Beyond the Waves

Assombro ou paz? Em vão... Tudo esvaído
Num baixo mar enganador d'espuma;
E o grande sonho despertado em bruma,
O grande sonho—ó dor!—quase vivido...
― Mário de Sá-Carneiro

“Be a good girl, Mar, finish your salad.”
Marina closed her eyes, bit her lips hard, and shook her head. “Hrmph.”
“Look! Elvi already finished.”
Marina peeked. Elvira smiled by her empty plate.
“I know you don’t like it but beetroot is important. It gives you iron, for your blood.”
Marina forced some into her mouth. She chewed reluctantly and swallowed hard. She hated these salads. The fork clanked against the plate as she put it down, refusing to have any more. She couldn’t care less about the iron levels in the blood. She wanted to cry.
“Don’t you want to grow up like your sister?”
Marina looked at Elvira, who still smiled, one of her front teeth missing. No, she thought, I don’t want to be like her, not if it means having to eat these salads.
“Granny can I go play with ducky and bobo?”
“Yes, Elvi.”
Marina watched Elvira the Moose scuttle off the dining room humming a tune with her doll. Marina also wanted to play, but she already knew her grandmother wouldn’t have it.
“Why are you so difficult, Mar? Always the same story.” Inés sighed. “Finish your salad, come on, it’s good for you. You can go and play with Elvi and ducky afterwards.”
Some kids grow to like salads. Not Marina; all she managed was mild tolerance when social conventions dictated it.

The sand sank softly under the girls’ soles as they walked.
A wave reached Marina’s feet and she jumped back with a little screech.
Elvira stood her ground. “What do you think?”
“It’s cold!” Marina stood just beyond the waves.
“It’s nice.”
“I don’t know if I really want to go in.”
“Come on, silly rabbit, let’s do this.” Elvira started wading in. The sea looked golden under the sun. “It feels warmer once you’re inside.”
Marina observed her, alert. She turned and saw Inés under the shadow of the tent. Inés smiled and waved her hand. Marina waved back.
“How is it?” asked Marina as a wave went by Elvira. “Elvi!”
Elvira turned to look at Marina. “What!”
“How is it?” demanded Marina.
The water reached just above Elvira’s knees. “It’s nice, come on!”
Elvira kept walking until the water reached her waist.
Hesitantly, Marina started walking in. It took a lot of self-control. The water was cold!
When the surface reached Marina’s knees, Elvira came floating on the waves. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“Elvi, I’m a bit scared. Here comes a wave!”
“It’s okay.” Elvira stood up with a sigh. “Here.” She took Marina’s hand.
Together they walked further. When the water reached Marina’s belly button, she let go of Elvira’s hand and just stayed there, sinking gradually, letting the floats in her arms support her. The water soaked her blond hair. Elvira swam close.
“See? Isn’t it nice?”
“It’s nice,” Marina agreed. “It’s warmer when you’re inside.”
“There’s a fish!” said Elvira, pointing with her hand.
Marina looked intently. “I didn’t see it. What kind of fish was it?”
“I don’t know, but it was very pretty.”

Rafa took Marina’s hand as they returned from the dance floor to their table. The band played a salsa song and many of their guests danced.
“I really liked your sister’s speech,” said Rafa.
Marina nodded. “Elvi is great.”
“What did she say? That all the things you told her could not have prepared her for how warm I am?”
Marina smiled. “And that you have a knack for making people feel at ease.”
“Ah, yes,” said Rafa. “That’s when Inés couldn’t stop laughing.”
Marina laughed.
They looked at Inés, who sat at the other end of the table, wondering if she had fallen asleep. It was way past her bedtime.
“What she said about my girls, our girls,” he corrected himself, “was very touching.”
“And it is true: Lucy and Mile are the most lovely girls in the world.”
Rafa helped Marina to her seat and sat down besides her.
Marina smiled. “As she said, how you take care of them shows what a great person you are.”
“Thank you,” said Rafa. “She got Lucy’s age wrong, though, she will be three next month.”
“I know, baby,” said Marina, resting her hand on his lap. “No idea where she got that.”
“It was a great speech.” Rafa said and nodded, looking into Marina’s brown eyes. “I feel so happy that I’m now part of your family.”
“Thanks, baby. As do we,” she said and smiled. “How did you like the duet?” Elvira had brought two old plastic recorders and music sheets and had made Marina and one of her school friends blow music out of them.
Rafa smiled. “It was very nice! It’s amazing you could still play after... how many years?”
One of their guests, a friend of Rafa, joined them, glass in hand. “Man, I’m so so so happy right now!” He smiled profusely. “And you look very beautiful, Marina! I wish you a lot of joy together!” He raised the glass.
“Thank you, Felipe!” said Marina. “We’re glad you made it.” She smiled. “I’ll leave you big boys alone and check on Inés.”

