The sand clung to Vera's wet, salty ankles. Clumping up between her chunky painted toes. Her arm was through her husband's as they wandered along the blonde sands of a southern English beach. Both partners clutched their sandles in their free hands. Vera carried a rainbow striped wind break under her right arm. It bit into her floppy bicep mercilessly. Sweat was prickling down her spine, sticking to her blue striped T-shirt.
"How far are we going Albert." She moaned.
"The ice-cream van is just there."
He pointed to a speck that lay too close to the horizon for Vera's comfort.
"I'm going to sit down for a bit, now."
Vera strode up the beach and flopped into the side of the sand dune.
"You've no stamina anymore!"
"We are nearly fifty, dear."
Bert sighed and continued standing. Age; why was that always her excuse? No, no, he knew the answer to that, he'd already heard every other excuse. Just the latest in a long procession. First she was just tired, then she had headaches, her period, 'I've just had a baby, what do you expect?', 'I'm going through the menapause', 'oh don't be silly we're too old for all that nonsense.'
Bert scanned the sea. He watched people wading to their waists then gaspingas the waves hit their groins. He looked down at his wife's hair. Her head was bent and he could see her shoulders heaving. He placed his hand on the back of her neck. The feel of her warm skin against his damp palm brought an ache to his throat. How he loved her! It had been years since she had let him...
They slept in separate beds.
In separate rooms.
She said it was because she couldn't stand his snoring.
Vera hnched her shoulders higher as every hair on her body stood to attention beneath Bert's grip. After forty years together how could he fail to know that she hated the back of her neck to be touched?
"Don't dear, please."
The hand was removed. She dusted sand from the wind break.
"You don't want to stop just here, do you Vera?"
She squinted up at him then shaded her eye blocking the sun with the back of her hand.
"No I don't." She looked away, "Of course not."
She searched the pockets of her shorts for a tissue. the mere thought of old Bert seeing her in a swimming costume made her wobbly legs wobble even more. He sat down beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. She blew her nose.
"You've been out a lot recently." He mumered.
She pretended not to hear.
She folded the tissue and cleaned her rose tinted bifocals.
"Been out a lot, haven't you?"
She forced a tight-lipped smile and attempted to focus on his face.
"Yes out to coffeee with friends. Very pleasant..."
She saw his mouth move but the sounds were too low to make sense. she replaced her glasses on her nose.
She gulped. The persistant tinatus that had set in since the rock club last weekend was entirely her own fault. He laughed.
"What are you laughing for?"
"Your hearing is going I said."
"But Vera, dear, why coffee until three in the morning."
"Let's get going shall we?"
She hoisted the windbreak onto her hip as she got to her feet. He caght her elbow and trailed at her side.
"I'phoned for you at Edith's house the other night."
"did you dear?"
Vera's voice raised itself a couple of octaves.
"Yes, you weren't there. She said that you never came."
She changed direction heading away from him, towards the hard sand nearer the sea.
"Thursday, wasn't it?"
Vera was unable to resist placing her forearms across her stomach.Thursday's tattoo was still stinging.
"Oh yesI remember now. I was in bed. Too tired to see Edith in the end."
"I'm sure you were out."
"Didn't you check my room?"
"I knocked but it was locked up and quiet."
"I must have been deeply asleep. I told you, I was tired."
Vera closed her eyes. Memorised images flashed unbidden. A private smile came to her face.
The rock club had been a release, not to mention the shopping trip before hand for tiny unsuitable items of PVC. With her huge bosom crammed into an exceedingly tightcorset of water proof fabric and her Edam-cheese sized cheeks drooping well below the line of her purple skin-tight hot pants (padlocks down either side), Ver had gone to dance to loud music and get as drunk as she could. Her orange peel thighsdimpled through her fish net tights. she couldn't walk in her platform shoes. she'd sucked the tongues of at least six men that she never saw properly because she'd left her glasses at home. All she could remember about them now was that they had been wearing balck, some were in skirts and they had all had silly hairstyles. she'd fallen over twice and laddered her tights. she'd thrown up in the club toilets. She'd felt young, free and hung over for the first time in many years.
