Bram deftly spread the picnic blanket, allowing it to unfurl like a silk sail in a gentle breeze before settling over the soft sand. He placed poles around the large blanket and draped mosquito netting and a brightly colored canvas shade over the poles. His toil earned a smile from his beloved, Diana.
Bram lit charcoal briquettes in the portable grill as the sun dipped towards the sea. He’d been marinating catfish in buttermilk for hours; now, he dredged them in cornmeal, salt, pepper, and other spices – Diana’s favorite – and laid them over the coals. Their glow now matched the darkening sky, tinged orange behind blue-black clouds far away on the horizon, dusted softly in brilliant white.
Diana thought back to the day she and Bram first met. It was the oddest thing: like a bird without wings, something large had whirled, round and round, plummeting with a heavy splash into the ocean. A man, cocooned in cables and silk, dressed in puffy, sponge-like overalls. Something was attached to his feet – each of them strapped to a piece of smooth, shaped wood of equal size, unlike the driftwood Diana was used to seeing in the ocean. It had shattered on impact, bits of it floating away in the waves. Diana pulled off the man’s sodden outer clothing before it could weigh them both down and drown him. She dragged the man through the surf, to the shore, where Bram sprinted towards them from the cliffs.
Diana felt shy under the stranger’s gaze and pulled a clump of seaweed around the lower half of her body. He didn’t seem to notice as he dropped to the sand and felt for a pulse. Faint, but regular. Bram felt the man’s skull, neck, ribs, arms, hips, and legs for fractures. Nothing broken, he murmured. That’s when he noticed the strange, broken footwear. “Snow skis? What the Hell?” How did a snow skier end up in the ocean? Bram wondered. He looked towards Diana, who shrugged. What could she say?
The fallen man moved. He was breathing on his own, at least. The handsome stranger stopped pumping his chest. “I called 911. They should be here any minute.” The woman smiled. A quiet one. “I’m Bram. Bramley. My friends just call me Bram.” And I’m rambling, he thought. “I should go up, make sure they find us down here. You’ll stay with him?” Diana nodded. She didn’t want to – didn’t dare – but she didn’t have the heart not to.
When Bram returned with paramedics, Diana slipped quickly into the dark waves and vanished. It wouldn’t be long, though, before they met again. Bram came to this little crescent of beach every week or so. He had just wiped out after surfing a choppy wave. As he surfaced to gasp for breath, there she was, elbows resting on his board, laughing eyes twinkling with sun and seawater. “Well, there you are.” Bram floated on the other side of his surfboard. “You disappeared, last time. I hoped I’d see you again.” Bram smiled. “Do you have a name?”
“I’m Diana,” she said.
Well. She had a voice, after all, thought Bram. And a name. “Nice to meet you, Diana.”
“How’s the man we rescued?” she asked.
“He’ll live. But it’s the damnedest thing. Sounds like he was supposed to be dropped over that mountain slope–” Bram pointed to a snow-covered peak about 10 miles inland. “Some sort of parachute-to-ski adventure. A combination of nerves, a premature jump, and unexpected tradewinds blew the poor guy way off course. He’s lucky, I guess, to land in water where you could get to him. Could’ve been worse.”
Diana nodded. People did such brave, stupid things, sometimes. Well, what are you doing, right now? Diana wondered, annoyed at her own recklessness.
Bram and Diana had an unusual relationship; in some ways, they were more like an old married couple than a couple of furtive lovers. They had a son together; their boy, Dylan, would be heading off to university in the fall. But they had only met here, at this spot, once a month, for the past twenty years. Sometimes, just the two, sometimes the three of them.
The tent provided peace, shade, and privacy. Together, Bram and Diana ducked inside. “I wish you didn’t have to go,” whispered Bram, brushing a strand of hair away from Diana’s cheek, tucking it behind her ear.
“You always say that,” she said, cupping his face in her slender hands. She leaned in to kiss him and he pulled her close.
“That doesn’t make the reality of it any easier, Di.”
She touched his forehead with her lips. “No. You’ll tell Dylan come to visit me, won’t you?” Dylan lived with Bram most of the year, but he was a young adult who could come and go as he pleased. Dylan knew that he was loved. And he knew he had the best of both their worlds.
“As long as you promise to keep him safe, and send him back to me.” Bram grinned. Diana nodded. It broke her heart to bits, each time. If she were in charge of all things, the three of them would never have to part. Dylan and Bram, her reasons for being. Neither would ever make Dylan choose one over the other, nor would he.
“Let me go check on our dinner.” He hitched the curtains to the side poles to let in the breathtaking sunset. The last rays were golden flashes on the water. Above the sun, the sky was streaked in Mai Tai hues of red, orange, and yellow, painted on blue-gray silk. Bram dished up the catfish and served it with a sesame and Thai pepper seaweed salad. They ate in silence, there on the shore. Diana found the spicy pepper delightful on her tongue. It made all the flavors of an otherwise bountiful life before Bram seem bland.
They made love on the soft, blanket covered dune. Diana rested her head in the crook of Bram’s arm, as she had on so many moonlit nights before this one, humming an ancient sea song. He never meant to fall asleep, afterwards, but he always did. Diana saw to that with a voice that could lull a whole ship full of sailors far off course. She listened to Bram’s deep, easy, breathing, willing him to dream of her till morning. As darkness ate away at the large, bright disc of the moon, Diana slipped into the waves on legs that felt shaky and weak, like a newborn foal’s. As they resumed their natural amphibious form and strength, Diana dove to the bottom of the sea, and wept.