There was little else to do but wait. The ocean had receded from the dry stretch of sand in an instant, leaving the handful of beachgoers stranded and without much relief from the malicious rays of the sun. The public announcement had come over the loud speakers just moments before, and the sun-stricken crowd emitted a collective sigh, the news putting a sudden damper on their afternoon plans. They had been warned when they booked their hotel rooms that this was a very real possibility, that the tide became increasingly temperamental in the summer months and sometimes washed out as far as a mile and a half from the shore; many of the guests had read and understood the brochure but thought it was nothing more than a precautionary statement and, in any event, highly unlikely. But as the waterline became increasingly distant, many of the bathers packed up their towels and umbrellas, their coolers and beach toys, and headed for the hotel lobby. Then a thin, pre-recorded voice came over the loud speakers and told the rest of the swimmers what they had already anticipated but hoped wasn't true: the ocean would be gone for the remainder of the afternoon.
Delilah took the lollipop from her mouth and stuck it, pop down, into the sand.
“If this doesn't beat it all,” she said.
Max peered out from behind his paper and ruffled the pages, letting one slip away into the breeze. “It's beautiful here, isn't it?” he replied.
“It is quite remarkable,” she said. “I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it.”
She refocused her binoculars and swept them across the beach.
As far as anyone could see the beach was littered with the dregs of a conspicuously polluted ocean floor: old beach balls and beer cans, plastic coolers, license plates, a telephone booth, two folding chairs and a metal detector, various swimming trunks and tops, a miscellany of washed out paperback books, and half a dozen surfboards lay before them.
“And you wanted to go to Cape Cod,” she said.
Max shook his head.
“Do you think Cape Cod has nature like this?”
“When you're wrong you're wrong,” he said. “And I, my little flamingo, was most certainly wrong.”
Delilah smiled and pointed her binoculars towards him. “My, my, aren't we looking rather spacious today.”
Max peered out from behind his paper again. “Classic. Classic Delilah,” he said.
She blushed and swooped the binoculars around to the kiosks that were lined up against the side of the road. In one of them, a dark skinned man in a white tuxedo held a solid gold shaker in his hand. He mixed a drink firmly, not a drop of sweat upon his face. Delilah focused her binoculars on him.
“Exquisite,” she said softly. Then so Max could hear, “I would like a beverage. Anything for you, my love?”
Max lifted the paper and smiled. “Do we dare? It is a Tuesday after all.”
Delilah put her hand on his hairless knee. “Today is Tuesday?” she asked.
“Yes, I believe so.”
“I could have sworn it was the weekend. Are you sure?”
Max shrugged his shoulders and turned to the front page of the newspaper.
“Huh,” he said.
“That's funny. No date.”
“Really? How strange. Well, either way, we are on vacation, muffin top. We can do as we please.”
Max frowned and looked down at his mid-section, which was also hairless and perfect, not an ounce of fat protruded over his bathing suit.
“Okay,” he said. “What do you think I should get?”
“I don't know,” Delilah said. “What do you like?”
Max thought for a moment.
“I don't really like anything,” he said. “I don't really like alcohol.”
Delilah licked the tips of her front teeth. “Neither do I, but we are on vacation. So let's pretend like we do.”
Max folded the paper in half and placed it by his feet. “Excellent. A game. Okay, let me think. What is it that people are always drinking in the movies?” He put his hand to his chin and thought. He shut his eyes tight; veins bulged from his forehead. “A scotch,” he exclaimed. “A scotch and soda.” He clasped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously. “Oh boy, and tell them to do it on the rocks, okay?”
Delilah gripped his hands and smiled into his face. “That sounds delightful. Maybe I'll get one as well.”
Max's hands went limp. “No, cuddlebug, you can't get a scotch and soda. That's a drink for men. You need to get a lady's drink. Something light and refreshing, something colorful.”
Delilah pursed her lips. “Hmmm,” she said. “How about,” she concentrated, “a sangria. Those are light and colorful. Aren't they?”
Max beamed. “Most definitely. Excellent choice. A scotch and soda and a sangria it is. Should I go get them?”
Delilah shook her head. “No, no, let me. You just relax, jiggly-butt. I don't want you lifting a finger.
Max looked at her with a scowl.
“I'll be right back.”
On her way to the bar Delilah nearly tripped over the carburetor for a 2001 Ford Focus. “What is that doing here?” she said. “Nature is so strange.”
She ran on the balls of her feet, hop-scotching between patches of burning sand that crinkled beneath her toes like months old kitty litter.
When she got to the bar, the dark-skinned man in the tuxedo smiled at her. “Good afternoon, my beauty.” he said.
