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Lovers taking a holiday
Ester was in the water, and James was on the shore.

She was swimming on her back. The wind was blowing gently over her head, as she faced the coastline. Hills and cliffs were visible behind the beach, dim green, square fields of yellow. Above them, everything was grey, a beautiful, vast grey. It was light, and then dark. The infinite mass of clouds hung low; so near it seemed at Ester’s fingertips, so wide it seemed holy.

Her arms came up and down around her and cut the water underneath her in smooth slashes. It was not cold anymore, just right, just peace.

There was the taste of salt in her mouth and the taste of sky in her heart.

She swam, parallel to the land, on and on, solitary in the sea stretching all around, and then she rested for a while on her back, floating, unmoving, breathing.

Ester liked lying on the sea like this. She could feel the edge of the water on her skin, her body half sunk in.

As she made her way back to the shore, she saw James, his camera around his neck, getting a towel out of the bag for her. Getting out of the water was often almost more incredible than being in it. She always felt exhausted, like her body had been worn out, every single bit of it, like she was clean. Like she was just birthed.

She took the towel her husband offered her and looked into his brown eyes. They were intensely focused, the bottom half lit up by the reflection of the silver beach. She dried herself roughly, vigorously, and he watched, getting out a bottle of water and some biscuits. They stared at the sea, dark grey green, at the waves breaking in folds of white. Finally, she made a step forward, and, by silent agreement, they packed and started walking.

James and Ester were becoming good at silent agreements. In fact, they had stopped talking four days ago, by silent agreement.

They had been in the car when it had started. They’d driven to the very edge of the coast on that first night, to a tip on the furthest reaches of the land.

They had been in the car; talking about the days ahead, the break.

They needed a break.

James had been stuck on his series of portraits, spending nights and days trying to find a way to make the art right, and Ester had been working ceaselessly, trying to make sense of the data her team had collected.

They had been chatting, lightly, ignoring what stood in between them, ignoring the shattering argument of the last night. They joked and didn’t mention the words that burned like freshly tattooed skin. Especially, they avoided what cut the most; not the hurt suffered, but the hurt inflicted.

Then James had fallen asleep in the passenger chair. Eventually he woke up, and they looked at each other, him with just-awoken eyes, her with gravity. She didn’t know where the seriousness came from. But it was there, and when Ester had needed to ask directions, she had done so wordlessly. And James had followed along, continuing the silence, taking up the challenge maybe.

It was kind of hard to believe, thought Ester, smiling at the ground, at a razor clam half dug-up next to her foot. It was kind of beautiful, this unbroken silence, stretching so long.

At first, living without words was just quiet. Incredibly quiet; no voice, and no city sounds. In the mornings, they sat and James read and Ester drew. They took walks; they went to the beach; they slept. They lived next to each other.

But then, on the third day, after James had started to talk to Ester in his head - only when she was far out in the sea - it had started to become more. It had started to become discovery.

James discovered Ester’s neck, her yellow-green eyes, her scrunched-up hair, the ends still wet, her eyebrows, the line at the corner of her mouth. He never spoke, and so in each glance he put all his words, and Ester with her eyes sent to him the peace of her body in the sea. They started laughing in the tent when the pepper fell off James’ pizza slice for a second time, and they could not stop, and the laughter was louder and more ridiculous and breathless, and when it was over they smiled their way through the rest of the meal, still silent.

The next day, waiting till late afternoon to leave, they went to a small beach, a sandless cove filled with round smooth pebbles, the sea rising up on the dark red cliff.

Ester stripped and started towards the water. James felt full of energy, and he put his camera around his neck and decided he would climb the rocks and take photographs from high up while his wife swam.

Ester tried to keep her balance on the polished stones. She watched a bird flying above, in blue sky. A few clouds were lit by an unseen sun, and her husband was disappearing behind a boulder. She felt happy.

Such beautiful skies she had seen since they left. Such different seas.

Once, she’d approached the edge of the water, and a hundred white birds had flown off and settled back unto it a few feet further away. The first day, bathing had been ecstatic. The water had been so cold and blue, waves enticing her in, on a long white beach with abandoned trampolines and the shape of a harbour in the distance. Another time, a foggy morning, they had stood in front of the sea, stunned. It had been so flat it reflected everything, like a lake, white sky and trembling cliffs, barely a ripple where it met the sand.

Today, the wind was high once again, and it felt unusual against her bare skin. A toe in, Ester knew a slow approach would be too cold, too hard, and she took it at a run, splashing droplets all around her, the bite of the icy water intense for a few moments, her scream of joy rising high, high, illuminating her insides.

A shadow darkened the sea, and Ester started swimming back fast. She got out as quickly as possible, shivering, and made her way to the backpack, slipping on the pebbles. Throwing on her jumper brought her immediate warmth, and she looked around, hugging herself. She remembered being on holiday with her family, when she was a little girl.

She would get scared of the dark water, wondering if there were sharks, or worse, crabs hiding in its dark shadows. She couldn’t swim very long back then, and she always tried so hard to catch up her aunt, who swam in front. When little Ester finally reached her, out of breath and swallowfull of salt, she grasped the woman’s feet, her toes, holding on with her index fingers, and it was like she had reached a magical safety buoy. The possibility of drowning dissolved instantly. Then they would go back to the shore, to frantic activity, the rest of the family building up the sandcastle in the incoming tide.

Memories flickered in Ester, the woman she had admired for so long, lying in a coffin, and she chased the image of her decomposed body away, summoning instead her aunt’s roar of laughter, bright and loud. Even now, years later, Ester still ached to hear that sound again, life cascading out.

