Living the Dream,
It’s easy to smile knowing I am doing the right thing. From the moment, I arrive I feel like I am thirteen years old, glowing from my first kiss. I wonder, if it’s this easy, why I’ve taken so long to do it.
A million excuses, mostly snorting the daily brand of cocaine called life. It’s taken a big chunk of self-love to get off the gravy train and cash out. I wondered for so long, when was the time to call it quits? Everyone has their own time, but in the last few years the planets have been lining up a dance of fate. It’s not to say this was inevitable, but at some point I would need to open the exit door and have a look what’s on the other side.
As it happened, a redundancy cheque and a disappointed wife closed two doors, so the way was open to me to go make some new choices.
I arrive at the hotel, sitting high on the bay, the beach below worthy of its own page in a travel brochure. I soak up the familiar view. The photo’s been on my wall for years, I’ve lived this moment through every argument, every rainy day. That last sunset lingering with hope that I would return and now I’m here.
I struggle to believe I’m actually here and struggling why through every miserable moment of the last few years I didn’t get on the next plane out of there. Finally, I sold everything I had until I all I was left with was a suitcase full of cast offs. The bank account could have more, but there was a moment when I realised that enough is enough.
Time to check in. Truly the first day of the rest of my life. I had laid to rest a few demons from home. Tomorrow there is the final demon to slay. Only then will I know how the future really looks.
I have to admit to being nervous to the extent I walk the beachfront five times before having the balls to enter the terrace restaurant. I take a seat at the table like any other diner at lunch and wait to be served.
Ten years have passed since I’ve been here and it is a long tall assumption that she would even recognise me never mind want to reignite whatever fire I left behind.
I wipe my forehead, beginning to the feel the 30 degree heat. It is uncomfortable, though I won’t complain. It isn’t the reason I am here but feeling the sun on my back is a bonus.
A young girl steps out and places some bread on my table with a jug of water. I smile as she walks past pouring my drink. She is friendly and then familiar at the same time and my mind makes some calculations.
The restaurant is quiet, still early for lunch. I have to be patient. Wait for her to appear as surely she must.
I hear her before I see her. The accent as distinct in Greek as I remember in English. She talks quickly and dismissively to a man in the back, probably her chef. She comes out to the terrace to serve me, just like any other guest.
I’ve dreamed of this moment. I’ve imagined it in many sleepless nights. Would she remember me? Had the world moved on too far? It is enough to imagine it possible. Now I find out for real.
‘Hello, welcome,’ she says, opening her pad, brushing back her long brunette hair over her ears. She’s wearing a white t-shirt and tight light denim jeans. A few more creases surround her eyes but she’s the same Katherine. Aged far better than me. Though whilst I’ve been sitting under an air-conditioning unit, seeing sunlight once a week, she’s been baking in it every day.
At first Katherine didn’t do anything she wouldn’t normally do, or at least what I would imagine. She didn’t really look at me.
‘Morning,’ I say. I don’t say anything else about an order as I want her to notice me. I don’t want to prompt her. If she remembers me, then it’s more than enough to go home with.
‘I know you,’ she says, her eyes registering a connection. She smiles as her mind shifts through the gears. ‘Gerry? You bastard. You testing me. Why didn’t you mail me? Something tell me you are coming.’
She drops her pad and puts her arm round me. I stand to take her hug. As she beats her hand on my back.
‘Amelie,’ she shouts. ‘Bring some wine now.’ She turns to me and hugs me again. ‘How are you? You look so…’
‘Old,’ I laugh. ‘No stupid. So nice. You look like a new sun. I mean, you bring so much light. Oh I don’t know what I am saying. You will think I am stupid. Why you are here? Where are your friends?’
I sit down again. ‘One thing at a time,’ I reply, wiping a small tear in my eye. I want to tell her everything but I don’t want to rush. There’s time for it. Now I just want to enjoy her smile, her energy. It feels like the sweet fizz of a can of pop, tingling on my tongue, don’t want to let the taste go flat for now when reality kicks in.
‘Let me get some food,’ she says, ‘Amelie!’
The young girl returns with a carafe of white wine and pours it in the glass on the table.
‘This is Amelie,’ I ask.
‘Amelie, this is Gerry, a friend.’
‘How old are you?’ I ask
She looks at her mother. I’m not sure if it’s to clarify what I asked or to check for permission.
