Sunset, on the patio of Elisabeth’s saltbox beach house with James, on the Greek island, Corfu.
…She meets him outside three minutes later. Long shadows from the short pines stretch across the deck. James sits on the bench, slouched against the house, crossed-legs stretched out in front of him. His arms are folded loosely across his stomach, hands lay against his sides. He squints against the blinding light of the setting sun. She lifts the camera and aims it at him. Click.
He looks up at her. The insolent glare is back. Click.
She doesn’t think she got it. Don’t check now. Keep the camera on him.
“Knock it off, ‘Lizbeth. Enough already.” He squints back at the sunset.
Click. “It’s not. I need to burn through a lot of shots to pull a few great ones. If I can’t dazzle with a subject like you honey, I shouldn’t pursue the arts.”
He laughs, to himself, shakes his head. “So, how will you know?”
Focus on his iris. Sharpen the forest green. More. There. Click. “Know what?”
“If you’re any good.” His question cuts, though she doesn’t think he meant it to.
She stops shooting, holds the camera to her side. “I have no idea.”
“Exactly. It’s subjective. You’ll never really know.” He looks at her. “That plagued me for the longest time. It’s part of what drove my obsession. Do yourself a favor ‘Liz. Don’t ask yourself if you’re good. And don’t expect to find out through other people. Ask yourself if you enjoy the process. If you do, if it engages you, excites you, sparks your imagination, then keep doing it.”
Once again she’s humbled by his insight. He’s right, of course. She smiles. “Thank you for today.”
He grins, nods. “Did you challenge yourself?”
“Did it excite you?”
“Did it ignite you?” His smile broadens.
“Do you crave it even now?”
“Yes.” She smiles, blushes, looks away. He’s right again. She does. She’s framing his face through the lens in her mind as they speak.
He studies her. Smiles, then laughs. So does she. He squints at the remains of the orange ball as it sinks into the sea. His tiger-eyes twinkle behind his long, dark lashes. Click.
One summer day with James and Elizabeth on Sidari beach on the Greek island, Corfu…
…First really hot day since I’ve been here hints at the coming heat of summer. I take the top off the jeep, go into Agios Gordios, get a baby seat for Cameron and secure it in the center of the backseat while Elisabeth gets him, and his many accoutrements ready for the short trip.
Cameron laughs for the first fifteen minutes straight, with the wind blowing all around him, raises his little arms up in the air and lets the wind sway them about. His unadulterated joy is infectious and spreads to me and Elisabeth, and we laugh along with him, and then together at the duration of his amusement.
The roads are narrow and winding. I take them slowly and with care. We get to Sidari in the early afternoon, stop in town for some bread, cheese and fruit, and bring it out to the sandstone cliffs overlooking the crystal sea where we lunch.
After eating, we scurry down to explore the sandy cove inlets created from the eroding hills. The water is shallow and warm, perfect for Cameron to wade in and be amazed by the small fish swimming around his feet.
The three of us play for an hour or so, then find an isolated cove and set the blanket on the warm sand near the base of the hills so Cameron can take his afternoon nap. He’s asleep within moments of breastfeeding, his little head falling back away from Elisabeth’s breast, his mouth still in the motion of suckling even in sleep. She covers herself quickly, then lays Cam between us in the baby carrier and loops her arm through one of the straps. Finally, she lays beside her son and snuggles her body next to his, spooning him.
“I love the way he feels. Love how his warm little body fits perfectly along mine. I love the way he smells.” She presses her nose into the base of Cameron’s neck and inhales his scent. “I feel so unbelievably lucky to have him.”
I lay on my side, lean on my elbow and look at them. Cam’s curled into her, his pouty lips slightly parted, his fine hair just over the top of his brow, his full face peaceful in blissful sleep. His tiny hand grips his mama’s finger. Elisabeth’s cheek rests on the top of his head. Soft wisps of his hair brush her naturally ruby lips. She’s exquisite. Her sheer cottony dress and the maroon leotard she wears under it reveals her curvaceous form. Her hair is loose, cascades around her shoulders in soft waves. Her hazel eyes against her suntanned skin.
“Don’t stare at me like that. You’re embarrassing me.”
“Sorry. It’s just…you’re stunning. A Rubens masterpiece —‘Mother with Child.’”
“First, Rubens is not a compliment. Rubin, and his fat women.”