She decided to go find James. She couldn’t see him anywhere. He usually waited for her.

She picked up the bag and made her way down shore, towards the rocks that fell into the ocean. He seemed to be nowhere; her eyes searched incessantly, trying to spot human colour. Where was James?

Suddenly, she remembered one of the greatest tricks she had learnt as a child: hide above. People never looked above. She looked up. There was a path, accessible on the right. She set off on it. It was narrow, and stiff, and she had to go through overgrown blackberry plants, thorns grazing her bare ankles. Suddenly, he was there, walking towards her. A smile slowly rose on his face. Ester smiled too.

She mimed picture taking, and he nodded happily, waving at the colours the sky offered.

She felt an urge to explain how glad she was to have found him, to hug him, to kiss him. But the makings of their silence stuck with her, and habit too.

Instead, Ester rose on the path to where he was and moved close to his face. He smelt a bit like earth. Their eyes were unblinking, close, and it felt like James was dancing inside, just like she was. Suddenly she knew, with certainty that something was going to change. She knew something was going to happen. She knew the world was about to explode in beauty, in strangeness, in joy. They breathed in each other’s faces for a second more, and then James tore away, running back up the path, leaving her stunned. Ester giggled - sometimes not talking was like being a kid again - and she sprinted after him, in a whirl of green, passing through brambles in green abundance, the ground of the low forest carpeted in flecks of sunlight. She stumbled onto a field and turned around breathlessly, looking for the face she knew so well. He wasn’t there, but there was an opening in between some fern leaves, and when the opening ended...

Ester stood in a clearing. The grass was high, and trees parted on the west, unveiling the line of the sea, the last light of the day falling onto a wall of stones. In the orange tinge, she saw that these were the ruins of an ancient structure, of a place of worship: the wall wasn’t a wall but an open door, an arch. It seemed there was no longer, or there had never been, a floor to this little sanctuary. There was just grass, high and soft.

James was standing near it, his face full of wonder at the sight before them. Like the stone, it was lit up on one side, bits of hair shining copper. He looked up at Ester, and she left her bag on the ground, so they could go around the little walls. He showed her inscriptions in the stone; behind the structure stood a weird round cross, old stone, smoothed out with time.

Ester, inside the walls, stared at the pointed arch with delight. She moved to stand beneath it, and ran her fingertips on the cold granite.

She wondered if maybe she should talk now.

She opened her mouth, but it didn’t work.

It was like a small being sat in her throat, blocking her words, with all the tiny determination it could muster.

She went to sit down next to James, in the grass. He showed her the pictures he had taken. There were a few of her, a dot in the ocean, and many of the landscape, breathtaking in today’s light. When they got to the last picture, and accidentally went back to the first photograph, which showed Ester laughing in winter clothes, her hair in a braid and hands in gloves. James looked up into her eyes. He was close to her, his eyebrows raised, slightly puzzled. He leant in, breathed in. She could hear him in her head. “You smell…salty?”. Ester nodded, and licked her hand, grinning.

She wanted to kiss him, suddenly.

She wanted the taste of his lips, and it was a forgotten sensation made alive again.

She hadn’t touched him in days, and before that, she had done so without thinking; they had kissed unthinkingly, they had kissed as soon as the whim of it came. Not like now. Not like this unmoving, burning desire. He was so close.

The edge of her hand shook slightly. She wanted it so bad, to feel his skin, his lips, now.

James was the same. She could see it in his eyes, the flame of wanting.

They didn’t move.

They didn’t touch.

The moment seemed to stretch out forever.

Then James’ hand rose to her chest; he undid the zip of her top.

His hand hovered a second, near her body, down her stomach.

She took off her t-shirt. She hadn’t put on a bra after swimming, and so she sat, bare breasted, moments suspended. The tension still possessed her, and she shivered from the intensity, nipples hard.

They were going so slow. It was agonizing pleasure.

James leant down - finally, finally...

His lips brushed her skin, the soft curve underneath the boob.

Her breath caught, and then they were kissing, lips merging, thoughts dying. She fell slowly towards him, naked chest against his warmth, Ester’s hair tickling his face.

They kissed, moving in the grass, until, abruptly, his fingers tensed in hers, and they stopped. He raised his hand towards her mouth; his index touched her chin, went down its curve to her belly button, and then both their hands were fumbling with her buttons, and then... James slipped a hand inside her underwear.

She stopped breathing, for a second.

His finger felt its way up and down, slowly.

It was so soft. It was so hot.

She swallowed. He started moving faster, and faster, and Ester’s mind lost itself more. She dug her heels in the earth; she leant back with a spasm, losing control, mouth open to the sky. A bat, a dark, fast shadow, flew by in a blur, and Ester trembled. Night had practically fallen now, but the clouds were giving off a white glow in the blue darkness.

He interrupted himself to kiss her again, and then they fell unto the ground, and then James’ underwear was off too, and they came up against the wall of the ruins.

She moved with him, slowly, softly, and the moan rose until it escaped out of her in sounds of ecstasy. She felt him filling up space that had not seemed to exist, and they breathed together in speeding rhythm, in, out. The beauty stole Ester’s heart away, the beauty and strangeness of her body feeling another thing in it, the amazing power of aliveness, of the worship of humans hundreds of years ago, of blades of grass born yesterday, of James’ breath rising and falling.

Then they lay there, immersed into each other, breathing together still. Ester felt so close to him, like they were both in the clouds above, dispelled into the world together.

Later, his mouth moved in her hair near her ear, and he spoke.

“I missed your voice so much.”

Ester smiled in the darkness.
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