Starting a Life-Time? || Arno Bohlmeijer

Exploring the literary limits or merits
of intimacy:
the bold and bodily start of a life-time?

When the sun is hot, like today, the wind can caress her whole body, and the waves are exhilarating. However, the sea breeze is so fierce that clouds make it unpleasant, and after a good ramble, Gaby shelters in a dune dale, small enough to keep it private – if all stays well in paradise.

The quieter the spot, the more a single sound may stand out. When she’s undressed, spread her towel and poured coffee from the thermos, it seems that something is intruding, but it can’t really be heard or seen, although her senses are highly perceptive. It’s no danger she detects, at the most a threat to her mood of gratitude, never taking this privilege for granted. She looks around a few times and doesn’t fully enjoy her coffee.

Staying positive, she lies down again and picks up her book, but on her right side, someone has arrived: a silhouette in the low light, soundless in the power of the elements. Instinctively she knows it’s a man, and she sits up with a hand shielding her eyes. Without any sexist bias, her surmise is confirmed by his posture and contours.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he says, and funny enough, he takes a step sideways as well as forward, so that she doesn’t have the sun shining into her eyes.

It strikes her how considerate his gesture is – few men would be thinking of her position – and how limberly he moves along the marram. 

“No trespassing here,” Gaby says, neither accusing him nor jesting.

He laughs cordially, with a touch of insecurity. “What about yourself?”

She also laughs. “I meant, where I am, it’s just alright, but you’ve been off limits. You know there are patrols?”

“Alas, yes, and they’re thorough too, in uniform on horseback around the dunes… I’d love that job. Is it only for the patrols that you stick to the rules?”

“Well, I can do without a fine, given my income, or a lecture, but they’re quite nice, actually. Anyhow, they know me by now, as a die-hard fanatical.”

“So you live nearby?”

She nods. “You don’t?”

He laughs again. “In town. How can you tell?”

“No idea. Have I offended you?”

“Why would that be?”

“Sorry,” Gaby says, “don’t know what I’m driveling about.”

She doesn’t pay much attention to the words, she stares in front of her, at the tanned legs with tiny golden hairs in the sunlight. He’s a well-built young man, shifting weight energetically, in sky-blue swim briefs. A beige sweater matches his own colors, with a keen and genial face under blowing, dark blond hair.

She’d like to watch this terrific picture at leisure, but his engaging smile tells her what he thinks: of course the patrol men want to know you! Do they take breaks for a chat?

He’s looked back at her, up and down – it’s only human to do so. With her salty black hair and topless, ochre-brown body, she’d merit the exclusive right to the dunes.

Dune goddess, he could think, while she admires his heart-conquering features.

Her tan is the solid kind after months in wind and sun, of a well-cared-for skin that looks like one of the elements. In the shade her eyes are near-black. Drawn helplessly by a life force, his gaze has slipped down to her small briefs, but he also looks her in the deep deer eyes.

“My ambitious kite took a wild dive in the marram. Before I got the ropes disentangled, I stumbled down here.”

“And you didn’t see me?”

“Why, cross my heart!” (And he does.) “Am I in the clear now? In fact, I think I was on this beach first.”

“Never mind,” Gaby says, “we’re not competing or quarreling.”

And he hurries to add, “I’d never impose or disturb!”

“Thanks. I’m not blaming you for anything. Will you be OK with the ropes?”

“Hope so. Shouldn’t be a minute.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to rush you. Sit down, or I’ll have a stiff neck and a hernia.” 

Then she offers her hand. “Gaby Rosswell.”

He shakes it promptly, “Walt Flanders,” and squats in the sand next to her. There’s not much room in this hollow among the tall and sharp grass. “What’s wrong with your income? Or am I imposing now after all?”

“Don’t worry, that was me opening a door, as they say in court. I give art workshops at The Lee and wouldn’t complain, if it weren’t for the contrast with many other jobs. You?”

“I wouldn’t dare to complain or compare. I’m in Cyber Security. Not profiting from calamities, but offering solutions. The Lee is one of the few institutions in the area without a device of mine. I’m not bragging! Just…”

“Frightening people into buying?”

“No no, I prove myself right unwillingly, against sad and scary developments.”

“It’s alright. I suppose The Lee is years behind and has been lucky so far – under crooks radars. Have you got a day off now?”

“More or less. I can take one when it feels good and the weather is like this.”

Gaby points to the beach below. “Did you want the action or desolation here? You see, if everybody gets the same idea, a flock will follow.”

“No, the wind pushed me, I mean, the kite pulled me, or… It’s no surf kite!” He jumps to his feet. “But it’s equally strong. Do you want me to show you?”

Finding herself a trifle childish, she’s exceedingly conscious of his fine feet close by and the sky-blue briefs, rather tight, creased, very clear around his narrow and moveable hips in the bright light. But a child would not pay attention, whereas he can see that she does, hating and forgiving herself.