‘Nine,’ she says and runs back inside.
‘She’s a little shy,’ she says.
‘She’s gorgeous,’ I reply, my mind totting up the maths again. Eleven years since I came here. It wasn’t long after he’d gone home. They were still emailing back then, she was talking about coming to London, but then she stopped. Was this why?
Katherine returns inside and I wonder what happens next. Eleven years ago I came here with some friends. A break from home with my mates. My wife, Ellen had protested at the trip, seen as a last blow out for the lads before family tied us all down. Her fears had been right, not in the sense that I was out partying all night. Instead I had left the others to sit in this restaurant waiting for Katherine to finish her shift, sneaking out before her mother caught her for more chores.
She returns a few times with food, but it’s the wrong time to talk. Guests are coming and going so there is no point pursuing more chat. This is the difference now. I have time, more time than I ever imagined.
I watch her move, allowing myself a momentary study. Her hair is shorter than I remember, in my dreams it was all the way down to the small of her back. Her shape is perfect, curves that fill her clothes. My eyes shy away from the next chain of thoughts, but that doesn’t hide my smile lingering long after she has returned to the kitchen.
We walk out along the cliff walk and then down to beach. She’s changed into something lighter, a light summer dress, a pink bikini underneath that makes me think that the afternoon could be fun as well.
‘So why you come back here, Gerry Simmonds. What does this lovely Island offer to you?’
The sun was strong in my eyes, even with a hat covering my brow I struggled to look towards her.
‘I guess you are the main event,’ I say, not seeing any point in pretending otherwise, ‘I mean it’s where I am starting now. I’ve given up everything, work, life, home.’
‘She gave me up, actually,’ I reply quickly, glad to get that iron out of the fire.
‘Oh,’ she replies.
‘Honestly, I just wanted to start a new life. And here is where I thought would start it. Can you think of a better place?’
‘With me? Is this why you are here Gerry Simmonds. You come back, never speak to me for all these years and you say hi, Katherine, lets jump back into the sea together.’
‘No, that’s not what I mean,’ I reply. I hold my hands up and try and slow the conversation a little. I’m not sure why I expected this to be easier. ‘I don’t have any expectation, honestly Kat, I came here, to see you yes. But what happens next. Who knows?’
‘So now I’m disappointed. I expect you come and declare your love for me on your knees. Instead you say, if I get lucky it’s all good, if not you move on.’
‘No, no,’ I reply.
Then she laughs and runs on ahead onto the beach.
‘Don’t be so serious, Mr Englishman, time for fun. I don’t care what you came here for. It’s nice to see you, I told you. This place is so empty for me. It’s nice to have something to care about.’
She lifts her dress over her shoulders, revealing her tanned curves. She kicks off her sandals, brushes her hair back over her head. Quickly ties it up and then runs into the sea. I watch in awe, and then start to do the same.
I decide to not to return to the restaurant to eat, thinking my presence may be overstepping the mark. I have an invite but it felt forced.
It’s not difficult to find an alternative in such a place. Every restaurant offers a view and an ambience. Despite a hundred other Katherines in the resort, there is only one who will turn my head. I need to work out how I feel. This afternoon felt perfect. Fun, relaxed, romantic. It would be so easy to start again with Katherine, assuming this was how she felt. I hardly had a great track record with her. A historic fling reinvented as midlife crisis. It was hardly the stuff of a sound future. Yet here was the only future I had. I didn’t have a plan B. The take it as it comes approach to life requires a certain amount of flexibility and no anticipation. This is something I need to get used to otherwise it is going to be a very confusing and disappointing road. I decreed as I signed my last email, that I’d never write another plan again. Katherine was plan A, but if that didn’t work out, then, who knows. The next resort, maybe even the next restaurant.
I smile as a brunette waitress places bread in front of me. My world isn’t all bad. Romance comes in many packages, not all of them in the prettiest wrapping. My frivolity is wrong though. Not because I need to be serious, but because whatever it is with Katherine, I need to give it a chance to be something. Diving in like a fifteen year with more arms than an octopus isn’t going to help. I need to show her some romance, yet give her a chance to respond. She’s more beautiful than I remember but then I’ve had two wines already. Sobriety would be a better judge of how I felt and so would time. I certainly wasn’t short of the latter, even if the first may be a little rare.
