Edith Konecky
Margo on the Beach



Warm lacy foam bubbled around Margo's ankles, bathwater-warm and so soft she barely felt it. She looked out over this emerald, semi-tropical sea, so unlike the restless cold violent New England one she had grown up with, all cold blues and blacks with wall-high, white-crested waves relentlessly piling up to crash, sweeping, surging, pushing, pulling, defiant and challenging, powerful and awesome. Hard to believe this sea and that had the same name, were one, continuations of each other. This one was a pussycat. It would be impossible to drown in it, even intentionally, which was what she was considering. You could walk out into it forever, with no jolting transition from air to water, from warm to cold, and then you could begin to swim, probably also forever. If you tired, which was unlikely, you would float, gently cradled aloft as on a mountain of tapioca pudding. No, this sea was too benign for suicide.

There are no new stories, she thought, looking down at her ankles, her legs. They were beginning to go. Her knees. The inner thighs. She was sick and tired of gravity, as relentless and unforgiving as that northern ocean. She was in her late forties. Last night, Paul had told her that he was leaving her. Even if she survived the pain of that, she was sure nobody would ever fall in love with her again.

She walked into the water and when it reached her hips, she fell back against it and lay for a while looking into the cloudless sky. They had been here two weeks, a sort of reverse honeymoon, a gallmoon. She was bored with the perfect weather, which had begun to seem not so much weather as its absence. If only men felt the same way about women, that perfection was a bloody bore. She could see Paul, now, running in the distance into her field of vision, on the final leg of his morning run, running, as they said, for his life, for his heart, for his lungs, for skin and muscle tone, for his breakfast. He was a dozen years older than she, nearing sixty, yet women even as young as his graduate students threw themselves at him, would probably seduce him on his deathbed.

She watched him increase in size and detail as he came nearer, hating him in proportion to his growing presence. He ran gracefully, his arms swinging rhythmically, his rather short legs pumping, kicking up sprays of sand, his straight dark hair flopping onto his brow. He would be bathed in sweat by now, every pore open, his heart thumping hard. She knew his body as she knew her own. It was her body. No more; he would be taking it elsewhere.

As he reached the stretch of beach where they always swam and where she now reclined, he pulled off his t-shirt without breaking stride, dropping it onto the sand, and dashed into the water, throwing up a dazzle of spume through which she could see on his face the blind concentration of one who has pushed himself to the edge of endurance. She closed her eyes and heard him thrash about, then come to rest a few yards from her, gasping. She heard the deep breaths slowly lengthen and grow more measured.

"Good morning," he said. "Or are you hung over?"

"Not at all."

"How do you do it?"

"Easily."

"Yes, too bad. You're really becoming an alcoholic, you know."

He scissor-kicked closer to her, until he was lying beside her, his leg washing against hers.

"Did you fuck him?" he asked.

"Probably. I'm not sure." The water rocked her gently. She could fall asleep if he would go away.

"Is that what will happen to you?" he said, his voice hard with contempt.

"I hope so."

She turned onto her stomach and swam away from him, back toward shore. When her toes scraped bottom, she pulled her long slender body erect. The water came only to her knees. Those knees. She walked slowly against the water toward shore. At its edge, she spied a glint of silver and bent to pick it up. It was the shell of a snail, a nautilus, about two inches long, paper-thin and nacreous, perfectly formed though no telling how long it had been emptied of its tenant. She held it toward the sun and saw rainbows shimmering in its silvered finish. How beautiful it was, and how light in her hand, the next thing to air.

Paul was right behind her., "What have you got there?" he asked. She held it up for him to see. "A nautilus," he said, reaching for it. "It's perfect." She withdrew the hand that held it. He was not to touch it.

"Let me see it," he said, impatiently.

She walked away from him, toward the fringe of coconut palms beyond which, on its rise, sat the thatch-roofed sandstone cottage they were renting. She needed a cigarette, coffee.

"I want to see the sequence," he said, coming abreast of her, holding his hand out.

She showed it to him again. "Don't touch it," she said.

He looked at her with disbelief, then smiled. "You're like a small child," he said.

The shell was a spiral, its markings delineating the chambers that had held the growing mollusk that once inhabited it. She saw that he was right, each segment was the size of the sum of the two preceding it. She had been married to Paul, a scientist, long enough to speak his language. Sometimes, she thought she spoke it even better than he, though she made her living writing soaps for television. When Paul was angry at her, which was almost always, he told her that she was no better than her own cheap characters, that she had a cheap and vulgar mind and that was why she was so successful at what she did. But she knew better. He had never been able to hurt her by impugning her intelligence, which she knew was superior even to his. Her behavior might sometimes be cheap and vulgar, but never her mind. The way to hurt her was to remind her that she was not beautiful, something her beautiful mother had so often done while she was growing up, and something Paul was doing now by having fallen in love with someone else. She knew that she was terrified. When he was gone she would be ... what would she be? Who would she be?

"Yes," he said. "Fibonacci. Each segment the exact length of the two preceding it."

"I know," she said. "Perfectly measured growth."

"It's beautiful," Paul said.

"All silver and pearl."

"Please let me hold it for a minute," he pleaded.

She smiled at him. She hated him. She needed him. She held the shell, the perfect shell of the nautilus toward him and as he reached for it she crushed it in her hand, pulverized it, and let the dust of it fall into his outstretched palm.

He looked up at her in disbelief, and then not in disbelief.

“Yes,” he said, nodding. “I know. I’m sorry.”