Breathless Tide

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
A woman has a seemingly meaningless affair with a strange, handsome younger man and begins to question where her listless life is headed.

Submitted: May 28, 2010

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Submitted: May 28, 2010

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The sky was a dome, expanding across the land. In the distance, the open water reflected fragments of light, sharp and blinding, like a rippling mirror. Closer inland, the waves thrashed against the shore, tossing about in a wild, familiar somersault. The ocean spray rose from the frothing surf and lingered, floating indifferently above the roar of the tide.

The moisture tingled Anna’s cheeks; the salt in the air shone upon her parted lips. The hot sand bristled beneath her bare feet, and the sun stung her shoulders. It was a pleasant sting, slight but invigorating.

With a gradual suddenness, like the slow rush of pain following a bee-sting, she realized that Luke stood behind her. His presence, elegantly poised as if for an attack, was like the hushed breath of the ocean upon her face--acute, yet almost imperceptible.

At last his arms slid around her in a predatory embrace, stealing the air in her lungs, constricting against her chest like a circle of hot iron. As his tongue flicked against her ear, her neck fell forward like a cut thread, limp and pliable. She could feel parts of him--his arms, his mouth, his chest pressed against her back like a plate of armor, but she could not feel him. She could never envision his face until she actually saw it; she could never remember his voice until she actually heard it. Sometimes she wondered if he even existed, if he was nothing but an intense dream.

Anna.” The rasping breath of her name slithered into her ear.

Her name was the only word that he ever uttered when they had sex, when her fingernails tore into his back and a membrane of sweat glued their bodies together. The sound of her own name, whispered in the throes of orgasm, had never previously shattered her to pieces. But then, her husband did not have her lover’s serpentine charisma. For upon Luke’s lips, the hoarse utterance of those two syllables brought Anna to a dizzying precipice.

The tip of her tongue danced upon her lips, clinging to the hard edges in Luke’s breath. The press of his body was close and powerful, its heat bleeding through the fabric of her sundress, white and gauzy like a wedding veil. The brush of his tongue upon her neck was salty, pinching her skin.

As he stood behind her, around her, almost inside her, the sand prickled the soles of her feet and the waves crashed in her ears. The sun scalded her skin, its light collectively pouring into her, its hot gaze alighting upon her eagerly, like a wanderer’s eye upon an oasis.

Luke’s hands folded into her own pliant ones, and he lured her away from the shore, leading her to the villa. He threw open the screen doors of the sunroom, where the peach-painted walls absorbed the light and reflected a dull peace.

In a single sinuous motion, Luke collapsed upon the wicker sofa. He studied Anna with a familiar eye, a sly, almost sardonic smile sharpening his mouth. Reflected in his gaze was a varnish of boyish cockiness. A sliver of wisdom half-raised the corners of Anna’s mouth, but fear palsied her lips, leaving her with a strange grimace upon her face.

At such moments Anna remembered that her lover was only twenty. Though she tried to ignore it, she acutely felt those twelve years between them, one of many unsaid secrets hanging in the midst of their affair.

Anna stared at Luke, eyeing the languid bend of his long, wiry limbs across the sofa, the awkward curve of his neck, the faint but fierce glint in his dark, slit-like eyes. His chin was sharp and triangular, like a cobra’s head. His cheekbones were painfully high, carving hollow sockets into his cheeks. His shirt and faded jeans clung to his skin, slick with the humid air.

“What?” he asked at last, his arms folded behind his head. There was a slightly peevish edge to his teasing.

“Nothing,” Anna responded cryptically.

She smiled at him and Luke followed suit, pressing his thin lips into an upward-curving blade. Everything about Luke was so sharp, so tensile, so angular, that Anna was surprised his kisses did not slice her open, leaving her face embroidered with scars.

“What do you want to do today?” Luke asked, his voice wafting lazily in the air.

“I don’t know,” Anna said immediately. An awkward silence fell between them.

A week’s secret getaway to her friend’s beachside villa had seemed a good idea to Anna. She thought it would be a way to discover more with Luke than she had in the previous months, fumbling in the darkness behind closed doors, battering against his body in a bed dripping with the sweet stench of sweat.

But now they had only two days left--including today--and all they had done was make love, stare at the ocean, and smile at each other in strange, often uncomfortable ways. Soon they must return to the routine of their lives: Anna to her husband, and Luke to… whatever his life entailed. (She knew almost nothing about him.) The lack of awareness between them had conjured a heavy silence, engulfing the villa like a lethal form of oxygen--necessary and ubiquitous, but dangerous, threatening to poison whatever semblance of a relationship held them together.

“We could do what we always do,” Luke said, interrupting Anna’s reverie.