One afternoon Lucía, Milena and two other girls played with Laika on a large field close to the suburban house where they grew up. The field had a small creek and a few large eucalyptus trees. Dry leaves covered the grass. They played there often.
Laika had been barely a month old when she arrived one Christmas. Rafa and Marina had not conceived a child of their own. Now Laika was nearly two years old, an imposing bitch.
For the best part of the afternoon, the girls ran around the trunks, tirelessly chasing Laika, who always just eluded them. It was a lot of fun.
Marina came to the field and smoked a cigarette, watching them play from afar. Lucía slipped and fell against a tree, but stood up and continued the chase. It was getting cold.
“Mile!” called Marina. The kids stopped running. Laika barked twice at Lucía, taunting her. “Time to go home. Bring Laika.”
The kids looked at each other. How were they supposed to catch her now?
To their surprise, Laika just walked to Milena, wagging her tail, and let her put the leash on.
“Good girl,” said Milena and patted her head.
“What do you think we’ll have today?” Lucía asked Milena, as they walked towards Marina. “Cookies? Brownies?”

A few years later Marina and Rafa laid in bed, watching TV. She turned her lamp off and tried to ignore the jabber of advertisements and newscasts.
“It’s too loud, would you make it a bit quieter?” asked Marina.
“Sure,” he said.
He grappled for the remote, buried somewhere between the blankets.
“I have to wake up early tomorrow.” She sighed.
“I know, I know!” said Rafa. “I just don’t know where the goddamn... ah, here.” He raised the remote to the TV and pressed his thumb hard against the rubber. The volume went down slowly.
Changing his mind, he pressed a different button and the screen went black. “Might as well just go to sleep.” He set his glasses on the bedside table.
“Listen, I’m sorry about what I said earlier. I think you are a good father.”
“Thanks,” he said flatly.
“I just don’t think we should let Mile get away with it.” She sighed. “What she did is really bad. I think a harsher punishment would be better for her, long term. She needs to learn that her actions have consequences.”
“Uh, okay.” Rafa shrugged.
“Seriously.” She sat down in the bed. “It sucks that it seems I don’t have equal say on how we raise them.” She may not have given birth to them but she was their mother. Such was their agreement and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Mar, let's just go to sleep now, okay? Of course you have equal say. We see things differently, but we’ll figure it out. As you said, you must wake up early. We’re upset now; it’ll be easier to discuss this tomorrow.”
Marina laid down sideways, her back to him. “Sure. Good night.”
“Good night, Mar.” He pulled down the string from his lamp, click. “We will talk about it tomorrow.”

On a sunny Friday, Marina, now forty-eight, walked into a shop and waited by the counter. Rafa was away in Medellin, allegedly on a business trip, coming back Saturday.
A tired man wearing steel rimmed glasses came to her. “Good afternoon, how can I help you?”
“Hello. I need a pen.”
The man nodded. “What kind of pen?”
“A fountain pen.”
He showed her some.
“I like the third one,” she said, pointing at a black one with silver Art Deco lines. “Can I try it?”
“Eh, sorry, only once you’ve bought it.”
“Oh, okay.”
The man clicked his eyeglasses. “It’s from a limited edition.”
They looked at it through the glass.
“The nib is rhodium-plated 18K gold.”
“Yeah, I’ll take it,” she said. “It’ll do.”
The man unlocked the cabinet and held the pen up, admiring it against the light that shone through the shop’s windows. “I think you’ve made a great choice,” he said, though he couldn’t understand why anyone would spend all that money on a pen.
“I have some letters to write,” she confided.
“Most people don’t write letters, not in paper.” He set the pen inside a black box. “They say they don’t have the time.” He smiled sadly. “I’m glad to see you have the time.”
“These letters are really important.” What compelled her to tell him? Her heart beat imperceptibly faster. What would she say if he asked about them?
The man nodded. “In that case, may I offer you in some nice ink?”
“Yes, good idea.”
Leaving the shop with the pen and the ink, she knew there was no turning back.