"What about Friday? Where were you that night?"
"Friday, where were you?"
"You know, Albert, I seem to have terrible tinatus now days. It must be my age."
Friday had been the night she had the body piercings. How many was that now? Excluding the ears (one in either lobe) it must be about six. None of these had been on display to Bert. They hurt too. Everything except the navel felt bruised.
"Why are you smiling dear?"
"Vera, is there someone else?"
She snapped around to face him, splashing his trousers with brine as she did so. a pained expression burnt across her face.
"Are you accussing me, Albert?!"
"No, no, not accussing."
"Well, then, I'd like to know what exactly you mean by such remarks."
She threw the windbreak at him.
"You carry it. You wanted to bring it."
She increased her pace. He stood with his ribs sinking further and further into him and his stomach becoming increasingly more leaden. She hated him. They shouldn't have been married. She was the tame domestic type, he had a motorbike. She did the ironing, he smoked dope from a bong filled with fruit juice. She obeyed and he rebelled.
"Vera, I just-"
He scooped up the wind break and splashed after her. He tap[ped her left shoulder, then deliberately moved to her right hand side. She predictably looked the wrong way first. He thought maybe she would laugh but her scowl simply reached new depths.
"You just what? Wanted to ruin the rest of my holiday?"
"Vera I'm...I'm just-"
"Go and calm down Albert."
He scrunched his eyes closed. I'm just so lonely, Vera.
"There's the ice-cream van." He muttered, pointing ahead.
Vera looked up. she jerked to a sudden hault.
"Well, look for yourself, you short sighted old man. It's on the naturist beach. We can't go there Albert."
"Oh, why ever not?"
He headed onwards, past the superfluous wooden notice informing the public that 'naturism may be permitted beyond this point.' They walked some way. Thei eyes accustomed themselves to the beige bodies that were a sharp contrast to the multi-coloured ones on the previous stretch. Men and women wandered into the dunes and out of the sea appearing as nothing more than they were. Large, upright, hairless apes with flesh like a pig's. Near the ice-cream van, Bert set down the wind break and himself with decision.
"We're stopping here for the day."
Vera remained standing.
"What's wrong, dear?"
"Apart from having to stay on this particular part of the beach. You think I've been with other men!"
"I do not."
"You just an hour ago, asked me that very question."
"You accussed me."
He stood up.
"All right Mrs. Harrington. I do think that, what else am I supposed to think?"
Vera's fat face wobbled. She slapped her husband's cheek.
"Don't say such things, here!"
"I shall speak the truth to you as I see fit. Mrs. Harrington, you are an ugly, burnt out whore."
"Mr. Harrington, I give you everything that good wife could. I cook, I cl-"
"You haven't given me everything a good wife could for years, you've been too busy giving that to everybody else."
His voice had raised itself too loud. sunbathers flipped onto their stomachs to stare from beneath hats and brollies and from behind sunglasses.
"Very well, Mr. Harrington. I shall show you what I have been doing, since we are here, I shall show everyone."
Vera tugged off her shorts, ripped off her T-shirt, threw down her bra and kicked off her large, floral support pants.
Metal work flashed in the sun, from her nipples, her navel and her shaved pubic area. Rings clung about her dark damp parts like tiny metallic parasites. An enormous tattoo of a dragon fly was emblazoned diagonally across her flabby stomach.
Bert's shoulders quivered. His body spasmed. His face cracked into a irresistable smile and he began to laugh, almost aggressively.
Vera felt like her whole body, all her emotions, everything she'd ever thought, or hoped or dreamed would fit into a match box.
"What are you laughing at?"
she choked on the lump in her throat and tried to cover herself with her hands.
Still laughing, Albert undid hi fly and dropped his trousers.
"Don't just call me Albert."
He pulled down his Y-fronts.
"Call me prince Albert."