“Hello,” she replied fiddling with the straps to her top. “My, aren't you festive. What's the occasion?”
He polished a martini glass with a freshly pressed napkin. “Every day is a special occasion down here,” he said. “When you live in paradise, every moment is a gift.”
Delilah looked at the trash that covered the beach; a nest of fire ants was swarming a snow cone stand that had been pushed on its side. “It is lovely here,” she said. “I've never been to the Gulf of Mexico. We should have been coming for years.”
The man put the glass down and adjusted his bow tie. “People say that when you come here for the first time it is like the rest of the world becomes a distant dream. That you are not sure from day to day if you are sleeping or awake; if this is the dream or if this is the reality of your life. But either way you want it to last as long as it can. You want it to go on forever.”
Delilah swatted at a cloud of fruit flies.
“What can I get for you, my precious one?”
She blushed and tried to remember what Max had said. “Oh, I know it was something.”
The sun crouched over her face and she could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. “I just can't remember.”
The man patted her wrist and looked into her eyes. “Not to worry. I have just the thing.”
He turned around and began mixing bottles of various colors and sizes. He moved with the nimbleness of a puppeteer orchestrating some kind of foreign dance.
When he was done he placed each one before Delilah. She looked at them with astonishment. She had never seen anything so exotic.
“What are they?” she asked.
“My specialty,” he said. “A drink from my homeland.”
Delilah put her chin to the bar and stared into the clear blue liquid. “It looks like the sea,” she said.
“That it does,” the bartender replied.
She put the straw to her lips and took a long sip. The liquid filled her mouth with a sweet, chemically taste. The sides of her tongue became flooded with warm saliva. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Magnificent.”
“Thank you,” the bartender replied. “It is a passion.”
Delilah nodded. A plane passed above them spewing clouds of noxious black smoke across the sky. Delilah coughed and handed the man her money. “The rest is yours,” she said.
“I am forever grateful.”
Delilah snatched a large stack of napkins and headed back to her blanket.
As she was walking away the bartender shouted to her. “One piece of advice, my lovely.”
“Yes,” Delilah replied.
“Do not confuse paradise with eternity,” he said, waving his hand across the expanse of ocean. “Only one of them you can find here on earth.”
She stared at the bartender for a moment unsure of what to say. A handful of napkins fell from her fingers and she watched them scatter across the beach.
“Will do,” she replied.
When she got back to the blanket, Max looked concerned. “Your mother called while you were gone,” he said.
“How did she get our number?” Delilah asked, handing him a drink.
“One of the kids gave it to her,” Max said. “Would you believe it? After I made them promise not to tell. I literally said, 'Swear on your mother's life that you won't tell Gammy our phone number.' And look what they did.”
Delilah settled into her chair. “Kids,” she said. “What are you going to do?”
“I don't know,” he said.
“So what did my mother want?”
Max swirled the little straw around in his drink. “She said she was scared that we weren't ever coming back.”
“What?” Delilah said.
“Yup, she said she had a premonition that we would never return and she would have to raise the children on her own, forever.”
Delilah looked concerned. “Did she say that?”
“Yes, I didn't make it up. That's what she said.”
Delilah put her hand to her cheek. “Oh dear, do you think Mommy is losing it?”
“I don't think Mommy ever had it, koala bear.”
“You may be right. But why would she think that? How long have we been gone for?”
Max looked at his watch. “I can't remember. Can you?”
“I'm not sure either. But it hasn't been that long. Has it?”
“No, certainly no more than . . . a month or so.”
Delilah looked at him with surprise. “Has it been that long?”
“Maybe. It's hard to tell. Everything moves so slow down here. It feels like it has.”
Delilah tried to remember the day they left. What had she been wearing? How had they gotten to the airport? Had she remembered to pack the children's medication? She closed her eyes and attempted to will a memory into existence. She concentrated for what seemed like a very long time but nothing came to her.
Max held his drink up to the light and marveled at it. “Scotch and soda?” he asked.
“Uh-huh,” Delilah said nodding.
Max perked up in his chair. “Oh boy.”
He placed the straw between his lips and took a long, slow sip, holding the liquid in his cheeks. Delilah smiled, waiting for him to exhale in delight, but instead Max's face contorted. His eyes crinkled up at the edges and began watering; the corners of his mouth turned down in an awkward frown. He tried to swallow, then spewed the beautiful blue liquid all across the beach towel.
“What's wrong?” Delilah asked.
“It's awful,” Max yelled. “It tastes like . . . gas station cologne.” He snatched a small handful of sand and rubbed it across his tongue. “Oh God, how do they drink this in the movies?”
Delilah shook her head. “I didn't think it was so bad, puffy-cheeks.”
