlot at his side. The look on his face confirmed how much he had heard, and how little he seemed to care. There was no hurt on his face, just a mixture of shock and embarrassment. A wave of nausea washed over me and I had to sit down, while James mumbled something apologetic to David before turning to me and showing himself out the door. David slumped down beside me and took my hand, I didn’t even realise I had been crying. We had a long talk about everything; he wasn’t exactly pleased with the circumstances, but there were no hard feelings. He said he felt betrayed, but only because he thought we were close enough to tell each other anything, not because he still loved me. I couldn’t quite grasp how much I cared about this man, and the sole fact that I had given up on him made me sob. I couldn’t think of anything worse than losing him as a friend, but with everything said and done, we needed to separate from each other for the first time in ten years.
The next morning, I threw up. This had been occurring for over a week now, but I thought it was only due to the stress of the affair. I had seen my doctor a few days before. That morning, she called me in for an appointment for that afternoon. David had gone to work early, and had left a note next to my cigarettes saying he’d be staying with one of our friends that night, and how to contact him. I didn’t talk to James all morning, wanting to let the dust settle for a day or so and after lunch, I walked into town for my appointment. That day, the sun shone brightly and mixed with a cool breeze from the ocean. I saw children playing in their bathing suits at the park, darting in and out of the spray from the reticulation. People smiled at me as I walked past and I smiled back. I finally felt relaxed. I thought I might collapse from the pressure that was mounting up inside of me over the past couple of months, so I was finally relieved. I arrived at the doctors ten minutes early, so I sat in the waiting room idly flicking through a fashion magazine.
When I finally saw my doctor, she told me I was pregnant. “I’m sorry, can you say that again?” I asked. “I know this is hard for you, Cecelia, but you should feel blessed. I know you’ve had troubles in the past with staying pregnant, so you should be cautious for the next couple of months, but this is great news for you and David.” She said with a warm smile. The shock hit me for about thirty seconds before a wide smile erupted across my face. I walked out of the office and sat down at a bench and thought about my options. I loved James unconditionally, that was obvious, but was love enough to raise a child? I didn’t even know if I ever wanted children, I didn’t think I could naturally be a good mother. Did I want to bring a child into the world that was spawn from an act of betrayal? And even then, could I terminate something that was created out of love? I couldn’t do that, and what’s more, I needed to run to James, to finally throw myself into his arms and beg him not to let me go. I felt that it was time I let down all barriers, I wanted to finally let someone love me absolutely. I stood up and noticed it was getting dark, so I started my long walk to the beach.
At that exact moment, Tony Mansetti was having an argument with his twenty-two-year-old mistress while speeding down Poppy Road South. She told him she was leaving him, apparently he never treated her right, and she found cheap lipstick that certainly wasn’t hers on his shirt collar. Tired of listening to women screech, Tony hung up his cell and threw it into the backseat before reaching out to his glove box in search of his Marlboro Gold’s, not noticing the young woman lost in thought cross the street in front of him. He slammed on his breaks with a futile stomp, slowing the car down by a mere two miles, causing his flashing tires to bloom up in wild smoke. The airbags of his sports car blew out as Tony let go of the steering wheel and threw his hands in front of his face, bracing himself for the imminent impact. The young woman looked up briefly and raised her eyebrows before the car hit her left knee, dislocating it and snapping her femur in two, the impact sending her tumbling gracefully into the air. She landed with a crash on the windscreen, causing it to shatter across her back. She flew over the top of the car, bumped, rolled, and finally landed with a dull crack on the hot road beneath.
Tony panicked, and fled the scene, leaving the young woman to bleed and die alone.