June 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
It had been hot that day too, Sophia remembered idly. Warmer than this even; the air had been so dry it had felt like kindling. An azure sky bluer than sapphires, pregnant with the fierce intensity of the sun. Of course, the sea hadn’t been there. Nor the beach, complete with all-invasive sand that no amount of showers could cleanse. And nor her sister, laying down in the early afternoon heat and crisping up nicely, like a shoulder of pork.
Sophia had tried to relax. She had brought a library’s worth of books, two trashy (and over-priced) magazines at the airport, and even her nephew’s old school Gameboy – proferred to her solemnly by little Aaron, peering up at her with eyes like saucers – in order to take her mind off her own thoughts; and nothing had helped. She looked out at the sea, her thumb stuck deep inside her book to keep her place, watching the restless energy of the waves and feeling their movement echoing inside her. She let out a long sigh, which tapered into a short, retching cough. She looked down. If Anna had heard her, she didn’t show it.
She surveyed her sister’s pink skin and tutted inwardly to herself that she could see so much of it. She was so brazen; clad in a skimpy bikini whilst she herself cooked in a heavy one-piece. The holiday to Greece had been Anna’s idea, of course. Time out, she had said, rest and relaxation, a reprieve. She had never vocalised what it was intended to be a reprieve from, and the word had hung heavy in the air between them, formless, like smoke. They had barely spoken since, but that wasn’t really anything new. They had been drifting apart for ages, with Sophia heading off to university last Autumn, and Anna staying behind in their hometown, punching the clock in some shitty office by typing columns of numbers into spreadsheets. Before, Sophia would have mocked her for her lousy job, with the air of haughtiness of the sibling who has it all, who’s made a real fist out of making something of herself. Not now though. Never again, in fact.
It took the throaty shouts of a bronzed, fat Greek man selling friendship bracelets to finally rouse her sister from her sunbathing. He stalked across the sand in front of them, his body covered in coarse black hair and shimmering sweat. A gold chain hung down so low from his neck that it nearly circled his nipples. When he caught sight of Sophia and Anna watching him in barely-concealed disgust, he flashed them a toothy, salacious grin. “Beautiful bracelets for beautiful girls?” he asked in broken pigeon English, his stomach heaving over elasticated swimming shorts. Anna’s extended middle finger was the swift reply, and the man strode off hurriedly, smile melting away into a frown and a string of Greek swear words. Anna turned to Sophia and gave a slow smile of her own. She had enjoyed that.
Anna stretched her arms out straight upwards, towards the sky, as if she were offering herself to the sun goddess, and let out a long, deliberate yawn. She spun herself in a neat semi-circle on her beach towel and then reached into her bag. She pulled out a bottle of suntan lotion, most of its contents smeared around the lid and down the sides. “Can you put some of this on my back please, sis?” she asked.
She laid down on her stomach, nestling her head in the fold of her arms before thinking better of it, reaching behind her, and undoing her bikini top. “Even less clothes, huh?” Sophia asked, dryly.
“Get over it,” came Anna’s terse reply. She hadn’t even looked up. Sophia decided to get over it.
The high heat of the afternoon began to melt into a cooler dusk, and the bright expanse of sky that stretched high above the sea deepened into a fabulous tapestry of mauve and ochre. It was so beautiful here, and for half a moment, she wished she could have been here in happier times, when her heart was not so leaden and her mind not so jumbled. The walk back up to the hotel was lengthy and painful, sandy rock steps roughly hewn into a tumbledown cliff navigated in open-toed sandals. Sophia already regretted bringing the ones with a heel. Her skin felt tight and dry, like parchment rolled out across her bones. Anna was essentially a walking lobster, with two giant milk saucers encircling her eyes where she had failed to take off those ridiculously large aviators she favoured. It was enough for Sophia to break out into a grin; an alien sensation. It felt good to smile again. It had felt like years since she had. She kept it hidden from Anna though, a secret she thought better left unshared.
Later that evening, they sat opposite each other at a dinner table in the hotel’s restaurant, the heavy, pristine-white tablecloth chafing against the raw skin of her knees. A chilled bottle of wine, which tasted shit-awful in truth, gently perspired between them. Sophia idly watched a rogue drop of water slip down the smooth contours of the bottle from lip to base. Anna sat in a threatening silence. She had already voiced her displeasure at how long they had had to wait for their meal, although thankfully only at her sister. Sophia shied away from conflict, particularly when they were supposed to be enjoying theirselves.
She considered the word derisively. Enjoyment. Precious little of that. Like a ship that had left the harbour and shrank towards the horizon, her happiness had set sail on its final voyage. It was a crushing feeling, and for one panicked moment, the blackness inside her threatened to break the fragile dam that held it in place. She glanced up at her sister, and was startled to see that she was looking directly back at her. No, thought Sophia. Better left unsaid.
Image is for illustration purposes only. Photo credit: Amy Massey.
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