It was hot in the sun. The worked-glass ocean stood at a calm. You reached up to your brow, a finger exploring your hairline. It was late, the air was heavy, the stars ascending into a deep periwinkle sky.
It was easy to forget with the crackle of a page you turned and the rock and tide of the ocean cupping your ears in the day. It was easy when the stragglers trailed loops in the sand, two-tracked, meandering, easy and sloped towards the water. But when it was night and the tide had come in and it fell still the world washed in over the calm and every once in a while you caught her smiling in a way that said we will never.
You remembered in the evening, when it was easier to breathe, and the sun wasnít out to protect you, to sear away the skin you had then, to empty you of sweat that had slicked your brow then, to blind you to your past and to your future. In the sun, you could simply be, hope and regret melding into a pool so overwhelming that when you stepped in, it overcame you, and you were stationary, completely crystalized in that single moment of time.†
At night you shed your salt and the stars reminded you of how much there was apart from this single thread, apart from this beach, apart from this planet spinning towards its own death in time. The starlight, he once told you, that you see right now happened eight minutes ago in space. And you know how quickly light moves. Eight minutes ago, when the sun began to set, you never really knew where it actually was.
The sunset had not been the same back home but its light had given you the idea. There was a grace period, a wondering, and wherever you looked was where it had been any minutes ago, and you never looked directly into a constellation or a setting sun or a nebula through a telescope. You looked at its imprint, its station in space several seconds ago, several years ago. Some stars could have even died before you looked at their specks in the sky. There were so many stars above Cornwall that you had been struck while sipping brandy that if you could get far enough away that there was the same divot in time--the loophole, the grace--no one would ever find you.
You had packed in the night, taking the knife and the gloves with you. You washed them with bleach. You told them you were moving in, bringing your kitchen with you at Customs, and they believed you. Of course you brought the whole set. You brought towels and bone-china and gloves and lace and no one would ever know that once you had thought that the carving knife would never be clean. Out, damn spot! Out to where they will not see you, will never look you in the face.
She had come with you. It will look real this way, and they will never understand, she said. You both loved him. You both withstood the trials, the tests, the tense moment that passed wordlessly between you when they could never find the weapon. You both were clean, rubbed to the bone with lye, and you both would leave. It was night when you left, and they didnít know. But this way, with both of you, it would look real, and they would never understand.
When the sun is up in Marsa Alam you can think about how back home they cannot see it. It is hidden to them. You are hidden to them. You can forget that you came, that you were never always here, and that this book has not always been the gateway to whatever future spanned its pages. The sun rendered you motionless, the sea breeze and the lapping tides the only reminder of a life on the earth without a body. Held at bay in the sun--suspended time, separated you from everything but your own breathing, and your own body, and your own hands, which were clean.†
You grew a new skin in the sun, a nut brown body, your red hair cropped short so that even the tips of your ears were transformed. There will not be a single cell of you that is the same as it was. You are dark here, and were white there. Dark, here, at the edge of the Red Sea. White, there, bathed in a separate red.
In the sun on the beach by the edge of the Red Sea you devoured pages of stories that were not your own, absorbing them, becoming them, and you were in that time encased between the fraying cardboard cover, printed green, bearing a title in thick black letters. You had a hundred thousand fingerprints and you could choose any of them to be yours, any of the letters to be the hollow in which you stood, any of the fibers the length of your freckled arms.†
Now you were staring up into the sky and you remembered his eyes, grey, alight, sparkling, as he told you that eight minutes ago that star had shed light just for us, Rose, and how he had held your hand until the sun began to rise--
You got up out of your chair with a small resistance, the sweat holding you in place for a microsecond longer than you had intended to stay, and bent down to pick up your book, throwing your towel over your shoulder, your hand thrown into sharp relief against the white sand by the torch at your side. It was the same hand, you thought, shivering uncontrollably in the heavy, sticky air, that had plucked the knife from his side, the same knees now caught in the light that had sunk into the pool of life leaving his body--the same eyes that you shielded from the light with a wide-brimmed hat that had seen her there, slumped, her face in her gloved hands, sobbing on the white tiles, mournfully guilty in the muted night--
Forget. That is what you wanted.
As she got up to follow you in, throwing the white-blond sheet of †her hair over her shoulder, her pale arm wrapped around a magazine of her own, you looked back for a moment to see her in the lamp light with an ironic smile that said we will never.†