Time to Go Home

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110

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We were lying on the beach. 
Marie, who felt the cold less than I did, had gone for a swim after our picnic. She had come back to lie next to me, without drying herself. She liked to feel the sun on her wet skin. She would close her eyes and lay still. Then she would go back for another swim when her skin was dry. 
From time to time I would sit up to look at the time. I had slipped my watch into one of my shoes, near my feet, to protect it from the sand. It was only an eighteen dollar trinket that I had bought on the spur of the moment. A reaction to Marie’s sigh when I had mentioned buying myself a smart watch.
Marie and I had reached Ebihens Island by crossing the sandbank which linked Chevet Point to the archipelago at low tide. There were lots of people crossing on foot. The sky was a clear blue, free of clouds, it was hot, and the tide times favored lunch on one of the island’s beaches.
However pleasant it was, a visit to the island required you to be vigilant. The island was only accessible for about five hours. Missing the return time meant calling for help or waiting for the next low tide. Nine hours later. Trapped on that tiny island. A sign, painted on the rocks, reminded you that it was private. No hotel, no restaurant. Not even a refreshment stall. Every year, careless people got caught out.
It was my responsibility to keep my eye on the time. So I regularly took my watch out of my shoe. 
“It’s gorgeous here. This is great. Enjoy it!” whispered Marie, without even opening her eyes. 
“It might be gorgeous,” I replied, “but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to watch the time.”
I had left my phone at home. Marie had insisted. I had given in. Emails would be piling up in my work inbox, vacation or not. I was waiting for the outcome of call for bid, confirmation of a meeting with an important decision-maker we had been chasing for months, and the press review prepared daily by my company. 
“It’s what’s paying for this vacation,” I had replied. She had shrugged her shoulders, said she could remember us having some lovely vacations when I earned next to nothing, and gone out into the garden to phone her mother, pointedly turning her back on the window through which I was watching her. When we came to leave, I had left my phone on the dining room table.
There were about twenty of us, at the most, who had chosen this beach. Some, like ourselves, were dependent on the tides. For others, who had disembarked from the little sailing boats moored by the rocks, time did not matter.
Marie was right. It was undeniably beautiful here. The beach of very fine white sand, nestled in a little cove with dark, imposing blocks of granite with orange lichen clinging to them. Beyond the dunes, ferns softened the outlines of the island, waving in the sea breeze. Here and there, pine trees, twisted by the wind, cast a little shade. No house could be seen from the beach. We could have been at the end of the earth. On a wild beach. In another world. Or nowhere. Under the illusion we had escaped from civilization.
I was lying on the sand. With my eyes closed. On my skin, the sun and the sea breeze.
Close by, the most careful vacationers began to pack up their things. I wanted to get up but Marie stopped me with her hand. “We have plenty of time”, she murmured. Her face was relaxed. We had left lots behind us when we crossed the sandbank. Perhaps life was easier when you lived in a place like this. I remained lying down. Marie’s hand was right next to mine. I closed my eyes again. The sun. The sea breeze. The sound of the waves coming gently up the beach. Marie’s breathing.
When I finally stood up, the only other people left were the ones from the boats. Marie groaned while I reached for my shoe. I looked around me. We were on the other side of the world, in a place from which no one would ever want to return. I took my watch and, without looking at the time, I threw it with all my strength in the direction of the sea. Then lay down again and took Marie’s hand in mine.

Translated by Wendy Cross

110

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