A sudden pain shot through Anna’s chest--swift, graceful, and searing, like the release of a tense bowstring.

“Yes,” she said, recovering quickly and silently from her wound. “Yes, we could.”

~

Later, blanketed in the hot black of night, lying next to Luke in bed, something, Anna wasn’t quite sure what, roiled within her.

She watched her young lover, the rise and fall of his chest, his soft breath in synch with the hum of the waves. Even in wan moonlight, he was as striking as ever. His features in and of themselves were not attractive, but he was undeniably beautiful, his persona magnetic like the moon’s pull upon the tides. He was utterly at peace in who he was, fully attuned to all that existed around him. He was arrogant, she knew, but there was a rare harmony inside him, glorifying his pointy face and slim frame. She envied him terribly.

Always confident in the daylight, Anna’s insecurities ran rampant in shadow. This night was no exception. She wanted to wake Luke and make love again, to distract herself from the whirlwind tearing through her mind, to assure herself that she was strong and desirable. She knew these things, yes, but the validation of their truth never ceased to exhilarate her.

For years Anna had believed that she was infallible, like a giant redwood--formidable yet attractive, immune to the effects of time and weather. Now she was not so sure. Now she questioned the map of her life, once clear and concise, now jumbled and blurry.

Many times she had told herself that Luke was nothing more than an unusually long respite from reality. Now, as it dawned upon her like the moonlight arching through the curtains, she realized that Luke was something more.

Her trembling fingers grazed his chest, swelling and deflating with steady breath, his skin unmarred by age or experience, his whole form tingling with warmth.

She loved every fiber of his being.

~

They walked along the beach in the pale gray light of morning, leaving behind twin sets of footprints in the hard wet sand. A sheet of cloud still curtained the sky, coolly bracing the air.

They stood very close, but they were not touching. The dull crash of the waves gave Anna a sudden reserve of courage, and she gently wove her hand into Luke’s. He turned his head towards her--his face remained impassive, but his eyes widened. She regretted her impulsive action, but she also felt slightly defiant--didn’t she have some sort of right to this? The awkwardness lingered for a moment. Then, the brief question in Luke’s eyes faded, and he wrapped his fingers around hers without missing a beat.

Anna instantly felt more at ease, though she could not shake the strange twitch in her chest.

As the hours wore on--slowly, like a thick liquid--the sun begged entrance into the sky, sending the clouds into a scatter. Together they lolled upon the beach, bathing in the sea and basking in the light. They lay exposed beneath the sun’s rays, the dried, supple sand bending under their bodies, side by side.

Anna wanted to rest her head upon his chest, hear the dull reassuring thud of his heartbeat, touch the hollow space at his throat with tentative fingertips. She resisted, though Luke’s proximity was almost unbearable.

“…are you even listening to me?”

“What?” Anna said, startled. Her vision clicked back into focus, and she saw Luke’s head turned towards her, his eyes boring into hers. She could not tell if he was about to frown or smile. He exhaled and looked away.

“Nothing,” he said at last, somewhat petulantly.

“No,” she pleaded. “Tell me.”

He sighed and stared up at the sterile blue sky. “I was just thinking that this reminds me of being younger. When I was eight or nine, maybe. It’s just so…I don’t know. Whatever it is, I feel now what I did back then. I feel like, here, I don’t need to think. There’s just…all this. Me. You. The water. And that’s all there is.”

“Do you miss it?”

“What?”

“This feeling--when it’s not with you, I mean. You said you haven’t felt this in years.”

Luke paused. “I don’t know. I love it when I feel it, but when I don’t feel it…it’s not a pain, really, it’s just…an emptiness. You know something is missing, but you go on without it.” For a moment he was silent, and she waited. “No, I don’t miss it when it’s gone,” he said at last, with careless finality. His eyes slid over to Anna, and he smiled at her briefly.

Anna closed her eyes--a slow, heavy sealing of the lids. Her breath was shallow. She had never heard him speak in such a way before.

“Well, should we head back?” Luke asked. “It’s getting late and I need to get back home by tonight.”

Anna nodded, and together they stood. The blood rushed into her head, dizzying her for a moment.

As they walked back the way they came, their feet nimbly avoiding the shards of seashells, Anna could not dam the stream of thoughts flowing through her mind. She was losing control in almost too many ways to handle.

It was with a prick of sadness that she noticed the sunlight had brushed away their footprints, leaving the dried sand stark and clean.

~

At the villa Luke packed his meager possessions quickly. They had left the place nearly spotless throughout their stay, except of course for the bedroom, where the sheets were soiled and twisted, the windows thrown wide open.

