Holiday Romance

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Heidi Hirner
      In Margery Morell's fortieth year, something exciting happened.  She won a Crossword competition.  The prize was very grand; seven day's accommodation at the best hotel in Umhlanga, breakfast included.
      When Margery imagined the holiday she was overwhelmed by a precognition.  I'm going to fall in love, she guessed.  A holiday romance - like the ones she liked to read - an old fashioned love story in a glamorous setting with a handsome hero.   
      Margery blew the money she had saved for her car's service on a new wardrobe (for the fuller figured romantic heroine) and a good, strong perm; rigid enough to cover the patch on her head where the hair didn't grow. 
      Finally the day of check-in arrived. 
 "Your key, Miss Morell.  Shall I call a porter?"
Margery shook her head no, no, no.  She wasn't sure how to tip porters in luxury hotels. 
      The desk clerk raised an eyebrow but allowed Margery to wrestle her own gym bags to the room.  She was struggling along a passage, when an Italian accent interrupted her.
      "Allow me to 'elp you m'am."
      A man.  Margery jumped.
      "Ddrrr … " she fumbled.  He was a dreamboat.
      "I'll carry those for you."
      His fingers were long and beautiful.  His smile made her dizzy.
      "Thank you," she breathed.
      Inside her room, Margery flopped onto the organza bedspread.  She spent the drizzly afternoon staring beyond the ruby velvet drapes framing the Juliet balcony, fantasizing about the foreigner with the dreamboat smile. 
      The next morning, Margery rose with the sun.  From her balcony she watched the staff set up the sun loungers around the adults' pool. 
      Must hurry… thought Margery, pulling on her one-piece …if I want a lounger.  She checked her reflection, put some cream on the rash from her lip-wax and wrapped a sarong around her cauliflower thighs. 
      Margery chose a lounger set on a rise; the elevation offered an expansive view of the sea, the beach and the boardwalk. 
      Her Danielle Steele lay unopened on her stomach as she watched the waves cart-wheeling onto the shore, tumbling with a slosh and receding with a fizz.  It was already very warm and the beach was blooming with umbrellas like the Namaqualand after good rain.
      Fragments of a busker's song drifted on the ocean breeze: "Summertime and the living is easy … yore daddy reech and yo momma good-lookin …" 
      Margery noticed that the woman lying on a nearby lounger was staring at her quite blatantly.  The woman's face was shaded by a white stetson; her eyes hooded by white-framed sunglasses with a gold G on the arms.  Her white bikini was teamed with a brief white sarong that hung off hipbones as sharp as shark's fins.  The woman was dazzling.  
      Margery didn't recognize her.
      Margery did recognize the dreamboat man coming down the steps to the pool, though.  Her heart flipped like a dolphin.  To Margery's disappointment, he stopped to speak to the woman in the white Stetson.  Eventually, he sat down on the woman's lounger and, as they chatted, he absently trailed his beautiful long fingers over her tanned skin.
      Margery felt her fantasies draining away like old bath water.
      She watched him stand up and return to the hotel. 
      A lifeguard crackled over the speakers: "Attention members of the public.  We have blue-bottles in the water today, folks, and strong undercurrents, so please exercise caution when swimming."
      Margery was pleased that she had privileged access to the hotel pool. 
      "Margery?  Margery Morell?!" 
      Margery looked around.  The woman with the stetson was waving at her. 
      Margery still didn't recognize her but … there was something familiar about the voice … it was rough and sexy - like satin snagging on stubble.  The voice jostled her recollection.  A memory swum towards the surface of her consciousness … for some reason, Margery smelt burnt toast.  An impossible smell in the clean ocean breeze.  Toast burning.  No, not toast.  It was hair. 
      Margery froze as the full memory returned, as sharp as a blue-bottle's sting.  She was ten years old, in a classroom.  The kids had turned in their desks to stare at her, open-mouthed, their necks craned like vultures, their eyes so big she could see flames reflected in them. 
Her hair was on fire.
      When Margery stood up, screaming, spinning, thrashing, she saw teeth.  The girl behind her was smiling; she had a lighter in her hand. 
      The woman spoke again, recalling Margery from her trance.
      "It's me - Shawna Jolie.  Don't you recognize me?" The woman smiled.  "We went to school together."
      The way that the eye-teeth shuffled the grin into something carnivorous confirmed Margery's recollection, but by then it was too late.  Shawna Jolie had seen the realization dawn on Margery's face. 
      "Yes, it's me - Shawna.  Don't look so shocked - you look like a deer in headlights."
      Shawna seemed genuinely pleased, like a bored house-cat that has spotted a three-legged mouse.
      "Come sit here.  Let's catch up.  It's been years!"
      Shawna picked up Margery's bag and laid it on the lounger next to her own.  She's forgotten the fire, thought Margery fingering the glassy bald patch on her head, It's natural ...  it was so long ago
      As Shawna moved around the lounger, Margery noticed another strong scent. 
      A smell that she associated with mechanical things and … her garden shed.  In her mind's eye, she saw the spades and rakes against the shed's wall, the lawnmower, the plastic container in the corner.  Petrol. 
      Shawna smelt of petrol.  Impossible, thought Margery, it's my mind playing tricks on me.  I associate her with fire and lighter fluid and so I've imagined a petrol smell. 
      "Sit yourself down," Shawna patted the lounger. "How the heck are you?" 
      Margery sat primly, while Shawna lolled across her lounger like a panther on a branch.  Her fingers drummed on the mattress like spiders dancing.  Her nails were as white as shell and shiny like plastic.  
