March 5, 2017

CNF/Essay by Toti O'Brien: "On the Beach"

Toti O’Brien’s work has most recently appeared in Rooted, Wordland, Pilcrow&Dagger, and Bindweed Magazine. More about her can be found at   

    “It’s all about the man,” she said, suddenly. She was sitting beside me on the wooden bench. She smiled, her eyes seeing something I couldn’t see. Something far. “Once, in Prague,” she continued, “I went to a magnificent ball: marble floors, golden chandeliers, an orchestra playing the Blue Danube…” That piece lasts over five minutes, I thought. It’s a workout. “I don’t know how,” she added dreamily, “but I didn’t miss a beat. I was gliding over those smooth tiles, under those sparkling lights. I was flying. If you have a good partner you can do anything!”
    What could I reply? She was stating a commonplace usually agreed upon. I should probably agree. And I truly liked her, though I had never met her before. I had watched her on the floor, studiously learning the steps of a country dance. I admired the aplomb she displayed while keeping her balance on those absurd heels. Inappropriate for the kind of popular ball we were doing but revealing, no doubt, her acquaintance with more classy performances. Such as waltzes in Prague, an orchestra playing Strauss’ Blue Danube. Danube—a river sacred to Diane, the moon goddess.
    “All is about the man,” she insisted. “I love Prague as well,” I replied, still on topic, just a little askew. “I spent marvelous moments there. That is where I met the love of my life”. Why did I mention such thing? What pushed me to such abrupt intimacy? As if we were sitting in front of champagne glasses, candles flickering, a restaurant on a boat, water murmuring in the dark. The Danube, of course.
    “Wow!” She gasped in order to swallow that bite of me, that morsel she didn’t ask for. “Did you marry him?” “No,” I said, feeling awkward, as if wearing a pair of stilettos myself. “Did you marry someone else?” “I did.” Time to stop the slippery slope. “Well,” she smiled sympathetically “love and marriage are different things.”
     Are they? Here’s another agreed upon commonplace I should acknowledge, perhaps. My mind staggered uphill, as if climbing a tilted shaky ladder. Luckily I had no time for an answer. She kept going, animated by a wave of passion, a symphony of remembrance.
    “The first love… one never forgets… I remember mine, on the island.” She mentioned a tropical paradise where she spent her youth. Way better than Prague, I thought, which gets a bit chilly for my taste. I’d switch it with one of those palm beaches without a regret. Let all violins drown in the Danube, keep the ukulele—it works fine.
     No, I wasn’t ironic. Some of her past emotion came through and spilled on me. I sensed the night’s breath, the embalmed air. I heard the sound of the waves, felt the smoothness of sand under bare feet. The embrace of rich generous nature highlighting her first embrace, making it perfect. Making it unforgettable, the epitome of happiness, both fulfillment and hope. And a sense of marvel, a zest of astonishment… Can a marriage unfolding over the years, day by day, match that kind of intensity? Of course not. We are adding apples and oranges, are we?
    But it didn’t matter. Wisdom or commonplace didn’t matter. She did. On the bench, she took another consistency—richer, denser, more layered. She was swinging back and forth, like a pendulum, between now and then—past and present—on the beach, on the wooden bench… I perceived a vibration, a pulse, mesmerizing me.
    “Did you have children?” she inquired. “One,” I answered distractedly. I had forgotten about myself at the moment. “I had one as well,” she said. With your husband or with your first love? I wanted to ask. But I kept my mouth shut. Did you marry your first love, indeed? Someone does. Is he still your first love if you marry him? After it all becomes a totally different thing? I said nothing. She might have answered already.
    I kept silent. Maybe the conversation was over. Should we resume dancing?
    Her feet, I realized, had sneaked out of her golden sandals—so pretty, and insanely tall. She was massaging her left arch with her right toe—gently yet vigorously. Then she rested her soles on the wooden floor. Again, she was staring at something in the distance, something vague.
    She looked tired.

© Toti O'Brien

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