As lately pattern had developed, Ciam awoke with the dawn, and went out for his morning jaunt. He always came back buoyant around 10:00. “Doing nothing, looking about,” he’d said with a shrug when she’d brought it up a couple of days earlier. Now, remembering a promise to note the observation, she got out her diary, wrote:
Nota bene: We have learned that using the horse is our option. We can ride whenever we desire or casually feel like. Whether the guide is surly or sad or glum or pouting does not matter. The animal is there for our use. A well-said word, a gentle touch can turn things around, regular as clockwork. Then, horse or bike, we can do as we will with the ride, use it as the landscape demands. Very pleasant, this casual control of saddled forces. More on this to come.
Sassela smiled like a fox as she replaced the notebook in her suitcase, then she sprawled on the bed and considered her options. Usually she preferred to laze until morning was well established. But today’s edition seemed to have come with fresh wind briskly whistling through Hut’s slats, rousing, insistently suggestive of vigorous activity. Feeling perky, she got up, had a yogurt, set out to hike the shoreline.
A sweaty trek it turned out, as, to avoid risking her sneakers to a doubtful fringe of dry beach, she was forced to trail over many rugged, stony rises gradually reaching higher and higher. After about an hour of huffing along—several times having to put hands to the ground to get by—on a high promontory overlooking what seemed to be a public beach, Sassela decided she’d had enough of roughing it. Choosing a nook out of the sharp breeze, she stopped to catch breath, take in the vista.
The sea looked hungry, the crisscrossing waves cutting about, churning white, chomping and tripping over each other in their rush to gobble up the beach. Watching its appetite from her craggy point, Sassela shivered, contented with her distance. That sea was cold. The wind, brisk as salt and pepper, whisked by, leaving a frown on her face to match its sting in her eyes.
Then into her squint strayed five skinny strokes in a purple bathing suit: a girl. Dauntless in her youth, engaged at jumping breakers, three times straight she was undered, but seemed totaled with insane joy from the dunkings. Upturned yet again, she emerged gasping but afoot, unhurt, and over-thrilled by the great game with the big, rough sea. And screaming glee, she challenged the breakers again.
On they came, fierce and frothy, unwary of her fun.
From her high vantage, Sassela studied the panorama: Some distance from the playing child, faces to the rising sky, a couple in bathrobes and sunshades lay on deck-chairs. But the little girl’s scream commanded again: “Wee-oohh, wee-oohhh, weee-ooohhh!”
As her eyes turned to the irresistibly happy noise, halfway down among the looming boulders at the very edge of her vision Sassela glimpsed a shadowy figure, and suddenly frowned—the dark complexion, white slacks, white shirt—could it be—?
The little girl’s cries quavering ecstasy snatched back attention, as her keening delight pierced the growlings of the hoary sea: “Aaiieeeee!!” Sassela heard the child scream. As louder than all others, another breaker roared in.
Then her raucous celebration was suddenly drowned out. As maybe she forced her lips shut tight, and swelled her puny chest its fill, and dove into her game daring the busy sea.
Her timing seemed fine as she plunged under with confidence and air enough to hide until the graybeard’s fury had waved past. But unexpectedly, a second fat swelling wave appeared, and right as she surfaced, it swamped her under again.
And she did not come up a second time!
With a guttural cry of total dismay, Sassela started up, eyes raking the beach from her impotent height. No one close seemed to have noticed the child’s peril.
Desperately she turned eyes to the remembered white flutter below—but, when she scanned the rocky shadows, the white-clad figure was gone.
She turned back to the sea, hope insisting: just as before, bloated dirty-white swells, frothy breakers, hungry-looking. No purple, nothing playful. A sudden, achy sob wrenched out of her, doubling her over from an agony in her stomach. A torment about guilt and helplessness that crouched her all-fours to the cold ground. A pain about larger purpose that wracked her guts as if she were vomiting. And she let it empty her. Exhaust her. Until, snotty-nosed and drained, woeful as a penitent, Sassela staggered up, wiped at her face with her shirt sleeves, and turned heavy steps from the sea. And all the rough rocky trails back to Hut, she felt as if she were sneaking away.
