The sea was shimmering grey, it’d been storming, and the waves were piling bits of sea froth that looked dirty and chemical filled and leaving their traces along the yellow sandy beach. It was yellow, then cream, then blue. I was sitting next to an old man who had shimmied his towel closer to mine while the girl played in the sea, and he was watching her the whole time. I wondered if some men would feel protective, think ‘fucking old pervert’, or something and want the old bastard to move back to wherever it was he slowly slid over from like a lizard baking his brown old body in the heat like all the rest of us beach urchins. But I was pretty glad for the company. He had white hair that drew a youthful contrast with his bronze skin that looked fake tanned but his whole self was written over with life, wrinkles struggling across his defined face and his lips drawn with age. His eyes were green. I saw them and felt immediate jealousy at this man, this seventy year old man who looked better than me. He was wearing speedos, and looked just like somebody out of a tourist brochure to Santorini, and I wondered how he ended up down here near Kiama, on the deserted east coast without some kind of entourage and a yacht waiting just off shore. And I couldn’t shake the glamour he leant to the occasion, the way he was shifting his sun glasses on and off when he switched positions on the sand, and the way he moved his arms as though he were tired but not done yet. Where’re you from? I asked. Just that beach shack right up behind us. I looked up at the small house with blue walls and sea shells stuck to the front door like some kind of sad mural to the ocean, who would do that, when the ocean was right there, create a memento of her very existence? His wife, most likely. I couldn’t imagine classy old Speedos here doing it. Searching for shells, glueing them on to the door. And if he did – well fuck – that was a depressing thought. And he’d asked me where I was from which was also just around the corner, back a few streets, with my parents. I’d come back from the city to find out what I “really” wanted to do with my twenties and found that what I really wanted to do was Melodie, who was now playing in the chemical-clustered sea foam. I wanted to tell her to get out of the dirty stuff but she looked so happy and maybe happiness is more important than safety.
She your girlfriend? He said. Not really, I replied. She wasn’t “my” anything. She with you then? I nodded. For now. A woman like that comes into a man’s life so that he knows that there is a god and that god is the only one who can curse him, he laughed. I laughed back.
Her hair was yellow, her skin was creamy and her eyes were blue walking back out of that reflecting water. She wandered down the beach and touched the shells and left them there then came up to me and bent over right into my face to kiss me. The man looked on and we all sat around and wondered about why the sun had gone behind a cloud before he eventually broke the serene silence and said ‘how about a sandwhich?’. Melodie and I looked at each other and grinned, and it was her who turned to him and said abso-fucking-lutely, I’ve been here in the sun long enough, my tan’s gonna turn red. I smiled a little because she wasn’t really tanned at all, and already I could see her skin turning pinky gold and light freckles running up her arms. Speedos stood up slowly, favouring his lower back and holding onto his knees as he stood properly, inhaling as he straightened. He stood over me, six foot three or four to my five ten, and his sagging stomach and slightly hollowed chest were held up by broad shoulders and the square face and jaw that looked younger than him. He had long fingers and he gestured up to his house, I told your man but that’s me just up there, he spoke to Melodie with a smile. She was messing around with her bag, stuffing her clothes into it, not putting them back on yet as the sun beat on us all harsh and we shaded our faces to it, squinting along the beach to take it in before we headed up the dunes. The beach was a long stretch bordered by a headland on one end that faced up to the tiny town. Melodie lived with her parents and painted in her spare time and worked in the general store where they sold boxes and jars and tins of food. Local farmers came to the store and set up stalls outside or stuck their vegetables into the fridges next to the pieces of meat that the butcher cut next door and sold through their doors. Next to it the liquor store adjoined the back of the shop and you could purchase beer through either, and just a couple metres up the street the petrol station stood where Allen Ridges would come outside and fill your car up for you if you didn’t get out and do it yourself straight away, and then he’d just come out to comment on the size of your fuel tank and which petrol you should use there being two, diesel and petrol but many others that could be there or that would be there had the town not been struck with a bad year, no tourists and the like, and he’d give you the rundown on the financial state of each shop along the street. The General Store, according to Ridge, did the best of any of them and that’s why they employed Melodie who was not family or any kind of relation to the owners. She was just a girl who lived in her parents basement and wanted to be an artist, who had this air of dissatisfaction about her that kept us busy, kept us moving fast never staying still, always doing something, having coffee, pouring beers, watching movies, running into the sea. I was kidding myself, keeping myself here, an element of pretense about it all that I couldn’t shake that she didn’t have and that I knew would eventually overtake me and drop cold water over us like rain on a bonfire. In April just that happened and it seemed to me a funny sort of metaphor, we’d pulled our sleeping bags out, our whiskey and a cd player connected on an extension chord to the house, built a fire in her backyard with the trees all around us and the salty air sticking to our hair and skin. It was warm and tacky sitting on the sleeping bags with their plasticky shells and the fire hot on our arms, and the mosquitos winking at each other as they sucked at our backs. We’d set a pot of hot chocolate to boil in an old billy in the middle of the flames right atop the coals and I was holding it up from falling with a long stick. We were sitting in the yard like that and she was kissing my neck and her nails had grass under them which had been a source of complaint for a while, and then the downpour began, an instantaneous gush of wind followed by loud fat drops that soaked us instantly as the fire began to die and we grabbed our beds and the whiskey and tipped the billy over on our rush into the her basement. It was cold and dry and dark down there and we flicked the shower on and pushed each other inside it into the steam. She’d stripped off as soon as she walked through the door and I was fumbling with my clothes watching her soak up the steam, her hair almost white under it, soft and drenched and sticking to her shoulders as she bounced up and down trying to get warm. There’s that old saying that when you die your life will flash before your eyes but there’s also the moment when you see the most beautiful girl you’ve seen before naked in your shower and for a second it seems like every minute you lived was preparing you for right now, and it all floods your mind for just a second before you take that step in and your vision is blurred by the steam and your arms are taut holding her up and your face is wet.
So that’s what I was thinking about by the time we walked across the hot dunes, our feet burning and our breath coming out in quick gasps as we dodged the spindly grass clumps. It was early summer and our summer feet were still coming into their own and the grainy course sand that lay baking all day was enough to make us hop and Melodie giggle and our friend lope along crookedly beside us, taking large strides with a taut grimace pulled across his face. He was favoring his left side and holding on to the twiggy branches of trees as we passed them, and by the time we got to his front door four hundred metres back from the beach he’d exhaled and said right, who’s for a beer? And Melodie was wandering around looking as though she had nothing better to do than sit in this place with this man and drink beer for the afternoon and all in all they both convinced me that it was the only thing for it and my mind was made up too, so we all crowded into the kitchen and grabbed the beers from the fridge and Melodie popped the tops off for us with the bottle opener he had hung up with his knives on the wall. Is it just you here? We watched him wander around the kitchen searching for a glass to offer us. Don’t bother, Melodie said, I’m happy with the bottle. When I’m in Italy people drink only wine. Here it is only beer. I’m glad you drink beer, I like drinking with women. He said it to her like it was something uncommon, original, not as though it were something common to all men, and she didn’t respond just tapped his bottle with hers and then came towards me to do the same for me.