A Room By The Sea
24/ Waking, he felt her warm lips fuse with his. Truly a special way to say good morning, he thought. He wanted to get out of bed, but she drew him back in. The morning sun filled the room. From the open door he could hear the cries of sea birds and quiet beating of the waves. He barely remembered where they were, then he sank into white nothingness.
23/ This is how a perfect day begins, his wife said afterwards. She stroked his sexual organ while the erection diminished. Under the skin he felt the heartbeat. The pulse slowly calmed, as if after a body exertion.
He's always so serious –she said.
Really? –he asked.
Yes, but he always makes me happy.
She sat on his stomach taking a photograph of him. He objected, placing his hand in front of the lens. She put the camera back on the nightstand and laid her head on his chest.
What do you want us to do today? –she asked.
She looked at him with a look that he hadn't seen in a long while.
You should know that –he responded.
Yes, wasn't this your idea?
He stroked her hips. He did not want to get on her nerves. He was touched when she called him at work several days back. She made a room reservation. Arranged for a day off for both of them. The kids stayed with her parents.
Have you dreamed anything? –she asked.
Nothing I could remember. What about you?
Yes, I have. I dreamt I was at the shooting of a movie. I don't remember exactly what kind of a movie, only that my only line was: 'Oh, that is so beautiful.'
And how did it go?
Each take was wrong. In the end, the director took me to the side and told me that he had another role for me. He said it was a more important role, but I knew he was lying.
22/ They left home at dusk. On the ferry they stood on the deck, next to each other, watching the light from the lighthouse on the island. Four short and long rays flashed in regular intervals. Before repairing to bed they sipped wine on the veranda. The night was warm, with that peculiar type of darkness that occurs only in the final days of August. His wife wanted to keep sitting like that but he was tired. While he sank into sleep, he listened to the motors humming, the monotonous sound of fishing boats casting off going after a catch.
21/ Should I take the shower first? –she asked and got up from bed not waiting for an answer. He remained lying staring at a fly that ended on its back on the nightstand. Little bubbles collected on the edges of a glass with water. He raised the camera and with its lens took the room in. The sun left small blotches on the floor and the walls. When they'd hit the floor, the narrow rays of light would spread and roll under the bed on which he lay. He smoked and watched how the new day was sucking him unto itself.
20/ After breakfast, she proposed to go for a little ride. She wanted to see the whole island in daylight. Besides, a ride in a car was always part of a perfect day. As to him, he had nothing against it.
Have you seen my cell phone? –he shouted once he had brushed his teeth.
She already sat in the car lowering the windowpane. She had a scarf on her head and wore old-fashioned specs.
He came down the path and sat next to her.
Are you sure you haven't seen my cell phone? –he asked.
I confiscated it –she said, starting the engine. –This will be a perfect day. Without cell phone. Without the Internet. Without discussing work. Only you and I.
You thought of everything, haven't you, eh?
She did not respond, driving on the utterly deserted road. In daylight, the island seemed different, but the landscape was still marked by patience. He thought how the colors looked as if they were painted on canvas.
Could you live here? –she asked as they drove on.
I think I could –he responded.
You could live anywhere, couldn't you?
What do you mean?
Nothing in particular, just remembered you told me that once.
She became silent. On the way to the lighthouse he lighted a cigarette and tried to find joy in the fact that everything is already thought out in advance. Disconnected from the world, he can let go, become a traveler led through a perfect day.
19/ Last night she also drove. She liked to drive more than he did. They've dragged through an afternoon traffic jam while he wondered what was the point of this jaunt. When will the bill arrive? No reasonable answer crossed his mind so he gave up. She was so delighted while she unveiled her plan.
What are you thinking about, dear? –she asked when they finally got out of the jam.
Nothing –he answered. –What about you?
18/ When they came to the lighthouse, it occurred to him that the tower derives its meaning from the darkness. During the day, the lighthouse is a dead object. For a long time they walked along the beach. The sky mirrored on the pale surface of the sea. Two tankers sailed south. Because of the distance it looked as if they weren't moving at all.
Did you bring the camera? –he asked.
She handed it over.
You bought film roll with 24 shots?
Yes, they didn't have anything else.
A man with a dog showed on the beach. The man threw an old shoe in the shallow water, the dog jumped into the water, desperately attempting to catch it.
Do you remember when you smoked a cigar with the grandpa?
Yes –he responded.