Close approaching Hut, she heard Ciam whistling—a doleful pop tune whose name she couldn’t quite bring to mind. She went up the steps softly. Bare-backed in his long white slacks, he was busy at the window fixing them brunch. She opened her mouth to greet him; a lyric sang sudden into her head: “and the sea rushes in to the shore—” And with a sickening chill she recognized “Ebbtide” as the tune he whistled.
Barely reaching the bed in time, she flopped heavily, trembling as the seaside scene she’d just fled swallowed her up all over again.
“How ya doin’?”
Behind closed lids, like an echo in her swimming head, Sassela heard him. In the pause before answering, she filtered his enquiry for subtlest clues. Was he baiting? Had he been there, too? Seen it all?
“I’m all right.” Neutral as a flat line.
“Yeah, tiring.” Carefully toned for fatigue.
“You could rest up a bit. We’ll be eating in 15 minutes,” he said.
In the somber blackness behind her closed eyes, she considered each response, assessed and hefted it mentally for duplicity, and could detect no ill intent. Yet she still couldn’t decide how to talk about the incident. How to bring up, explain her sense of abject guilt to naive him. Eventually, playing it tight for the time being, she set her mind to blanking out the disappeared child.
Later that melancholy day, lolling by the sea, his head in her naked lap, Ciam asked out of the blue, “So what’s your name for her?”
A stab ripped through Sassela’s hazy forget-it-all cocoon. Starting up guiltily, she said, “Who?”
“Yu’know,” he rolled his head back to snuggle his nose in her crotch, “yuh thang. Yuh sweet and nasty slippery sp—”
“Stop!” she said sharply, simultaneously relieved and discomforted by his detailed response.
“Calm down. You can tell me,” he encouraged, misunderstanding. “Mih lips’re sealed. What ya calls her?”
“I don’t, don’t call her anything.”
“Yu’making joke,” he said, sitting up himself, eyeing incredulous. “You don’t have a name for your, your—?”
A trifle impatiently, she said, “The name for it is vagina, Ciam. Everyone knows that.”
“But you can’t call your personal, er, personal pleasure organ, you can’t call it a textbook name.” Reasonable tones couldn’t camouflage his sincere puzzlement.
Sassela had to laugh. “‘Course I can. Everybody does. And, for your macho information, this isn’t, primarily, a pleasure spot.”
“Well, have it your way. But if you want, I’ll give it a personal name for you. An appropriate nickname. Something sweet like, like ‘honey marsh.’ Eh? What you think of ‘honey marsh’?”
She shrugged, still grinning. “Why, thank you, Ciam. If you like it, but same difference to me. You have a name for yours? I mean, your—er, penis?” She couldn’t get her mouth around “dick.”
He palmed up his traffic-cop signal. "No, no, no! Don’t ever use that word. Never penis. That’s Latin for something or the other. The sobriquet for my here personals is none other than ‘Mjolner.’ "
A rush from her gut exploded into cackling laughter. " ‘Mjolner’? You call it ‘Mjolner’?"
Grin proud, nodding madly, he stood up, grasped his balls and penis, shook the slack bunch at her. “Yup!” he crowed, “Thor’s hammer. Thor, that Scandinavian thunder-god guy.”
All too much. His dick’s limp threat, the notion of a Norse legend for its nickname, his posture ludicrous, him such an ass. All so much, her glad-bag broke, gave throat to her cackles and screams, and she could’ve died helpless to laughter’s roar.
Later, she gave him his due plus a dollop; the lagniappe in gratitude of him lightening the oppressive day.
—Kelvin Christopher James is the author of Secrets (1993) and Jumping Ships and Other Stories (1992). A Fling with a Demon Lover will be published this spring by HarperCollins. Kelvin is a contributing editor to BOMB.