He opened his eyes. Cathy was not there.
He heard a noise, probably coming from the bathroom. So she was up already. He lazily raised from the bed. The sheets were uncomfortably hot, he couldn't stay in bed another second. Through the blinds, strips of sun fell in.
The morning sun was already scalding. The sea waves broke every now and then, inconstantly. There was no wind, and the empty beach was practically desert. And quiet. The few people there improved their tans, lying under the sun like lizards, motionless. From somewhere that seemed very distant under that heat, came the sound of recorded music.
He stood up, slowly, feeling the sweat in his skin, and walked towards the sea, hating the hot sand beneath his feet. He didn't want to run, or jump from one feet to another, preferring the heat, hoping that this walk over fire could somehow be good for him. He arrived to the wet sand and felt relieved, and continued to walk into the sea. He jumped over a wave that would reach his waist, and dived under the next one. Soon he was far from the beach, where the waves were to him but imperceptible undulations.
He floated for a moment, belly up, but the hot and bright sun bothered him. He started to swim, in slow but constant strokes, swinging his legs only slightly, for balance and not thrust. He could feel the water, pushed back by his hands. The pleasant water hid the hot day, and the sea buzz in his ears, broken by the hypnotic splash of his strokes pleased him. He took a long time to reach the crag, swimming around, and only taking his head out of the water to see if he was going in the right direction.
He was disappointed when he reached the crag, feeling that he should have taken an even longer path. He could have swum for hours, lost in his thoughts and the green-blue water that burned his eyes.
He held to the rock for a moment, looking back at the beach, that was as static as he had left it. Using his hands, he climbed the crag with a little effort, resting on the sea washed rock, waiting for the sun to dry him, before he dived again and swam back. He noticed he was panting, and a little tired, avoiding any other thoughts in that direction.
He saw somebody else was swimming towards the crag. Resting against the rock, he considered if he should go back before the inevitable meeting, but he didn't want to go back. The crag, isolated from land, a tiny island almost surreal, was so inviting. And he was still panting a little. He decided to stay and meet the swimmer.
She arrived to the crag, and looked for some way to climb it up. The smooth rock was difficult to grab, and he held his arm for her, pulling her up as strongly as he could. She was light, he noticed, as she smiled, thanking him, panting. Her long blonde hair was darkened by the water, dripping profusely. He sat again, just smiling back. She turned to the beach, trying to find somebody there, he guessed. At last she waved, both arms shaking in front of her, happy. Then she waved again, just one hand, and, then, turned around.
The crag was not special. Big enough for perhaps half a dozen people to lie on. She walked to the side opposed to the beach, admiring the blue horizon, almost impossible to know where the sea ended and the sky started. Her hair was still dripping, bright.
She looked back at him, smiling again, and sat, looking at the beach.
``The sun is so hot today.''
He smiled back.
``Yes, it is. By noon it will be impossible to be outside.''
She stretched her body, looking for a comfortable spot. The rock was hot. She had the tanned skin acquired after days and days doing nothing but enjoying a beach. He had seen her before, it would have been difficult not to. He had seen her at the beach, tanning, and at the restaurant, where she was eating a small bowl of wind and drinking something cold, talking to someone else.
``Have you been here long?''
She turned her face to him, furrowing her brows against the bright sun, using her hand to block it and open her eyes just a little.
``Yeah. Let's see. What day is today?''
He was surprised by her complete alienation, but realized he didn't know the day either. Probably Thursday. He laughed.
``I don't know. Who cares?''
``Right. I like to enjoy my vacations as much as I can, forget about everything else.''
He wondered if she had any worries or things to remember. She was still looking at him, the tiny slits of her blue eyes. He didn't think she had any concerns other than lunch with friends, parties to go to, the beauty parlor appointment. Perhaps he was wrong.
``So do I,'' he agreed.
After a short silence, she rested her head against the rock. He did the same, but heard her voice shortly after.
``You tan easily. You have a tan better than mine, and you arrived after, didn't you?''
He contemplated his body. Under the bright light, it was hard to say how well tanned he was, but that morning, changing into the bathing suit, he had seen the white skin it covered, contrasted against the dark brown of the rest of his body. Her wife hated to get a tan, and lied under a big umbrella and half a gallon of sun block. He gazed lustily at the blonde's tanned body.
``I have a dark skin. I always tanned quickly.''
``Well, I'm blonde, so I usually turn into a tomato the first day. I have to use a strong sun block, and take days tanning only for a few minutes.''