On this island he met her family for the first time. Here, on the beach, he had smoked cigars with her grandfather, a ritual which meant the family accepted him. That night, illumined by car lights, she danced for him on the road,.
17/ From the trunk she carried over a basket with food and she spread the blanket on a sand dune. They ate herrings and bread, drinking juice and beer. After the meal they lay on the blanked and smoked. He looked at the sky which now was without a cloud. He closed his eyes feeling the sun warming him.
What is needed for a perfect day? –she asked.
I don't know –he said.
Yes you do, c’mon –she said.
Make love and sleep, that's for sure –he said.
Right –she said.
A car ride.
A car ride?
You said it. There's no perfect day without a ride.
She laughed. He waited.
Swimming –he said.
Swimming? –she asked. –Original. What else?
He smiled at her.
That's it. A perfect day.
16/ On the way back he took a picture of her from the profile. She drove fast along the narrow, meandering roads. She loved to drive fast. The scarf and hair fluttered in the wind. He was filled with joy. The restlessness he felt this morning was replaced by calm. They were out of the world, there was nowhere to hurry. He started enjoying this easy rhythm and a monotonous, constant melody of the waves. He looked at her and thought: Why is it not always like this?
15/ She brought him a year old newspaper. He read it for ten minutes before he discovered the joke. The newspaper was dated August 27th of the last year.
14/ You are missing one thing, she said when they went to bed in the afternoon, the light still pure and clear, rising and dropping somewhat innocently along with the curtains.
What? –he asked.
To dream –she said. –On a perfect day, one must dream.
No, not that –he said. –What can you dream on a perfect day?
Without dreams you will screw up –she said.
They lay in silence for some time.
Perhaps heaven is a place that needs to be avoided –he said.
What do you mean?
Well, one should dream of heaven but it wouldn't be good to get there.
I don't understand.
It could turn out to be too good to be true.
I don't understand you at all –she said in the end.
Neither do I –he said.
She mounted him stroking his hair.
Why are you doing all this? –he asked.
Well, sure, but why?
Because you deserve one day like this.
Yes, you do deserve one perfect day. Everyone sometimes deserves a perfect day. There's too many of those other ones anyway, right?
13/ From the bathroom, where she was grooming, she shouted: Am I pretty? He answered that she was very pretty. Are you ready for a perfect dinner? –she asked. He answered that he was very much ready. From the rented bungalow they rode to the hotel that stood on the rocky elevation overlooking the harbor. They got out of the car and clasped hands. He asked if she wasn't locking the car. She shook her head in the negative and said that now they were out of this world. Within the radius of one hundred km there was not a single car thief. A woman greeted them at the reception desk. He wondered if she wasn't here already and made a dinner reservation. Applause and shouts of joy welcomed them when they entered the restaurant. He looked around and noticed all the familiar faces. The restaurant was full of their friends. He greeted them all almost unaware who they were. He was really taken in. Everyone laughed and had a good time. They took pictures of him and said how they nearly have had revealed the little plan. He stared at her. She laughed as well.
12/ In this roll of film there is only one photo showing Vera. She sits in the background, by the window. She is wearing a black dress and a white blouse. She smiles lifting a glass toward the photographer.
11/ During dinner, it seemed that every move he made betrayed him. The way he sits, the way he laughs, the way he feeds himself. Everything betrayed him. The way he greeted her, how he kissed and hugged the others while to her he only extended his hand saying: hello. Otherwise, he always found the way in which to behave, walk, speak. But now there was Vera in the room and he knew that, naturally, she would be there all night. Any other day he wanted her to be close by, but tonight it was as if she had entered the room in which she was not supposed to be in. For the first time he felt bothered by her presence. He could not understand how she had agreed to come.
10/ The alcohol relaxed him a bit. The waiters dressed in black and white uniforms brought out food and drinks. People toasted each other and told jokes. The wife held a brief speech, read a poetic text that spoke of a perfect day.
He was aware of Vera's presence. He could follow her without looking at her. Once he noticed that she's moved toward the backyard, to get some fresh air. He understood that she has changed direction, speed and aim. She has changed everything to him.
The voices in the establishment have become louder. He grasped parts of conversations, details that made no sense as they were mere fragments. He looked around and knew that his entire life reflected in those faces.
