The Sea

Lisa Echcharif
The Sea
I'm hanging between two women.
Who are they? How did I get here?
I hang between them. They have picked me up holding me tight. My feet are raised and lowered as if someone were pulling them, like a puppet. And yet every step seems to cost me hours of strength. The ground is hard and uneven. If they let me go, I will fall. That is certain. That is the only thing that is certain. The noise in my head gets louder. The noise and the voices. They murmur and chat, they mock and giggle and scream shrilly. I feel a sound scratching along my throat.
“We'll be there soon. Allez! Just a few more steps and you've done it.”
Whose voice is this?
Above me float swathes of colour: violet, rosé, white. They flutter, flutter like tied butterflies in the wind. This wind sweeps over my face and my naked arms. It tickles pleasantly. The hairs stand up on the hot summer skin. I want to take off my T-shirt to feel the sun and the wind even more. Like when we ran out in the morning barefoot and in shorts. At first Maman followed us with a tube of sun cream. But she soon gave that up. The peeling of the skin belonged to the summer like the mosquito bites and the daily ice that we made ourselves from apple juice. Lionel and I. My brother Lionel and I, never-ending summer days full of wasted time at Grand-mère in Saint-Jeannet. Where is Lionel? It seems to me that I have not seen him since – forever. And suddenly the knowledge hits me like a slap in the face. Lionel is dead. Since – forever. I hear the screeching tires of the van. Something wet rolls down my cheek.
I am not lying on my bed, and not in my room. The mattress feels strange. I open my eyes. Colourful swathes float above my head, purple, rosé and white. Next to it the pale summer blue of the sky. I am outside, in the open air. Yes, I feel that exactly. The sunny breeze on my skin. Laughter and children's cries reach my ear. Familiar noises, I know that. What do they remind me of? I don't get it, slide back and forth, look at the colourful swathes, listen to the noises. There is another, steady noise emerging out of the chaos: rrschsch, rrschsch, rrschsch. And now I can smell it too. I am by the sea, my beloved sea.
Rrschsch, rrschsch. “Come, my little fish! Come out of the water, your lips are already blue,” calls Grand-mère.
“Just a little bit more!”
I'm already diving into the next wave, feeling really like a fish.
I am still lying on the beach, feeling the summer air and listening to the rolling waves. When the water retreats, the rolling stones grate across one another sounding like my bones. I wipe that thought aside. Now I want to see my sea. My head turns agonizingly slowly and then I see only stones and bare legs. Where is my sea?
I must have unintentionally made a sound, because a female voice reacts: “Wait, I’ll turn the lounger a little bit”.
And then I see the sea. Almost unreal, deep turquoise, small waves dance exuberantly and roll as white spray to the shore to start their dance from there again. How familiar this sight is to me.
“Beautiful, isn't it, Papa,” says another voice.
Papa? A name slips into my thoughts. Marie!
I have a daughter. Marie, my daughter. Then the other voice belongs to Hélène, my wife. My two girls, Marie and Hélène. I feel the corners of my mouth pulling upwards.
“Shall we try,” Marie asks. “He just seems so fit.”
“I don't know ...” Hélène doubts.
“Papa, would you like to go in the water?”
Yes, yes, I want to call out. Only a croaking sound comes out of my mouth.
But my girls have understood. Hélène pats encouragingly on my legs.
“Allez! Up with you, Marcel! Let's go for a swim.”
It seems to me that we are walking the entire Sentier Littoral coastline and I am afraid I will not make it. But then suddenly I feel the water washing around my legs. Cool, fresh water, spray that licks my skin. The suction of the wave, which wants to go back into the sea and immediately the next one, which rolls up and grasps the hem of my shorts. How good that feels. I am laughing. One hand presses my arm.
The next wave breaks at my legs and another, never-ending rhythm of the sea. My legs are giving out, but I do not want to admit it.
“Come on, Marcel, let's go back.”
Not yet! Just a little more, I want to shout.
“I know,” says Hélène, “you big fish.”
I find myself again under the colourful swathes and can still see the sea. Its colour has become darker, like mild petrol. Hands touch my feet. Soft, gentle hands. Marie's hands. She creams my feet with flowing, circling movements. The ointment cools wonderfully. I can move my toes.
Marie laughs. “Très bien, Papa.”
Then she sits next to me, my beautiful daughter, in bikini and jean shorts. She has braided her hair into a loose plait and her sunglasses hide deep brown eyes. I know that they are smiling, those eyes. They compete with her mouth all the time to see who laughs more. With outstretched legs she sits there and ties a bracelet closed. With the same flowing movements that creamed my feet.
She should not be sitting here. Marie should be laughing, dancing, water-skiing, making appointments. She should not be sitting here next to her sick father.
Marie looks at me and smiles her sunny smile.
“Today is a wonderful day, Papa!”

Translation by Shan Wardell
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