A few drinks and I am beyond sensible reason and I find myself walking back past her place. I hesitate outside but can’t see her. I am hoping for a reaction, something I can respond to but find her absence frustrating. The red wine makes me indecisive and I hate that. I walk one way, then the next and settle for taking a table by the path. Diners turns to judge me as the chair scrapes on the floor. If this was a subtle entrance hoping to draw Kat out to meet her prince, it felt more like a drunk fool taking one last chance to impress an ex who has long since lost the will.
A waiter arrives with a menu and I feel obliged to order. I don’t bother to look but order a whisky. It’s the easiest drink to come to mind, but probably more alcohol will add no value to my situation. I am annoyed with myself and can’t bring myself to look into the restaurant in case I see her and get the wrong response. I am love sick, foolish, needy, this was the opposite of what I wanted to be. This was the mature adult, taking life as it comes and now I am scouting the field as a lost boy, desperate for the advances of a long since fling. I decided not to bother and heard my chair scrape again on the floor, trying to make my escape.
She appears in a flash and comes over to me.
‘Where you going?’ What happened that you didn’t come earlier?’
I try to reply but words don’t come.
‘This is how it is, is it? Gerry turns up when he feels like a drink and a smile from the pretty girl. I’m not a takeaway, Gerry. You can’t just have me once a week when you feel like it.’ Her colleague returns with a drink and I look to him, not her. I can’t look her in the eye, so the simple exchange of a few euros for the whisky is a welcome distraction.
She swears and walks back in. I take the whisky, drink it down in one and continue on my way to the hotel. Much as I would love to fight this out now, I know I need to get away, lick my wounds, then come back tomorrow, a better person.
The arrival of morning is welcome after a sleepless night of being over hot, a banging headache and consecutive turmoil of regret for my feeble actions yesterday. I hear a knock at the apartment door, so drag myself out of bed. Finding a t-shirt and shorts to put, I answer the door.
Opening the door, I find Kat’s daughter on the doorstep wearing a big smile. She hands me a piece of paper and runs away before I can read it.
I return inside and place the note on the table. I expect it to say thanks but goodbye but I’m not in a rush to know, so put a pot of coffee on instead. Standing, staring at the note, I decide it’s time to be brave.
I tear it open, bemused to find only two pieces of information, neither involve the word goodbye.
Noon – Harbour.
I smile to know at least I have a temporary reprieve but not sure for how long.
The harbour is quiet except for empty stalls with young girls selling cruises to no-one in particular. A few fisherman sit on the quay, a reminder that this was once what the harbour was built for rather than the leisure trade that seems to be fading as fast as the summer months. Looking at the faces of the stall holders staring into their phones, it feels as if they are ready to move on. None bother to divert their attention to me, a potential customer, as I wonder past.
I’m a little early so not surprised not to see her. I stand on the corner looking across a few leisure boats. The sea is calm today and I spot small fishes swimming in shoals around the boats seeking food among some of the reeds.
I stare out further across the bay, the sun warming my body and my mood. I feel bright pink compared with the bronzed bodies that litter the sea front. It prompts a question about whether I belong there, to which there may be an easy answer. Belonging requires a different set of tests to be met and that may take far longer than a life time to pass.
A horn beeps and I turn. I see a hand waving from inside one of the tiny cruisers. Seeing its Kat, I approach.
‘Throw the rope in,’ she shouts.
I pick it up from around the hook and climb aboard, holding tight to the handrail. My legs wobble a little with the movement of the boat, taking a moment to balance myself. I look over at her as she tidies the ropes up and want to approach, but feel stuck in place. Why am I so nervous?
Kat is obviously feeling the opposite as she drops the rope and rushes to me. She kisses me on the cheek.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ she says, ‘have you never been on a boat before?’
‘Yes,’ I stutter to say, ‘but never with you like this’, I mumble in addition.
She pushes me to the seat at the back of the boat, as she launches the engine.
‘I didn’t know you had a boat.’
‘Lots about me you don’t know, but actually it’s not my boat, I can use it anytime though. It belongs to… doesn’t matter too complicated to explain.’
I stare out across the bay. The soft billowing of the sea therapeutic. The sound of the water splashing against the hull a useful antidote to the silence. I wonder whether this day requires words or not and then I recall the previous evening where I was unable to say what I want.
I stand up and approach the wheel.
‘Don’t speak,’ she says with a smile, ‘not yet’.