9/ First time Vera simply called him and asked if he wanted to go for a bit of a ride. Nobody had to explain anything. Half an hour later he picked her up. They drove to the camp outside of the town. The first winter snow drizzled over them as they walked on the beach, to the diving board. When they came back the snow had already covered the entire car.
Can you do me a favor? –she asked when it was not possible to resist any longer.
8/ The dinner ended with cigars on the terrace. The balcony doors were opened for the fresh air to enter. The night was tender and pleasant. The lighthouse cast its signals across the water surface. The great cruiser ship with the lights turned on sailed some place. He was overcome by a new bout of restlessness.
7/ After midnight he saw Vera sitting outside, alone. He stepped out and sat next to her. He took out a cigarette and lighted. She was not as drunk as the others. She was not supposed to drink. She had to be careful about it.
Did you have a perfect day? –Vera asked.
It's not over yet –he answered.
He was not supposed to touch her. It was all he wanted to do, but was not supposed to even look at her. One look and they would have been discovered. He thought how that to look and touch was not even necessary to them. He could feel her, he knew how it felt to touch her skin, he knew how she looked when asleep.
6/ The restaurant spread in a half-circle toward the backyard. Inside, the people had fun, some danced, others stood by holding glasses. The moves were different by now; the alcohol had slowed down the tempo. He noticed his wife, standing, surrounded by four men.
I understand –Vera said nodding toward his wife.
You understand what?
I understand how you think. You want to have everything, don't you?
You don't understand. If I met you first, I'd marry you.
But she comes first –she said getting up. –Isn't that so?
5/ He remembered how once they spent several days together. They sat on a hotel terrace in New York, in one of many rooms they found themselves in and which, in the end, like others, they had to lock and leave behind. In his head the numbers still lingered: room 409, room 55, room 1521, room 209, room 704. In New York it was the room 2126. She sat by his side and tucked her legs under; the city pulsated and hummed below them, the light of New York squeezed the night like a pair of pliers. They were so seated and in an instant he thought: Right now I have everything that life can offer me.
4/ He took a risk and danced the last dance with her. She whispered in his ear. What she missed the most were the ordinary things. Watching him brush his teeth. Make him a cup of coffee. Taking her clothes off without having to make love.
I want to live with you –he whispered to her.
He doesn't know why he said it. He doesn't even know if he had thought that.
And I want to live with you –she said. –But when? In fourteen days? In a year? In ten years?
I don't know.
You do, you do know it well.
Did you tell her.
He shook his head in the negative.
Inside, he repeated sentences, he twisted and turned words, but he hadn't said anything. He could not explain it. Some things you cannot explain.
You won't tell her?
I don't know.
But I do. You won't. You are too much of a coward.
She let go of him and left him standing in the middle of the dance podium. He reached after her.
Don't be melodramatic. It's not your style.
What do you know of my style?
We must talk when we are a little calmer. Both of us.
I can't be calmer. And I am smart enough not to ruin a marriage.
He did not respond. He felt the melancholy return crawling along like a dog.
And now you can offer the rest of the night to your wife –she said and left.
3/ While they were getting in a taxi, someone run over with the camera. They've left it in the restaurant. Someone had taken pictures of its interior from the wing window. On the way to the bungalow, the wife fell asleep on his chest. The driver listened to the radio. It was a talk show, the listeners calling in and sending greetings to their loved ones. A man said he was 49 and divorced. –I feel like I am falling apart –the man had said.
2/ She was drunk, but insisted on making love. She drew him to her, giggled and rolled over the bed. He thought he will lose her, will lose her, and yet never have loved her so much.
Their bodies automatically took their old positions; but this time with impatience and desire that was lacking in the years past. He kissed the parts of her body that never seemed important to him: shoulders, ankles, toes, neck. And these little parts of her he wanted to keep. He touched her fully, again and again conquering each lost part.
She whispered: Did you have a perfect day?
He thought: Now you can leave me.
1/ When he woke, the light was pale, the day resembled a poorly developed photograph. He felt cold. The cover was on the floor. The room smelled of sea and sex. She breathed by his side, evenly and peacefully like the waves that could be heard outside. He thus lay awake. From the nightstand he took the cigarette pack, pushed one in his mouth without lighting. He lay staring at the shadows that have slowly shifted as the new day was penetrating the room.
Translated into English from the Croatian translation of the original Norwegian text
Frode Grytten is a contemporary Norwegian writer.
Note: Translated this story in 2011
Note: Translated this story in 2011