It was difficult getting everything together but she wanted to do it for Yacov. The jaundice had left her weak, drained, and the enervating August heat of Tel Aviv was not much help. The doctor had said she should try relaxing at the beach and Yacov was determined to take her.
“Time to get a tan,” he told her, “so you can look foxy again.”
She sank back on the couch and drew up her legs. Her face was sallow.
She wore a bathing costume under her beach robe. She sat there listening to him singing at the top of his voice from the upstairs bedroom. The children’s excited chatter added to the cacophony.
“If you don’t get into your trunks right now,” she heard Yacov mock-threaten, “we’ll leave you behind.”
She smiled. She was weak but happy.
Waves of emotion flooded her as memories of their time together in the army raced through her mind. He was the youngest colonel Israel ever had. She had worked for him. She recalled their growing attraction for one another, her diffident confession that she cared, the wild consummation of that love, their joyous wedding soon after demobilization and ten years of married bliss. Together they produced two of the most handsome boys anyone could wish for. She now listened with pleasure to his raucous voice filling their home and most certainly annoying their neighbours. Gratefully she thought of his patience and forbearance during her illness; of the weeks of abstinence, a trial for any man of even half her husband’s sensuality, and it made her proud and confident. She stretched lazily and felt a tide of weakness momentarily engulf her.
She called to him: “Yacov!” .
“Coming!” he yelled back. “In a moment!” .
He was good to her and she would make it up to him. She must get back her strength as quickly as possible. She wanted to hold him to her breast again, to be enveloped in his love. .
He drove toward the beachfront singing an old popular song about peace getting closer daily. The children joined him, beating their little buckets with spades in a tempo all their own. The boys were always happy around him. She looked at his strong face, sun-browned by life in the army, at his bare broad shoulders and watched the muscles ripple on his back as he manipulated the steering wheel. She reached across the seat and touched him. He glanced at her with a quick intimate smile and winked. He launched into another rousing chorus of the song.
They were on the sands early, at about a quarter to eight, but the beach was already filling up. They laid out sheets and she stretched out for some serious sunbathing. The children threw their towels by her side, kicked off their slippers and ran squealing toward the sea.
“Just a moment, Yacov,” she said. “Don’t go.”
“Keep close to the shore,” he called to the retreating backs of the boys. “I’m watching you.”
He turned to her. “What can I do for you, sexy?”
She blushed. He could still make her do that.
“Not so sexy anymore, am I?” she lamented.
“Nonsense!” he said. “Would you think I was less sexy if I had jaundice and couldn’t get it up for three months?”
“You’d get it up on your deathbed,” she said and she could see he was pleased.
“Nu?” He sounded impatient. “What is it?”
He shook his arms to loosen the muscles and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, glancing at the inviting sea.
“If you want to go, go,” she said.
“I don’t want to leave the children for too long.”
She was immediately contrite.
“I’m stupid. I just wanted you with me for a minute or two. I love you.”
“I should hope so,” he said.
He kissed her. He kissed her again. And again.
“What? Right here?” he said. “In front of all these people?” He threw her a look of mock disapproval. “We’ll be arrested!”
She pushed him away as her face turned pink.
“Go! Go!” she said. “The children are calling you.”
He turned and ran down to the water.
“I’ll be back to take you in later,” he called over his shoulder.
Before their marriage, well-meaning friends and relatives warned her not to expect too much. It may be bliss at the beginning, they had said, but the gilt wears off the gingerbread. You come to take each other for granted. Life becomes flat, stale. Boredom replaces Love. A sense of futility engulfs you, even despair as you watch time fly past. Husbands take mistresses and wives lovers. Not to worry! It’s all part of the game. One learns to accept.
She had waited in dread for this stage in their marriage but, after ten years, her feelings were, if anything, deeper than they had ever been. Her stomach still leaped when her eyes fell upon him unexpectedly. She still became a rag doll when he touched her. And he could still make her blush. But then, he was different. From one day to the next, she never knew what to expect. She should have guessed, with him those dire predictions could never be realized.
A young girl’s voice close by called out: “Yacov!” and her heart missed a beat. She laughed at herself. Just the sound of her husband’s name had that effect upon her. It was a common enough name, perhaps far too common, but the name held music for her. She turned toward the voice. A blonde girl of perhaps eighteen or nineteen, a brief bikini moulded to her golden body shiny with suntan lotion, was waving at somebody in the sea.
“Yacov!” the girl called again.
She sat up and followed the line of the girl’s attention.
She saw her husband, the children’s hands in his, frowning at the girl as the waves knocked about them. Even from where she sat, she could discern the apprehension on Yacov’s face. She saw him bend and speak to the boys. He led them to the shallows, left them and went toward the girl. They were out of earshot but what she saw needed no words.
The girl flung her impetuous arms about his neck. He pushed the shimmering body away from him and turned anxiously to where she sat on the sand. She saw the ache in his look. He faced the girl again and addressed her sharply, anger plain on his handsome features. The girl was in a state of shock. She turned her face dully toward her and their eyes held for an instant. Then back to him and beyond to the boys playing in the shallows. She burst into tears and her voice rose to an audible shriek.
Those on the beach watched with interest.
“Married!” the girl repeated, her incredulous voice quivering. She doubled over, her arms across her stomach, sick with pain.
“Liar! Liar! Liar! Liar!”
Tears streamed down her bronzed face. She was oblivious of the crowd around them. She let out a wail, then turned and fled, her blonde ponytail jiggling from side to side. She pushed someone out of her way, grabbed a towel from the sand and kept on running until she disappeared behind the First Aid Station.
Yacov turned to her, where she sat numbly on the sheet, all feeling, all sensation gone. She could see the pain on his face and the concern in his eyes. She thought: ‘I should be feeling something- anger, resentment, indignation, fury. I feel empty. This must be what death is like.’ She was conscious only of a weary pity for the girl. She laughed bitterly at the irony of feeling sorry for her husband’s lover and did not realize she had laughed out loud. She was not even aware he was standing by her side. She was thinking about how funny it all was, and how funny it wasn’t really. The thought tickled her and she laughed again and she couldn’t stop laughing even as the tears gushed from her eyes. She found this even more amusing and she was able to stop neither the laughter nor the tears.
He knelt by her and she noted how the water stained the towel as it dripped from his body. And she laughed that it should seem important at all.
“I’m sorry,” he said and tears wet his cheeks too. “I’m so sorry. I love you. Stop it, please. I’m sorry.”
She wondered why he was apologizing. It was all too, too amusing and she continued laughing as the tears fell.
He repeated: “I love you” and attempted to draw her head to his briny chest, she found it hilarious and hit out at him, flailing at him with her fists. And he held on to her and she laughed and laughed, and struck and struck, and the tears refused to stop.
The featured image, ‘The Long Walk’, was used with the permission of artist Pascal Campion.