She focuses on the direction of the boat and I leave her to it. One thing I realise is that Kat knows her own mind. All this time on her own, running a business in challenging times. It must have hardened her, made her wary of half-hearted promises.
We pull into a bay. Beautiful, picture postcard bay. Tall cliffs, empty white sand and green water.
She picks up a large crate, hiding under the deck and throws it in the water. She jumps in after it and I watch her drag it along behind. I realise my cue to follow, jumping in as well. She is well ahead of me as I plunder my way to the beach like a seal in distress.
Laughing like a giggling child, she sets to work with the box. Outcomes a gas cooker, a pan and a whole fish. Alongside a bottle of crisp white and I see a perfect lunch coming.
It doesn’t take long before we are eating and drinking, sitting side by side on the sand.
‘I come out here to think,’ she says, ‘there are no distractions here. No-one to argue with. It helps sometimes. On the worst of days. It’s also a place to talk. The truth.’
‘I see that,’ I say, ‘wondering whether it’s the prompt for me to speak but I wait for the moment. Sensing there is no rush.
She plays with the fork in her hand for a moment, deciding whether she will take another mouthful.
‘I wonder why you’re here, Gerry. I’m not sure it’s right.’
‘Shush, I need to speak now. I don’t want you to reply, not yet. I need you to know what I’m thinking.’
Another pause as she lingers over the fish.
‘It’s a holiday. You say yourself that this is an escape for you. But it’s not an escape for me. It’s home. My life, family, everything around here is familiar. Look at this coastline here. I can take you to every bay, every inlet, every house on the hill and I tell you who lives there, who their mother and father are and probably who they had an affair with. Nothing is missed here.’
‘You came before and you liked it. We had a good time. We are having a good time now. But that’s not life, that’s a holiday, a fling, a crush. At some point you will want to move on.’
I start to speak but she holds her hand up.
‘You don’t need to answer or explain,’ she says, ‘there is no point. I know you will say all the things to reassure me and that’s ok. I expect you will make me feel wonderful. But I am honest with you and make sure that you understand.’
I nod slowly, feeling an end coming that I’m not going to be happy with. Is she building up to a cold shoulder?
‘I’m not pushing you away, Gerry. But I’m not letting you in either. Today we will have a good day. A holiday…just as before. Tomorrow, you can move on. Go to the place that’s in your heart, go to the place you feel yourself and not because of another person.’
‘It’s here, I know it.’
‘Do you? You have the rest of your life to find that place, don’t jump off the train at the first stop just because it looks nice.’
‘That’s’ what you’re missing. I spent the last ten years of my life wishing I was in one place more than any in the world.’
‘Shouldn’t we be careful what we wish for?’
I smile, and she responds the same way.
‘If you stay,’ she says, ‘you know what’s in my head. I’m not going to be any different, I’m not going to fall in love with you, so easy. I got a place to run and a life. It’s nice to see you here, to go out…to do things. But I’m not going to change my life. I don’t need to take any risks.’
‘I’m not asking that.’
She leans forward and kisses me. Let’s go swim. We can finish the food in a while.
Walking back into the village the next morning I feel nervous. A few days ago I felt like a stranger, a tourist, nothing special. But after the conversation with Kat, I am confident behind every curtain someone is checking me out. Watching me walk to see her. Like stepping on a tightrope, I’m tentative at first, then retaining a steady balance. As I get closer to the end I feel the urge to speed up.
I take the same table, pushing the thoughts of prying eyes away. I wonder if they are for me or against. I smile, quietly enjoying the indulgence that I have a presence here. One things for sure, I made a decision to come here regardless of Kat. She is forefront in my mind, but this is my choice of home. She might be disappointed to know it’s not all about her.
We kissed warmly as we rode into the harbour last night. It felt like a perfect day and despite her protests, I’m pretty sure she knew I’d be back today and the next.
It’s a while before she appears, keeping me waiting just as I’d expect.
She walks out to the terrace, her face flushes red.
‘Don’t say a word,’ she says, ‘I’m in no mood.’ She doesn’t take my order, instead busies herself with another table. A glass slips from her hand and smashes on the pavement. She curses and runs back in.
I want to laugh but keep quiet. I will wait. I was going to tell her that nothing has to change, but I needn’t have bothered. Today was going to be like every other day. And I couldn’t be happier.