The Singing Butler and the Girl on the Beach
By Becky Alice Coe
I’d been standing on the beach for longer than I could remember, staring out into the darkness of the sea as it crashed into a dense wall of black sand. I could only discern a passing of time by the sudden lack of light and the way the sun was no longer sending a glittering prism of light across the sandy black beach formed from volcano ash long forgotten.
It was beautiful here, it was the reason I had chosen it. Far away from anything, at the base of a long and bumpy road ending in a stretch of beach that went on for miles in either direction. The air smelled faintly of sulphur and salt. Though the sulphur tinge may have been wishful thinking. It had been thousands of years since these lands had seen the plates shift and the volcanic hills had erupted in formidable acts of fire and brimstone. It was happening in my head, nonetheless.
I pictured the scene in concept, a lonely fishwife lost at sea. Raging fires at her back and a fearless ocean beyond. A dichotomy of choice, my imaginary heroine frozen in the act of perpetual choice. It was a while before I realised I had company. I snapped back from my reverie as a shadow of a man aligned himself by my left elbow and spoke with a voice as deep as the ocean before me, but simultaneously soft like water running over pebbles in a calm stream.
“If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
“Nietzsche,” I said. “One of my favourites. So how long have you been watching me to know how long I’ve gazed?”
“Long enough to know you’re running away from something.” “Oh? And what makes you think I’m running away?”
“Other than the lack of footwear, what seems to be some sort of wedding dress, and the gazing longingly into an endless horizon of black sea. I’d say you have the look of either a jilted bride, or an escaped convict who ran through a wedding on the escape route and thought it might make a good disguise. You tell me?”
“You’re wrong on both accounts, it’s not quite that romantic.”
It was almost twilight and the sun was behind us, casting a pearlescent glow on the cresting waves. I was suddenly enraptured by the sense that the stranger was trying not to look directly at me, and certain he knew I was doing the same.
“So can I ask why a foreign beauty is alone on a remote beach usually known only to locals, wearing such intriguing attire and so carefully avoiding the question?”
“You wouldn’t want the answer.”
“How much time do you have?”
“An infinite amount.”
He folded his arms then and gave me a sideways smirk, still looking ahead. Giving me a moment to compose my story.
“I lost my dog.”
“I lost my umbrella.”
“It’s not raining.”
“I was shipwrecked.”
“Try harder if you’re going to make it up.”
“Fine, I’ll tell you. But only if I can ask you something personal first?”
I turned to him then, curious to see my strange companion. As I focused on him, a wave of shock ran through me. No stronger than the waves now slowly pooling around our feet as the ocean slowly began to advance. Almost like I had seen him before, but couldn’t place him. He turned to me too and our eyes met for a second. Eyes so piercingly blue I felt I could fall into them and never find the bottom. I’d known what I wanted to ask before I’d turned around, but I didn’t want the answer anymore. So I asked a different question.
“What’s your biggest secret?”
It was sudden and unexpected. Usually, I would have the air and grace of a feral child when I spoke to strangers. One more likely to have been brought up by wolves than hard-working yet well-meaning humans of somewhat questionable ethics. Given the fact that I would terrify my audience immediately with a comprehending stare and then say something barbaric like, “Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever been?” The receiver would either get my awkward sensibility and offer up an intriguing answer or stare at me blandly hoping I would leave. I always preferred the former. Yet in this instant, I was momentarily disarmed.
“My biggest secret, in this current circumstance, is that I’m fighting an insane urge to kiss a very strange girl I have only just met on a dark beach. But I’m an honest man and secrets don’t serve me well.”
His eyes twinkled. The ocean reflected in that perfect blue hue, and I saw the hint of a smirk grow on his face before his lips parted. Then he closed them again. Watching me. The scent on the air had gone from pungent and salty to something sweet and musky. I felt my heart begin to pound in my chest. Becoming so loud and fast I felt sure he could hear it and know I was suddenly aching for his lips on mine. It felt almost cosmic, a moment of pure intensity between two strangers, held for a moment before something in the air shifted and his arms were suddenly sweeping around me. He held my face in his hands like we were already lovers, gently grazing the soft side of his cheek next to mine. I felt my breath catch, he waited a moment more. Then kissed me with more passion and ferocious wanting than I’d ever known.
As time steadied itself, we let go. My body still trembling slightly from his touch. He looked ahead, standing casual and innocent. As though a moment ago he had not been falling through a stream of consciousness locked into an endless universe with my body in his arms and my heart in his hands. Where was I now? Who was this man? Who was I? I stopped and contemplated a moment I could barely grasp. It felt mildly cathartic. The girl who was never caught off guard, now teetering on a fence built from her own inhibition. A feeling of comfort tinged with the uncanny.
“What’s the story, Miss Golightly? You running away from a lover, or life?”
“I suppose you could say both,” I said. “But mostly I’m just running away from myself.”
“The best of us always are. You might want to get out of the water though, these currents have bested stronger folk than us.”
I looked back down at the burgeoning water, only now noticing it was now pooling around our ankles and growing higher with every wave. The adrenaline coursing through my body had held me there anchored to the spot, or was it that he was still holding me? I took a deep breath of the crisp, salty ocean air tinged with his sweetness into my lungs, then burst across the beach at full speed. My wet skirts clinging around my ankles but not hankering my footsteps as I sped across the beach. I laughed. A little too maniacally, a little too euphorically and I turned and held my arms across my chest. As though holding myself together lest parts of me disintegrate into the air. He called to me then, walking in my direction.
“What’s your name?” he yelled.
“I’ll tell you in another life. If we ever meet again.”
I stood fixed to the spot, my toes sinking into the wet sand feeling every grain run over my skin and the jolts of electricity moving across my body. A storm was brewing somewhere on the horizon and It excited me to feel so alive with the Earth. He was closer now, slowly moving across the beach, methodically and with purpose.
“How will you know who I am?”
“You’ll be the man in the corner smoking two cigarettes.”
He smiled. A smile that told a thousand stories of which I knew only one. Eyes that could sink a hundred ships, and lips that could kill me. I longed to kiss them again. Feel the electricity surging through my skin. But I did nothing. Then he turned and walked away. Slinging his jacket over his shoulder as though we hadn’t met at all. As though we had simply acknowledged the presence of each other and walked on. Moved on with our concurrent lives. But I didn’t move on, I stood there as long as I can remember. For entirely different reasons than those I had started with. Life was a mess. A series of bricks in a wall, and one of mine had just shifted.