I saw her on our first day at the beach, standing waist-deep in the water just a few yards from the shore. Her skin, a dark mahogany hue, seemed an unnatural shade of brown, at odds with the pale blonde hair she’d tied back beneath a faded denim cap.
Each day after that, I watched her standing there, though I don’t think she ever noticed me, or anyone else; her gaze focused on the water that rippled round her hips. At first I didn’t understand what caught and held her attention; I thought it strange that she never looked up to the horizon, neither out to sea, nor back towards the beach.
Then I noticed the small plastic bag she’d carried with her and I watched as she pulled out a crust of hard Greek bread and held it just below the surface of the sea. In seconds, the water’s gentle lapping became a broiling cauldron and though I couldn’t see them from where I sat, I knew that just below the surface there were dozens of small fish fighting to get close to the dangling crust.
In no time, the bread had all been eaten, but still the water continued to churn. She lifted and flicked her hands; it was almost the gesture of a magician, but I wondered if the fish had reached the end of the crust then kept nibbling, teeth clinging, to the ends of her fingers.
After a while, she returned to the sunbeds at the water’s edge. Each day, she picked her way carefully over the shingle to the same spot, the same two beds, one empty under the bright sun, one occupied by the man who waited. Sheltering beneath an umbrella, protected from the heat, his skin was all shiny-pink and mosquito-bitten. His eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, the glasses focused on his kindle; I never saw him look towards the sea, or watch her return from the water. I never saw him speak.
When I went for a swim just after her, the water was still full of shimmering, shimmying fish. I stood for a while and watched them circle around me, just as they had around her, weaving and dancing, drawn closer and closer.
Later, as I sat eating a sandwich, in my own spot on the beach, I looked over to where she lay, eyes closed, face to the sun. I saw him, curled on one side, his back towards her, his kindle held close. As my fingers held on to the crust of the hard Greek bread, I had an almost irresistible urge to cross over and give it to her, I wanted to tell her to dangle it just above his mouth. I wanted to see him shimmer and shimmy, dance around for her attention. I wanted her to force life back into her own cold fish.