“Sorry,” she says, “I fear it’s wasted on me.”

“Oh, too bad. What do you like then?”

“Um, books, painting, films, picking flowers and blackberries, dance, music, the waves, volleyball if I were tall enough, yoga, chocolate, liquorice, watching rabbits here by twilight…”

She glances at her book, so that Walt also looks and says, “Watership Down? About rabbits?”

“The classic, yep. Only a fable, I used to think, good for corny cartoons, but it’s magnificent, addictive.”

“How many pages?”

“Pages? Countless.”

Gaby leaves the book where it is and Walt asks, “Will you hold the kite for a sec?”

“Sure, if I can help.”

She gets up but hesitates when he plunges down the dune, to a huge orange kite behind her.

She follows and waits for him to call out and signal.

The moment she picks up the giant, it flaps wildly and noisily, eager to take off. She is petite and has trouble keeping her balance. Vaguely she can see Walt moving backwards between the ropes, and when the kite soars up, he shouts “Thanks,” without stopping – as if he could.

She ought to answer something like ‘Good luck’ or ‘Goodbye’, but it’s no use in the loud, increasing headwind. She waves a hand, which he won’t see either. She’s glad to lie down again and open her book, but the racket can still be heard as if it were a plane.

She’s allergic to engine sounds, and once this rattle has caught her, it seems to swell. Or is there something else now? She can’t but sit up and cast another look, at least to ascertain what’s going on and give her mind a new chance of peace.

It is Walt’s kite alright. With support bands around his wrists, he’s holding the ropes, pulled along the sand with great force. At times he can stand and steer, but gusts of wind will drag him on, leaning back on his heels for balance, or lift him for spectacular flying jumps, with gentle or rough landings.

As he’s coming closer, Gaby is fascinated by the power in his arms, back and legs, all working together in the hands of nature. He likes to yield and accelerate, but too much speed and height would bring him down hard. His face and countenance display an all-absorbing concentration, defying his muscles between the neck and feet. 

Some sand is piling up in his groins and crotch, falling off again with details in full sight through her binocular eyes.

By the time he’s come to a halt near her dune, she is on her knees, witnessing how he lands the kite like a pilot. He takes off his top, loosens the arms, and – before knowing it? – without realising that she’s observing him? – he worms the swim briefs down in order to remove the remaining whimsical sand.

It’s taking a while, or he’s taking his time because he’s a tidy man, and she is feeling it all.

Walt is panting audibly, or her many senses are colluding and augmenting. Then he calls out, “Have you seen what I meant?”

She nods and brushes her blowing hair out of her face.

“Wanna try?” he cries.

Coming across the ocean, the irregular blasts of wind are deafening, and when she doesn’t react, he shows his bright red wristbands. “There’s no danger!”

Now she grins. “You’re kidding! But I’m not very scared of that.”

“Sorry?” he shouts.

When Gaby springs down, she almost bumps into him, sticking up her hands.

“Keep a firm rein and lean backwards,” he says needlessly. “Be ready for the sweeps of wind.”

After a quick but probing look at her, Walt runs to the kite like a kid. He lifts it with one arm, gives a signal with the other, lets it fly and sprints back.

She’s braced herself and keeps her footing. At first he’s next to her, talking her through options and risks, then he shifts and stands against her back with his hands on hers, to show more tricks.

It’s all very sporty, spontaneous, demanding, but beneath the focus and exertion, they feel many parts of each other’s body moving, coordinating. Both can taste their physical and emotional depths. To him this is new in most respects. Her last special contact was about six months ago, ending in a painful disillusion.

Gaby shrieks when her strength and speed are challenged. She’s groaning with pleasure when it works, or when his cheek touches hers.

He withdraws and watches her being pulled away. She ventures a floating jump and is carried by air.

“Good!” Walt shouts, with only a minor doubt, rushing along.

After a couple of bold and half accidental stunts, her muscles are protesting and she’s afraid to lose control in case of a sudden treacherous gust.

“Well?” Walt asks, while the kite is tumbling down capriciously.

“It’s exciting and funny and crazy. But the noise… When you’re at it yourself, it’s not so bad, better than the gym din, but honestly, we can’t do this to others – who are not here now, I do admit. Or worse, they’ll think it’s Formula I, and we’ll have hordes!”

Walt can’t tell if that’s a joke or a dead-serious objection, and his face is hiding a degree of disappointment.

When the kite has calmed down, Gaby says, “Forgive me for being so straightforward – about your passion! I am sorry, but it drowned out the surf and wind.” 

She sags and lies, looking into the sky. He turns toward her, catches her eye for permission, as it were, to secure or reassure her first, while the past and future seem to be gone. 

The end – or start

Arno Bohlmeijer is a poet and novelist, writing in English and Dutch, winner of a PEN America Grant 2021, published in five countries (US: Houghton Mifflin) and in Universal Oneness: an Anthology of Magnum Opus Poems from around the World, 2019.

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