Max darted his eyes at her.
Delilah smiled and moved to the edge of the blanket sipping her cocktail. Max calmed himself and in a few moments fell asleep in his beach chair.
When he awoke he was in much better spirits. Delilah finished her drink and cuddled up next to him.
“What would you like to do now?” she asked.
Max took a deep breath of sea air. A stiff breeze ruffled their blanket; the air smelled of turpentine mixed with fish guts and gasoline.
He pursed his lips and stared far out into the horizon.
“I want to eat up the ocean,” he said.
They arrived at the restaurant in time to be seated in a corner booth. A waiter handed them each a menu and they stared at the descriptions in awe.
“What is all this stuff?” Delilah asked.
“I'm not sure, snuggy-wuggy,” Max said. “But it sounds amazing. What are you going to get?”
Delilah cleared her throat. “I don't even know what most of this is.”
Max took the menu from her. “That's all right, I'll do the ordering for the both of us. I am the gentleman here. Señor,” he said, snapping his fingers.
The waiter came over to the table immediately and bent down to take their order.
When they were finished ordering, a woman in a poncho dropped two droopy cacti on their table. A straw stuck out of each one.
Max looked confused for a moment, then grabbed the base of the plant, piercing his skin with the needles. “Ouch,” he said. “What the hell kind of drink is this?”
“One with teeth,” Delilah replied, chomping on her own for effect.
“They could at least warn you,” Max said.
Delilah nodded her head in agreement as they both sipped from the strange concoction and waited for their meals.
When the food arrived, they were already on their third drink and both a little tipsy.
“Look at this thing,” Max said, pointing to a giant purple lobster. “What is it?”
Delilah shrugged. “I've never seen anything like it in my life. What did you order?”
Max tried to think.
“I can't remember,” he said. “I guess I ordered this.” He knocked on the hard outer skeleton. “How do you eat it?” he asked.
Delilah shook her head and eyed a plate of oysters. “Look at those,” she said. “What are they?”
Max flagged down a waiter. “Excuse me, señor. What are those over there?”
The waiter put his hand on Max's shoulder. “Those are oysters, sir. Freshly shucked just moments ago.”
Max's eyes grew wide. “So those are oysters.”
His face grew red. “I know what those are. Or . . . I used to know. Delilah, we've had oysters before, haven't we?”
Delilah hid her face behind her napkin; tears streamed down her cheeks.
Max looked at her. “What's wrong, my little parrot?”
Delilah wiped the tears from her eyes as the waiter moved on to another table.
“It's just . . . I'm so happy,” she said.
Max took her hand in his and kissed the whites of her knuckles. “So am I,” he replied.
Delilah smiled and slipped off one of her pumps. She held it in the air for a moment as Max looked on lovingly.
“This really is paradise,” she said.
Delilah gripped his hand tighter and smashed the heel of her pump into the lobster's armor.
Later that night they returned to their hotel with a terrible hangover. Their bodies were badly burnt and neither one of them could remember which room they were staying in.
After a bellboy escorted them to their room they both collapsed on the bed and lay there, paralyzed, in their bathing suits.
Max groaned. “This must be what those oysters felt like right after they'd been shucked.”
Delilah held her head. “I feel absolutely useless.”
They lay there in silence for quite some time then Max began removing his bathing suit.
“What are you doing?” Delilah asked.
“What does it look like?” Max replied.
“No, not now,” she said.
“Delilah,” he said. “We are on vacation.”
Delilah nodded her head. “You're right. You're right.”
She undid her bikini top, wincing when the straps grazed her sunburned back.
Max lay on the bed completely naked, his penis limp and dangling to one side. Delilah stood and removed her bikini bottom. The light from the overhead lamp blinded her and she stumbled, catching herself on the side table.
Outside the hotel window, the ocean had returned and swept away the debris that covered most of the beach. Delilah stared out the window and thought about all the garbage that floated in the ocean, all the creatures that she could not recall and the ones she would never come to understand. She thought about an idea of Max--not her husband, but the idea of him--and the idea of her children (how many were there anyway?), and of a place where the persistent swell of memory vanished as quickly as the rolling tide. She wanted to remember every moment, every exotic detail, and to fill her heart with a new collection of memories that would keep her afloat for as long as she could possibly bear it.
And just as quickly as that shadowy thought came to her, the promise of the memory she was about to create bloomed gently inside of her and washed over her body like a fine ocean spray.
She giggled and steadied herself.
“Okay, here I come,” she said.
“Come to me, my love,” Max replied.
“Here I am.”
Max's face was turned to the wall and his eyes were shut tight.
She took a deep breath and climbed atop his blistering body.
“Get ready, tiny man,” she said.