At the Beach: Fiction by Linda Shapiro


Mr. Jaffe is sixty years old.  His white hair and grey mustache give him a look that some call distinguished. His body is toned from years of tennis and jogging. He and Mrs. Jaffe are vacationing at the luxurious island house, Once Upon a Tide in Sint Maarten.   

They are welcomed by the staff, lined up like figurines, smiling. When Mr. and Mrs. Jaffe enter the house the butler serves them iced drinks, mint floating in the glass.

Mrs. Jaffe takes a long drink then turns to the butler, “When do you serve breakfast and dinner?” She glances at the paintings on the wall. Once an art major, for a moment, she loses herself in the beauty of the paintings. The butler takes her almost empty glass and sets it on a tray. “Whenever you like,” he replies.

Her straight blond hair falls to her shoulders. Her perfect features are slightly puffy, probably from the wine she loves to drink, but anyone can see she had been a real beauty. She removes the silk head scarf she’s wearing, flips her hair with her hand and smiles at her husband. “Thanks for finding the house.”   

The butler lifts their suitcases.  “May l show you the master suite?”

Mr. and Mrs. Jaffe follow the butler up a winding staircase. He sets their suitcases on the floor in a large closet. They look out the bedroom window and see rolling waves cresting on the beach behind the house. The butler, before he leaves, asks when they want lunch.

“Maybe we should take a swim first?” Mr. Jaffe looks at his wife. “Oh, but the broker said the water is rough, and there’s a whirlpool near the rocks. Swimming may be dangerous,” he adds.

“The beaches are public, anyone can swim,” Mrs. Jaffe says as she walks toward the luggage. “Let’s have lunch and then we’ll swim in the pool or go to the beach at one of the hotels.”

 Mr. Jaffe nods and steps closer to the window. The afternoon tropical sun is brilliant. He shades his eyes with his hands as he gazes out the window at the fine white sand. He can feel the sun’s heat as he watches sailboats in the distance propelled along by silent far away breezes. He takes a deep breath, and imagines the taste of salt water in the ocean.   

“God, how good it would be to run on the beach in the morning,” he says to himself after his wife leaves the room. He’s about to move away from the window when he notices a young woman. She walks tall and straight as if she is balancing baskets on her head. Her skin is darker than the sand on the beach. Her long black hair glistens, her red bikini reveals full breasts and the soft curve of round hips. At first, he thinks she is alone, but she stops to motion to the man who follows. Mr. Jaffe guesses her young companion must be his son’s age, twenty-five. His body is wet and strong. Tight bathing trunks emphasize his manhood. He catches up with the woman as she takes his hand. They walk faster, then stop under a tall palm tree next to the swimming pool. Mr. Jaffe thinks he should move away from the window, but his legs are glued. He wonders if they will kiss or swim nude. The young man pulls off his bathing trunks, the woman slips off her bikini. The man begins to caress her breasts and kiss her lips. The couple falls onto the sand like wet leaves. Trembling, Mr. Jaffe wants to yell for his wife. His hands perspire. His heart races. When he opens his mouth to call his wife’s name there is silence. He tries to remember when he had last felt such passion. How much longer could he stand here and not call his wife? He remembers what it had been like when they were young. What’s different? He still wants her, but he worries about his body performing. He used to be as ready as the young man on the beach. Now his joints ache and his body doesn’t always obey. The last time he played tennis with his son he was exhausted. “Are you alright?” his son had asked.

The beautiful woman is on top of her companion. They sway together, two perfect partners. Mr. Jaffe thinks his wife is calling him to lunch. He wants to respond to her but when he tries he feels as if he is choking. He closes his eyes and wonders what it would feel like to float in the sea with the young woman next to him. He imagines he is stroking her hair. He smells lavender.

He remembers Natalie, the soft feel of her skin, the scent of lavender in her hair. It was a brief affair. He hadn’t loved her, but she made him feel like steel.

Outside the young couple is still. Their arms and legs wrapped as one. Mr. Jaffe wills himself to leave the window. He steps lightly, slowly. What would his wife have said if he called her to the window? He could hear her infectious laugh when she drank too much wine. Would she have gone out to the beach to shoo them away? The beaches are public but she might worry the couple would swim in the pool. Mr. Jaffe turns for one last look to see the woman and man standing, wearing their bathing suits as they begin to walk away – their arms around each other.

The water is crashing and swirling near the rocks with more force than earlier as the tide comes in, and Mr. Jaffe realizes he suddenly feels terribly hungry.

After attending Boston University,  Linda Shapiro studied modern dance at the Martha Graham School in New York City. She  taught modern dance while raising her daughters, and eventually had a business career in the outdoor industry traveling abroad as an importer. Writing, always writing, wherever she traveled. As time allowed, Linda took writing classes at the New School in New York City and Sarah Lawrence. Since she retired, she has joined a Scarsdale Library writing group taught by Barbara Josselsohn who also teaches at Sarah Lawrence. In addition, she’s been enrolled in classes at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College.


Curated by FORTH Fiction Editors.

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