Julian Gallo is the author of ‘Existential Labyrinths’, ‘Last Tondero in Paris’, ‘The Penguin and The Bird’ and other novels. His short fiction has appeared in The Sultan’s Seal (Cairo), Exit Strata, Budget Press Review, Indie Ink, Short Fiction UK, P.S. I Love You, The Dope Fiend Daily, The Rye Whiskey Review, Angles, and Verdad.
He sits on the sand gazing out towards where two shades of blue kiss the horizon. It’s a quiet moment as he attempts to communicate with the ghosts of history who dwell within the sea. He smokes a cigarette, sips his wine, thinks of his ancestors, for this is where they come from.
Behind him, many people lie about the beach, soaking up the sun, smelling the sea salt, relaxed, but no one is on top of one another. Each person has their own private space in which to lose themselves. Some are with their families, others sit alone on beach chairs, a bottle of water beside them, a paperback in their hands. They occasionally look up at the sun, perhaps pour a little water in their hands and sprinkle it on to their hot skin. That’s what that beautiful raven haired woman in sunglasses is doing and a smile tugs at his lips as he watches her gently polish her sun kissed arms with bottled water.
There are a lot of beautiful women here.
He compares the scene to what he’s used to seeing on the beaches back home — towels lying end to end, the pompous, self-important strut from those desperate to be noticed, and he asks himself how on earth can anyone, who are literally on top of one another all week long, come to the beach only to be on top of one another again? It is a completely different world here and he wonders if the whole thing is a dream.
Someone has a radio, the music is just loud enough for him to catch snippets of sound. It’s a thoroughly Mediterranean styled music, somewhat Greek, somewhat Turkish, with just a hint of Spanish. He can’t tell who’s listening to it but it’s providing the perfect soundtrack as he meditates on the lap of the waves gently kissing the beach. The singing is clearer now and he determines it is indeed Greek, and that’s when he notices the little radio sitting in the sand next to the woman who had rubbed herself down with water a few moments earlier. She too is reading a book but he can’t tell what she’s reading although he tries to glean the title from a distance. She’s just too far away and the thought of going over to her to ask crosses his mind. He doesn’t. Instead he catches another whiff of sea air as the breeze gently rolls off the sea, diverting his attention to three young bronze skinned boys in a fishing boat casting a net into the water. An old tradition. Ancient. Perhaps his ancestors had done the same thing.
He sips the last of his wine, leans back, and burrows his fingers into the hot sand, shuts his eyes, soaks up the sun. He takes a deep breath — ah, that sea air.
Then something startles him — a voice, coming from somewhere to his right. Suddenly he isn’t where he thought he was. There are people everywhere and they’re all looking towards the commotion. The smell of sea air is replaced by the odor of the New York City summer and a variety of ethnic foods. The tranquil music from the beautiful woman’s radio morphs into the angry voices of two old women arguing over a subway seat, each of them becoming increasingly aggressive. Cursing, screaming, and threatening one another, some people laugh, suck their teeth, while others gripe how it’s too hot and too early in the morning to listen to this bullshit. The two arguing over the empty seat begin shoving one another, causing the mass of sweating, miserable bodies to surge towards one end of the car, towards where he is sitting. The voices get louder as the train comes to a stop and swallows up yet another crowd of people, all scrambling around in search for their cherished seats, bitching and moaning that there aren’t any. A woman grumbles she never gets a seat. Ever. Another complains she keeps being shoved by the surging crowd as they push their way into a space which has no room for them. The voices continue to bellow and shriek, and he shuts his eyes, desperately tries to scramble back to that beach and that beautiful woman listening to the radio, reading her book.
He can’t go back now. It’s all over.
As the train makes its way towards the next station, he no longer smells the sea air but rather someone’s armpit, someone’s Big Mac, someone’s burnt coffee. No matter how hard he tries to return to that beach, it’s pointless. It’s gone.
As he looks around at the mass of bodies all pressed up against one another, observes their scowling faces, the depressed, miserable blank stares, the empty, dead gazes which reflect their lifelong disappointments, he knows there’s a better way than this. He shuts his eyes again, but he still can’t go back. This time it’s to shut out, as best he can, everything going on around him.
Prose in this post: © Julian Gallo
Published with the permission of Julian Gallo