Meanwhile Anna sat in a wicker chair in the sunroom, listening to the muffled sounds of Luke’s movement in the other rooms. Her face was passive and her breath even, but beneath a calm surface swirled a storm.

The affair had meant nothing for months. It had been the one part of her life that remained out of her husband’s reach, out of reach of the expectations that accompanied being a wife. It was unbridled in its passion, its stupidity, its callousness--and she loved every moment of it, the utter control she bore. She had believed that the control was all she loved. But now she realized she loved something more.

She could not understand, in all the corners of her mind, why she loved Luke; but she did, truly and irrevocably. She didn’t even know him. Perhaps she didn’t love him, but merely the idea of him. It made no difference either way.

When Luke walked through the door of the sunroom, Anna immediately rose and stood before him, blocking his path. He stared at her with a quizzical look.

For a moment that felt like an eon, she merely stood there, her lips trembling, her short brown hair barely touching her shoulders, the steel in her spine unrelenting. It was as though she stood upon a great precipice, her feet clinging to the edge, wavering between two desires: to make the plunge or to go on living. Her body said live and her mind said die--or was it the other way around?

“What’s wrong?” Luke asked at last. There was concern in his eyes, but she could not tell if it was concern for her, or concern of being late. He went to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Anna?”

She wanted him to say her name like he did when he reached orgasm. But all that was so far away.

“I love y--” The words burst out like a gasp of pain. She could not complete the word.

But she didn’t have to; Luke understood. Slowly, his hands fell from her shoulders, his fingers carelessly brushing against her skin. She shuddered.

Luke’s lips fell open, and the soft suggestion of a voice emerged, but the words were garbled. The glint in his eye faded, the hint of a knowing smile vanished.

Anna could hear nothing. The waves that once banged against her eardrums now subsided. All she heard was the sound of Luke’s breath, calm and steady, thrusting and receding with the pulse of the tide.

Still Luke remained silent, while Anna froze in fear. The silence around them tore into her like the claws of a beast, a beast that would devour her softly and sweetly.

“Anna,” he murmured, with the ragged breath that follows a stab wound to the gut.

She steeled herself for the worst--or was it the best? She didn’t know; she no longer recognized the design of her life.

“Anna, I…” Luke struggled to find the words. His voice was rawer than she had ever heard before. He placed a hand upon her cheek--hesitantly, as though he had not already touched every plane and crevice of her body.

She was a flower, thin and withering, too fragile to be touched. But she let herself be touched.

“Anna, I can’t.”

She closed her eyes in resignation and exhaled heavily, as though submitting to the executioner’s blade.

It was done.

His hand lingered upon her cheek. Then, he retreated from her, slowly and cautiously, as though the floor were made of glass. Standing in the doorway, gazing at his lover for what she knew was the last time, he let out a final breath, deep and hoarse. As he did so, a sudden burst of energy ran through the tide, and the waves slapped against the shore in a cloud of foam.

There was the sound of Luke’s footsteps, slowly growing fainter, and the hollow click of the front door.

The hopeful spiral in her chest abruptly ceased and fell.

There was nothing more.

~

Anna emerged from the villa at sunset, her bare feet sinking into the cool sand. Purples, oranges, and pinks filled the sky in a hazy mural as the last of the red sun curved beneath the horizon.

Her eyes were blank, but her mind was like an underwater grotto, cavernous and isolated, flooded with thoughts.

She wished she could feel the fullness Luke felt. She wished she could abandon and forget what she loved without regret, like he was able to. She wished she could feel the many things that seemed just beyond her grasp.

She no longer knew the limits. She no longer had control. She no longer understood who she was, where she was, why she was here.

At last she stood upon the edge of the shore. The foam of the dying waves pressed lightly against her feet. She sauntered farther and farther into the frothing waves, slow yet determined, as if in a funeral procession.

She thought of how Luke’s breath was perfectly synchronized to the steady pulse of the ocean. Meanwhile within her own body she felt a tide rising and falling, but one of a different sort: a breathless tide, a short, frantic beat that brought her high and dragged her low. She was lost, trapped within the flailing embrace of her own tide. She had always been lost, but only now did she fully understand.

The chill water lapped against her quivering knees. She stumbled but she barely noticed, wading further into the dark undulating water. The puffs of foam were like an anesthetic in the air, calming and reassuring her, deadening her.

All around her the waves thrashed into large ardent swells. The salt in the air, sharper than ever, clung to her eyelashes as her lids fluttered open and shut like loose curtains. High above in the sunset-stained sky, the last of the seagulls soared and wailed.

This was all that was left, she realized. Her whole being now lay broken and naked upon the curling waves.

There was nothing more.


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