Always the Sea
She has been driving at random, as she sometimes does when she is feeling sad, disoriented, or does not know what to do with her time, or when she feels like being alone, and the car offers her a cozy intimacy, combined with a feeling of freedom that in earlier times—when intoxication was possible—was intoxicating. And this evening at nightfall she finds herself by chance in the little summer resort town of her childhood and youth. So changed, that if it were not for the sign at the entrance, she would not have recognized it. But she takes the road she knows so well, and there at the end, on a headland, in one of the most beautiful spots of the Costa Brava, is “her” hotel. Irene likes hotels—the Gran Hotel situated before the lake of Estocolmo; the small and exquisite Hôtel de Paris, where Borges stayed and Oscar Wilde died; the Winter Palace on the banks of the Nile, through whose gardens at times slips the ghost of Agatha Christie—but “her” hotel was this one, so thrust into the sea, just above the beach.
Sometimes she and Eduardo would slip out of their rooms at night, would descend the stairway carved into the rock and meet on the beach. They were by far the best swimmers of the village. Eduardo was faster, with a spectacular crawl. Irene was stronger, with a smooth and elegant breaststroke. Her long blond hair floating around her short body, her long legs and small steep breasts, gave her a Pre-raphaelite look. “How lovely you are! You look like Ophelia!” Eduardo told her. And she laughed, “But an Ophelia who is alive and kicking! And you, so dark and with that beard and that wild haircut, you look like the Moor of Venice!” He was a very handsome lad, and he was, like Irene, a creature of the sea. Irene had had many men over the course of her life—perhaps, she was not sure, too many—but they were men of fire, or air, or earth, none of them was, like Eduardo, of water. And neither did any of her children—who had mattered so much to her and were now foreign, almost indifferent—have pacts with the sea, nor did they resemble what she had been like fifty years before.
Irene and Eduardo would swim together in the darkness to a tiny island, which they alone ventured to reach. Sometimes they also went there in the morning, if they wanted to be alone. There they took off their bathing suits, and with their light slippery bodies they tried out implausible caresses (caresses that Irene, having gone through various lovers, has never again experienced). And upon their return, the other youngsters looked at them with a strange mixture of envy and disapproval.
On this night she has gone into the sea leaving her clothes and her shoes hidden among the rocks—no one must have seen her, but in any case it has been quite some time since she renounced being a lady to become a shameless
old woman—and she swims toward the small island. She still has an elegant and firm breaststroke, and her gray hair floats like seaweed around her body which, immersed in the water, sustained and enveloped by the water, mimics a lost youth.
Irene knows that she does not have enough strength to reach the island, and she planned to turn back when she felt tired. But a strange drowsiness overcomes her, a delightful sense of well-being, and she continues on, impelled by the soft little waves, because a north wind is coming up that is sweeping everything out to sea. Now the woman is so exhausted that she can barely control the movement of her limbs, and she realizes that at any moment she will faint, but she does not feel out of breath, nor the least trace of fear, and she abandons herself to the waters as into the arms of a lover, who is sustaining her and will sustain her until in a few seconds comes the end and she loses consciousness.
Now she knows that this is why she has come here, to her old hotel, this evening, to play the real Ophelia, so the sea will liberate her from the ailments, the terrible decrepitude of old age, the loneliness and the fear, sinking her into the sweetest of deaths. And the last thing she asks before closing her eyes is: “Carry me far out, do not return me to the shore, may they never find me, drag me to the sea depths and may I serve as sustenance for the great predators and the tiniest fish.”
—translated from the Spanish by Barbara F. Ichiishi