Summer 1955 – Cape Cod

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Mary Benoist

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Peter had gotten into the habit of going by the beach to reach Suzy’s house; it was quicker.
A little further on, behind the dunes, were a few houses. It was the one painted blue, with the white windows with small panes and the private jetty facing the sea.

But today he was not in a hurry. He no longer felt the enthusiasm he used to at the idea of seeing the friends he met up with each summer for so long. Most of them knew each other from childhood, those spoiled children from the beautiful houses of Cape Cod.

He was bored at the thought of what awaited him: laughter, alcohol, Miles Davis or Coltrane in the background, excited discussions that were not exciting, boys larking about and girls laughing, arguments, friendship alliances and declarations of love that would be forgotten the next day, betrayals too, like every night in that summer of 1955. Like too many nights.

No, he was in no hurry to join them; it was just that he preferred to go by the beach rather than the road. He walked barefoot through the little waves. The wind had dropped. The sea was warm, like it often is at the end of summer.

Since morning he had not been able to shake off a feeling of bitterness. But right now it was dread which engulfed him, a surge of unhappiness which took hold of him and churned his stomach. He stopped, out of breath.
He wondered about this suffering which was unfamiliar to him. It must be boredom, that was it, boredom, or even disgust with himself and other people, that was surely what was the matter with him.

He looked at the sea spread wide, almost motionless beneath the moon, and went forwards into it, drawn for the fun of it. The water came up to his waist. He felt good, like when he was in his mother’s stomach, or at least as he imagined it had been.

His pain ebbed away. He kept going; the water was now up to his shoulders. It was so easy. He felt overcome by a gentle calmness. Dying. Can you kill yourself when you are nineteen years old and just one hour earlier you had never given it a thought? Obviously, you could. And yet no. The taste of the salty water in his throat brought him out of his lethargy and frightened him. He waded back to the beach.

He arrived at Suzy’s house soaked to the skin. He would make up a story. He would say he saw a starfish shining in the waves and he wanted to bring it to her. They would laugh. They would say that he really was a poet! They would give him a great welcome. A girl would take him into the bathroom and no doubt something would happen.

Then, later, he would join them and drink, a lot, a huge amount, so that it would be easier to go all the way, when he went back.

Well, that was what he told himself, tears pricking his eyes.

Or perhaps, too weary, he would just fall asleep, as he often did. But not in Suzy’s arms. That had been over since yesterday.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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