      "I'm fine," Margery said cautiously.  "I heard that you married a film producer and moved to LA."  Shawna had dreamed of being a movie star; of seeing her face magnified onto a film screen.  Her uncommon beauty had assured her success with men, though not as an actress.
      "Oh, he died years ago.   An accident.  I haven't had much luck with husbands.  I guess it's because I like the adventurous ones." 
      An ant was crawling across Shawna's lounger.  She tilted her head to watch it.  Her finger curled like a scorpion's tail and then the white plastic fingernail sliced the insect in two. 
      "My life hasn't been easy … losing two husbands.  Tragedy after tragedy."  She looked at Margery with bent brows - a melodramatic expression that would be credible only in a soap opera. 
      "Ahh well," she sighed.  "I shouldn't linger on the negatives - it isn't healthy.  I'm lucky, I guess - I've got Barry.  I met Barry - my current husband - at the Yacht club.  He's also a producer.  And he also likes his little adventures, so I guess I haven't learnt my lesson yet."
      Shawna smiled like a Fado singer.
      "Loves his water sports.  He's taking his jet-ski out this morning, even though I asked him not to.  The gas gauge is faulty."
      Margery heard a loud csshhtickk.  She flinched at the sound and looked up.  Shawna had a lighter in her hand.
      "I mean the petrol gauge is faulty.  I forgot that over here you call it petrol."  When their eyes met, Shawna smiled, fingering the lighter, letting it burn for a while before finally flicking it shut.
      She does remember, thought Margery, stunned. 
      "I told him to get it fixed.  It's the small things that end up being dangerous.  The devil in the details.  But you know how men are … they don't listen."  Shawna's face had a tight, preserved look, as though cling-film had been stretched over her face. 
      "Was that your husband …" Margery cleared her throat "… that man you were talking to earlier?"
      "God no, don't be silly.  That's Lorenzo - my personal trainer.  My husband and I have an arrangement - if he brings his Swedish nanny on holiday, I'm allowed to bring Lorenzo.  Fair is fair."
      "You're with your trainer and your husband?"
      "Don't look so shocked, Margery.  Naiveté is not attractive in women over forty."  Shawna summoned a waiter and ordered two Pina Coladas. 
      "Seven hundred sinful calories in a Pina Colada but too delicious to resist, don't you find?  My husband," Shawna's tone became brisk, "is always away on business.  Never at home.  But I am well looked after.  Material things can be very comforting.  So we have our arrangement… he plays with his toys and I play with mine.  Which reminds me …" 
      Shawna pulled binoculars out of her beach bag and scanned the sea.
      Margery noticed that the strap had snagged another item in the beach bag.  The end of a clear plastic hose jutted out the bag like a periscope.
      A siphon hose.  Margery, who had once been 4x4ing, recognized the piping used to siphon petrol.  Why does she keep a siphon hose in her beach bag?
      "That's my husband over there …" Shawna said, pointing at the sea.  "On the jet-ski.  Here, take a look."
      Margery looked through the binoculars.  It took a while to locate the floating dot because it was in a swiftly moving current, drifting quickly out to sea.  The object had the shape of a jet ski.  There was a man on the craft, as tiny as a fingernail. A little stick-figure, waving at Margery.
      "He's waving," Margery said, puzzled.
      Shawna grabbed the binoculars.
      "Why would he be waving?" asked Margery. "He couldn't possibly know that we're looking at him."
      "He's not waving."
      "Yes, he is, Shawna.  He's definitely waving."
      Shawna scowled at her.
      "He is not waving, Margery.  He's …" Shawna paused as if she'd forgotten the right word, "he's fishing."
      "Yes, fishing."
      "Off a jet-ski?"
      "Well, he's full of little eccentricities.  He's not waving, he's casting.  Like this …" Shawna mimicked the flicking wrist of a fly-fisherman.
      "Well, maybe … but perhaps he's in trouble.  Maybe he's trying to attract attention.  You said the petrol gauge is faulty.  Maybe he's run out of petrol.  He seems to be caught in a current and if he's run out of petrol, he'll be lost at sea."
      "Of course he's got gas.  I filled up the tank this morning."
      "You filled up the tank?"
      "Sure.  I do a lot of things for Barry.  In fact, I do everything for him.  I organize his holidays, pay his insurances …" 
      Their Pina Coladas arrived. 
      "Say, do you remember …" said Shawna, "… that time I set your hair alight because you wouldn't let me copy your answers in the exams.   God, it was funny."
      Shawna flicked her lighter again. 
      "We were absolute demons when we were kids.  Little devils.  Seems like yesterday." 
      Margery slurped her cocktail through a straw, contemplating whether to raise the alarm.
      The sound paralysed her.  Margery watched the dot drift further and further towards the horizon until it dropped off the edge of the earth. 
      "Hiya hun." A voice from behind.  Shawna blanched beneath her tan.
      A short man walked around to sit on the edge of Shawna's lounger.  He was wearing a gypsy earring; his few remaining strands of blue-black hair glistened with gel.  A pot belly protruded from his open shirt.  Propped on Shawna's chair, he looked like an expectant toad.
      "I'm Barry - Shawna's husband."  The man offered Margery his hairy hand. 
      "I'm mmMargery," her relief overcame her confusion.  "I'm surprised to meet you.  Shawna told me that you'd gone out on your jet-ski today."

      "Not me.  I didn't feel up to it today," said the toady man.  "So I let Lorenzo take it out.  He's been bugging me to let him play with it.  Did you meet Lorenzo?  He's my wife's personal trainer.  I'm surprised he's not with y'all.  He should be back by now."


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