I met Andrew by the water on a Sunday morning. I had separated from my group of travel companions. I took a stroll to the seaside to sit on the wet stone of a rock wall, soak my skirt in the remnants of the morning’s rain, and drink in the gloom of the day. The fog drifted toward the island and Andrew strolled up to me. He was dressed more appropriately for the cold weather than I, in a wool peacoat and with a simple knit cap on. He was mid 30’s with dark hair, and looked vaguely like a taller version of my boyfriend, save for the touches of red in his beard.
Actually, his dog walked up to me first, he scampered up off-leash and sat a few meters away from me directly beneath the sign warning that two things were forbidden on the beach:
- Public nudity.
Andrew looked down at the wet boards of the park bench behind me, then laid his palm on the stone wall I was perched on, determined it dry enough, and sat beside me.
I cocked my head towards his dog and said,
“I guess he doesn’t have much regard for the rules.”
“I haven’t taught him how to read the signs,” said Andrew. We both looked at the dog, and not each other.
“What’s your excuse, then? There are only two rules here and you’re breaking 50% of them. That’s got to be, what, a felony?” I said.
“They’ll never catch me alive. We could make it 100% if you want to join me for a swim.”
He looked at me as he finished the sentence. His eyes were hazel, that was different too. They glowed a little despite the gloom, and I felt sort of guilty for looking at them. He wasn’t wearing glasses, I thought he had been when he walked up to me. He let the silence linger, confident in his bawdy suggestion.
“It’s too cold out here for swimming, let alone skinny-dipping,” I said
“That’s what he would have said.”
“So he agrees with me then. What are you so afraid of?”
“You know, frostbite, the law, the stranger sitting next to me suggesting I disrobe…”
“How can you be afraid of me? You made me up.”
“I did, indeed. I wasn’t sure if you knew that.”
“Yeah, definitely a weird choice. What’s that all about?”
“I guess I’m lonely, this seems like a good spot to sit and be lonely.”
He gave a little nod, his lips pursed.
“It’s not very lonely if you are imagining company. So, you have a real guy here, interesting. Is that why I remind you of him?”
“When I came on this trip I felt like I was going to summer camp. I always had big unrequited crushes at summer camp. But I came here with a love that’s all, I don’t know, fulfilling and healthy? I figured I would manufacture a crush.”
“I guess it’s not cheating if I am imaginary.”
“Who said anything about cheating? This is just a conversation.”
“Is it? Why aren’t you talking to a real person instead?”
“I came here with him and a group on a remote work trip. I only know him, the rest are friends: of him, of each other. So, I am a bit of an outsider. They all work in IT.”
“Ah, you seem a little, uh, analog for that, with the journal and all.”
“Yeah, I am definitely a bit different from the group, and not just because of the work stuff. But, I am okay with being a weirdo, or with being myself. There are just a lot of little things, like they’re all athletic. I am… not one for sports. Today they’re all kayaking. I am not in the mood to be a killjoy, so I let them go without me. I am trying out being a misanthrope instead.”
“How’s that going for you?”
“Terribly, they’re lovely people. Impossible to dislike, which means I am being a recluse for no reason. They’ve been super welcoming, speaking in English all the time. One of them is his coworker and she’s ridiculously nice. She even keeps speaking English when I leave the room. I have absolutely nothing to complain about at all. But this weather begs for moodiness.”
A breeze kicked up, the soundscape a wash of waves, wind, and mournful seagull cries.
“It sounds fake,” said Andrew.
“You’re one to talk. Or not talk. But yeah, it does. It’s too perfect, like a movie soundtrack. It’s like the Truman show.”
“I see what you mean, I think it’s also the difference in depth of field between the city across the water and the mountains behind it. The mountains look like one of those old hand-painted movie sets. Like in Brigadoon.”
“You know Brigadoon?! Damn. I did not expect that from a guy dressed like you.”
“I mean, you made me up. Plus, don’t you remember, you said that to him yesterday, your guy. The thing about Brigadoon.”
“Oh yeah… I did. It was beautiful, actually. Yesterday, I mean. The clouds were lower, and for most of the morning we all thought the mountains were just an extension of the sky, it was a cool trick of the eye. His friend pointed out at the water and said “look closer” and it took me a minute to see it.”
“It’s cool, something like a secret hidden in plain sight. ‘Hidden in plain sight,’ isn’t that one of those phrases that don’t translate well to German?”
“It is. I mean, if this was a Truman show scenario, if they tried to trap me on this island, maybe they picked the wrong year. This was the summer when I learned to brave the water. I’m stubborn. I wouldn’t care if the water was cold, I would swim out of here towards that questionable horizon…”
“…To find out if the mountains had been painted on?”
Just then, the waves kicked up. Well, they didn’t, but it would have been dramatic timing if they had.
I sighed, “I guess I wouldn’t brave the water with this tide. Plus, it’s different to swim in salt water. “
“So weak. So much for being stubborn, you’re already making excuses to get out of this escape. I guess you’re stuck on the island.”
“I mean, I didn’t bring a bathing suit, and you see the sign, you see the rules.”
“I would not mind watching you break the second rule.”
“I am sure you wouldn’t. But, I guess I made you up, so maybe you have seen it all before. Maybe we’ve been lovers for hundreds of years, maybe we’re vampires and braving the day because of the clouds. Maybe it’s hazy enough that we aren’t afraid of the sun. Maybe you have learned every atom of my skin, and forgotten it, and learned each freckle anew. Maybe you taught me to know my own body better than I knew how. Maybe we have loved each other so long that it’s a romance which has been killed and resurrected, reimagined, reborn, maybe…”
“Maybe you shouldn’t start writing cheap fantasy romance novels. It’s not your thing. Aren’t you supposed to be writing your book, anyways? The…novel thing, it’s a mystery, right?”
“Pfft, all this time that we have known each other, Andrew, yet you can barely remember what I am writing about! Yes, it’s a mystery novel, you jerk.”
“Andrew? Since when is that my name?”
“Since the first sentence.”