He remembered his childhood, the skin burns on the first day of the annual summer vacations, spent with his family on the beach. His mother applied some cold lotion, which felt good against the sensitive skin, while she said ``Every year it's the same thing'' over and over again, and made him wear a t-shirt to go to the beach the next day, and he hated that. After two or three days he was fine again, his skin already darker and insensitive to the long days under the sun. He told her this story, while thinking how good would be to apply the sun block to her body. She laughed, amused by the story.
``My mother never allowed me to spend much time outside. I came back with a red face, anyway, and had to walk around with white cream on my nose and cheeks.''
``My wife doesn't like to tan.''
There, he had talked about her. Why? He couldn't say, and now it was done. She certainly had seen them together at the hotel, and his wedding ring wouldn't hide anything. But he regretted having said that, feeling as if he had brought her to the crag, his wife, who hated to enter the sea. She only swam in pools, not even swimming, but moving around as in a ballet. He actually liked it.
``My husband doesn't care. But he can't lie under the sun, just enjoying it: he gets his tan while playing tennis or running.''
He had seen her husband before, running and playing tennis. He had gray hair, but was probably under thirty-five years old. When he saw him for the first time, running fast, very sweaty and looking tired, he thought he was a fine candidate for a heart attack. He looked to his own belly, starting to grow beyond where it should have stayed, wondering if he was not just envious. Maybe, but he'd rather be out of shape and alive than in shape and dead.
``I should do that, run or playing something. But I always say, `someday', and...''
``I know, I do that too.''
With that body?
``But I saw you swimming, you swim well,'' he said.
``Oh, but I arrived here so tired! I don't know if I'll ever come back. I wanted to swim here since I arrived, but it seemed too far. I watched this crag from the beach, thinking it would be so nice to be here. I was afraid, it's a long swim, and then you have to come back. But I saw you today, swimming in this direction, and decided to try. At least I'd have someone closer to save me, if I started to drown...''
He laughed, and felt like a dumb teenager while he wondered if it was a silly comment or maybe it had a hidden meaning. He had swum to the crag before, and had seen one or two people do the same thing. It took what, five to ten minutes of a slow swim? He was about to answer, but she went on.
``And I'm not a good swimmer. You are.''
``No, no. I just swim a little. It's not that distant, only a few minutes...''
He looked for something else to say, to keep the conversation alive. He was thirsty.
``A bar with cold drinks here would be great, uhn?''
``Yes. But I prefer it empty, like this.''
``Yes, so do I. But it's so hot...''
``Well, you just said the beach is not that distant...'' She giggled. ``Bring something to me too, please,'' she said, joking. He laughed too, continuing the game.
``Oh, of course. What do you want?''
She pretended to think, her finger touching her lips, eyes looking up.
``A juice. Really cold. Orange juice, yes.''
He for a moment considered swimming and bringing it to her. Distracted, he said something he wouldn't have said consciously.
``And what do I get?''
She opened her eyes again, looking at him while she considered if he was still just joking.
``Being a gentleman, helping a lady in distress.''
He looked for a jest to continued the game, but found none. The sun burned.
``It's too hot here,'' she said. ``I think I'm going back. Are you staying?''
``No, I'm going too.''
She walked to the edge of the crag, sitting at a place wet by an occasional wave. He stood by her, and realized she was waiting for him to go first. Perhaps he could sit beside her, and... no, he dived. The water was hot, hardly refreshing. It was difficult to know what was air and what was water by the temperature alone. He dived to the bottom, arms straight ahead--it was barely ten feet deep. He came back for air, he couldn't hold his breath for long anymore, as he did when he was a teenager, for a minute and a half, or two, competing against his friends. She had her legs in the water, and when he emerged, she was smiling. She held the rock with her hands, slipping into the water.
He swam closer to her. They couldn't see the beach, the crag blocked the view. They were close to each other, and he wanted to kiss her, her golden skin, her lips. He came closer to her. He wouldn't have the courage, but... Maybe he could touch her, hold her. He imagined one of those impossible situations, she drowning suddenly, he saving her and reviving her with mouth-to-mouth breathing, and she looking for him afterwards, at night, to thank him.
They didn't say a word, just looking at each other, and to the sea. She broke the spell.
``Shall we go?'' And in an stronger voice, ``watch me, if I start to drown.''
She started to swim. For a moment he stood there, lying against the crag, watching her swim around it, going to the beach. Then he started to swim back, and remembered what he had thought when he arrived at the hotel, after the long flight, and saw the sea: ``I'm in heaven.'' Heaven cannot have temptations that can't be reached. As he considered drowning, he was back to the beach, feeling the sand of the bottom of the sea against his hands. He stood up, water by his thigh. She swam until the water was too shallow, and then stood up as well. She looked around, and then smiled to him. He never learned what she thought when she smiled.