From the shop, Marina drove back to her building.
“Good afternoon,” said a neighbor in the elevator.
Marina pressed the button for the top floor. “Yes, hello,” she said to the woman.
They looked at the metallic doors until they opened again.
“Have a nice day,” the woman said, getting off.
“Thanks, you too.”
The lock clanked as Marina turned the key to her apartment. Once inside, she took her shoes off. With her eyes closed, she focused on the familiar feeling of her soles sinking into the thick white tapestry as she crossed the living room.
She sat down on the white sofa and lit a cigarette. As she smoked it, she wondered what would happen if she set the sofa on fire.
In the restroom, she opened the ink carefully. The label read “Beautyberry.” She filled the pen’s cartridge.
She set the pen and ink on her desk, by a large window, and looked out. The sun was beginning to set, one of those beautiful orange pink afternoons in Bogota.
The faucet squeaked as she turned the knob and water splashed into the bathtub. Some salts Elvira had brought from France dissolved with a fizz. She left her clothes in a pile and, after a few steps over cold green tiles, felt the soothing warmth of the water around her.
She hugged her legs and imagined that the bathtub was a womb. She relaxed, thinking that she was one with the water.
At some point the phone in her apartment rang loudly, jarring her. Submerging didn’t drown the metallic buzz, just distorted it. After six rings, silence returned.
The third time the water started getting cold, she walked to the door, turned the lights on and came back into the bathtub to shave her legs. When she finally came out, the tiles were a wet mess.
The water chirped loudly as it went down the drain as she dried off with a pink towel. She donned black underwear and polished her nails. After drying her hair, she donned a black dress she really liked that she had picked with Rafa in New York and a pearl necklace with matching earrings that she wore very rarely.
In the mirror, she examined the wrinkles under her brown eyes. She traced her eyebrows with her fingers. She was beautiful. She powdered her cheeks and put on red lipstick.
She opened the window slightly and lit a cigarette. Her stereo started playing Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb on repeat.
She sat down. The pen felt heavy on her hand. The writing was sharp, the purple ink majestic. She practiced her signature three times. Satisfied, she crumpled the paper into a little ball and put it in the ashtray.
She finished her cigarette looking out the window. The moon shone brightly; she felt imprisoned by her glow.
She watched the lights on the buildings come on one by one and the white and red blur of traffic rushing down the avenues and through the bridge by her building, all the strangers anonymously traversing an ugly monster-city that should not exist.
There was work to do. She pressed a button in her lamp. It illuminated her desk.
She wrote four letters: to Lucía, Milena, Elvira, and Rafa. In all letters she told them how much she loved them and asked them not to judge her too harshly nor to blame Rafa, who had done nothing wrong.
She expected Rafa’s letter, the last she wrote, would be the hardest—she didn’t want to think of the past—but it came out easily. He would remember her by it, so she set aside her anger and frustration and wrote from the heart. She wrote that beside him she had been the happiest woman; that she was doing this out of love. She wished him well.
After writing the names in the envelopes, she arranged them, and the pen and ink, neatly on the wooden desk.
These were her letters. Maybe they didn’t amount to much, but they said all she had to say.

Marina drove to an exclusive restaurant. She had eaten there twice, on special occasions with Rafa. She parked and walked through the gate.
“Good evening, madam. Welcome! How many will be joining you?”
“I’m by myself.”
The host saw her to her table.
A waiter pushed her chair from behind as she sat down.
“Can I see the wine menu?”
“Certainly.” A waiter produced the leather-bound menu. As she read it, another waiter brought bread and butter.
“I’ll go with this one.” She pointed at a French wine that she thought Rafa had once praised highly.
“Terribly sorry, madam, I’m afraid I have to inform you that we don’t serve this wine by the glass. If you’ll allow me, the wines by the glass are list—”
“It’s okay,” she said curtly. “I’ll have a bottle.” The pomp of these common waiters annoyed her.
The waiters looked at each other briefly. “Certainly.” They started withdrawing with a bow.
“Oh, and a bottle of sparkling water.”
They brought the water and the wine. The wine tasted good. They poured her a glass.
She ignored the furtive glances from a curious couple sitting nearby.
“Is madam ready to order, or would you perhaps need a few more minutes to consi—”
“Yeah, I’m ready,” she said, handing over the menu. “I just want to try the house salad.”