“Voluptuous. Not fat.” My eyes keep drifting to her ample cleavage.
“Whatever. Besides, look who’s talking. It’s ninety degrees out here and you’re wearing a long sleeve shirt. I’m not the only one with body image issues.”
“I’ll stop if you will.”
“Hiding. Take off your dress.”
Her eyes narrow but there’s humor in them. She sits up and very slowly begins unbuttoning the tiny row of beads down the middle of her dress. With each button the smile on her face broadens. “Come on, James. It’s your challenge. Are you going to pick up the gauntlet?”
I sit up and start unbuttoning my shirt. No one around. She’s already seen my wrists and had her say about them, but my heart beats hard, reverberates in my throat. I want to stop the game, but I keep unbuttoning. Because she is. Can tell she’s feeling the same way I am. Her eyes dart to the edges of our inlet checking for intruders.
When our clothing is unbuttoned all the way we both freeze, and then smile. Her eyes are fixed on mine, mine on hers—we’re connected, inside each other’s heads. Feel her trepidation, know she feels mine.
“All the way.” She leans over Cameron and unbuttons my shirtsleeves. When they’re loose, I let her pull my sleeves off me. The shirt falls off of my shoulders. I cross my arms over my chest and tuck my hand against my sides, hiding my scars.
“No. Let me see.”
“No. Not until you finish. Dress off.”
She slides her dress off of her shoulders and lets it fall to her waist, the skin tight, spaghetti-strapped leotard essentially exposing her form. She doesn’t look away. She holds my stare, her eyes pleading with me to stay with hers and not scan her body. So I don’t. We keep our eyes locked on each other even while she reaches for my wrists, pulls my hands from my sides and turns them upward. I look down at the jagged red lines extending from my wrists to the middle of my forearms. There was so much blood. Lunch rises in my throat.
“Talk to me. Don’t let it swallow you up. Tell me.” She whispers.
“I couldn’t feel it,” I hear myself say. “I couldn’t feel anything by that point. Used a broken shower tile—took six months to scratch it out with my fingernail. Blood was everywhere, instantly, the water splattered it. I didn’t make a sound. Stood there and let the water run down my arms and watched my blood go down the drain. It turned the water red, the tiles red, gathered in the grout as it ran down the walls. But it was like watching it on TV because I couldn’t feel it. There was no pain. Don’t even remember thinking anything, except that I didn’t want the orderly to wake before the blood loss killed me. I have no clue how long I stood there blanked out like that before I passed out.”
She runs her fingers lightly over my forearm. “Feel this?”
“Yeah.” The scar’s numb, but around it tingles, touches pain as she strokes.
“Good.” She smiles, and then releases my hands. Elisabeth lies back down, flat on her back and closes her eyes. After a moment I do, too, and we both fall asleep until Cameron wakes us, crying to be fed an hour or so later.
I put back on my shirt, button only my shirtsleeves then lay on the blanket and watch her son suckle her. First thing she does after breastfeeding is put on her dress. I smile, shake my head knowingly.
She catches it. “Stop mocking me.”
“I’m not. I’m empathizing.”
She glances at me with her soft smile. “Then stop staring.”
“Sorry. You’re really quite alluring under your rather loose wardrobe.”
I can tell she’s taken aback. She looks away, out to the sea, but she’s smiling. Cameron starts toddling towards the water’s edge. She follows him down, and I do, too, and we play in the tide pools for another hour or so, and then head for home. We stop in Ermones for supper. The small tourist town is virtually empty. Still off-season, though in just weeks from now it’s sure to be packed here. The sun is setting over the spectacular beach of golden sand. We sit on the patio of Café Odysseus, and watch the sunset after finishing the best grilled snapper I’ve ever tasted. We linger over our Espresso, mostly quiet, occasionally laughing at Cameron’s antics chasing and roaring at the seagulls until he’s finally worn out. He crawls onto me and grips my shirt firmly, sticks his thumb in his mouth and sucks contentedly.
Feels fantastic—warm, connected, valued the way Cameron nestles his sun-drenched body into me; his soft, fine mass of hair a pillow under my chin. Elisabeth is unbelievably lucky. I nuzzle my nose into Cameron’s hair and breathe him in as she had done. Clean. Fresh. New. I feel her watching and look at her. I smile. So does she. And the three of us are one. Connected. And I am complete.
I have to have more…