International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Swimming
waiter was either Greek or Turkish, Edwin Durrant couldnt
be sure which but either way, he was a source of profound irritation.
The Old Bridge Restaurant was a favourite luncheon spot of Edwins
and for years he and his wife had eaten there without incident.
On the past few occasions however, they had been served by young
foreigners whose command of the English language had been less than
That, coupled with
the fact that this young man had mixed up the recipients of the still
and sparkling water left Edwin sweating more than normal under the collar.
Frances, on the other hand, was oblivious to the waiters thick
accent and grammatical blunders. What she did notice was that his eyes
were a rather lovely shade of green; that, and the bubbles that played
havoc on her tongue after bringing her glass of water to her lips.
It was a muggy day on this, the 40th wedding anniversary of Edwin and
Frances Durrant. If they were being honest with one another, they would
both have preferred to have been elsewhere. Whilst Edwin thought wistfully
of the golf club and the latest detective novel he was reading, Frances
would have liked nothing more than to be sitting under the large shady
maple tree in the garden sipping lapsang suchong or wandering the cool
marble corridors of the Fitzwilliam Museum. She had never imagined she
would spend quite so much time there, but several years ago, an exquisite
Iranian jade blue urn had caught her eye and now, every Tuesday afternoon,
she walked through the museum, leaving the urn as her final treat. She
sometimes found the delicious anticipation overwhelming and had to make
a quick detour to the café to drink a restorative cup of lapsang
suchong. It was odd behaviour; Frances knew it was odd, but relished
in this knowledge. Surely at her age she should be permitted a few eccentricities?
Her sons affectionately joked about this obscure habit of their mothers;
Edwin never commented - what she chose to fill her days with was his
Yet instead of being at their preferred destinations, here Edwin and
Frances Durrant were, sweating at table six and idly wondering how long
their food would take to arrive. Neither of them were hungry; in fact,
the thought of eating the swiss chard stuffed with taleggio cheese that
Frances had ordered made her feel rather queasy. Her stomach made a
curt, angry noise as if to prepare itself for its culinary onslaught
and Frances glanced up at her husband, wondering if he had heard it.
He was staring gruffly ahead of him, past her left ear as far as she
could make out and she wondered at what stage it was in their married
life that conversation had become quite so arid. She loved her husband,
of that she was certain. But Frances wasnt sure what that meant
anymore. She loved her blue urn at the Fitzwilliam too and, given the
choice, she would far rather have that sitting opposite her than this
red-faced man who made her feel hot just looking at him in his jacket
and tight collar. Was that a terrible thing to admit? She picked up
her glass and sipped at the water. Once more, she flinched at the burning
sensation on her tongue. Surely Edwin must have noticed that the waiter
had given them the wrong bottles of water? He was always so particular
about these things.
From where their table was positioned, they could just see out to the
River Cam. It was full with punts and canoes and merry makers reddening
under the suns fierce glare. Frances felt grateful that she was
dressed in such a light frock and that she was inside. As the waiter
laid the swiss chard in front of her, Frances looked up and thanked
him, marvelling once again at his eyes. They were not dissimilar to
the colour of the pilots eyes to whom she was once engaged. She
had never told Edwin about her previous engagement; there seemed no
need as it had been so short and disastrous. In fact, she rather liked
having this secret from him. What would he think, Frances wondered as
she picked at a shallot, if he knew that I nearly married another man?
As she watched him attacking his poached ox tongue, she found it hard
to imagine that hed think anything at all.
At that moment, a loud splash broke her reverie and Frances glanced
out of the window to see that a boy had fallen off his punt (or had
he jumped?) amidst screams and cries of amusement and was swimming towards
the bank. He appeared to be young, barely out of his teens and was making
his way towards an excited gaggle of girls who were clapping and cheering
him on. The sound of splashing and the cries of delight suddenly roused
in Frances the fragment of a memory long forgotten: dappled sunlight
and the cool sharpness of water against her skin.
The sun dripped through the leaves on to their bare shoulders beneath
a cherry tree. Frances and Edwin were in their early twenties and they
had strolled down to Grantchester one summer Sunday afternoon. They
were recently engaged but still reticent with one another, inhibited
within their bodies and unsure of the correct social etiquette,
so unused were they to spending time with the opposite sex. After a
pint at The Green Man, they wandered slowly back towards Cambridge,
fingers laced. It was early evening, but the sun still felt high and
heavy. Frances would like to have removed her hand from Edwins,
just for an instant, so she could wipe it. But she couldnt bear
the thought that he might not take it again and she didnt want
to appear rude. Instead, as they approached the cherry tree, she suggested
they sit under it for a few minutes. Willingly, Edwin steered her off
the path and flattened the long grass thick with meadow-sweet for his
fiancé to sit on.
A few punts were making their way languidly along the river and further
downstream they could hear the laughter and splashing of bathers. They
sat in silence for a few minutes, Edwin staring at the ivory smoothness
of Francess left wrist and Frances admiring the strength of Edwins
right calf muscle. Then, at the same moment, they both tilted their
heads slightly towards one another and their eyes locked. Edwin gazed
at her. How lucky he was to be marrying this stunning girl, he thought
for the hundredth time. He had nothing to compare the sensation with
that he felt deep in his gut each time they were together, but if this
was not love, then what was?
There was something about Francess wrists that Edwin found immensely
erogenous; they were so delicate and vulnerable and he would have liked
nothing more at that moment than to hold his palm beneath their slender
weight. Instead, he was horrified to discover that what had begun as
the vaguest stirrings of desire, were now strengthening in his groin
and tightening against his flannel trousers. Edwin jumped up in alarm
and, without being fully in control of his actions, found himself tugging
at the buttons of his shirt.
Come on, Frances, he said, pulling his shirt free and flinging
it on the ground. Lets go for a swim.
She looked up at him, her violet eyes quizzical and amused.
In the Cam?
The thought of jumping into the cold water had made Edwins rising
lust recede instantaneously, but now that he had made the suggestion,
there was no turning back.
I can hardly go in my underwear
Why not, Fran? Theres nobody around.
Frances craned her neck up and down the tow path, fringed with ragged
willow-herb and foxgloves. He was right apart from the occasional
punt, nobody was about and after all, she was so hot
Without allowing herself to give it too much thought, Frances stood
up and with one swift motion, lifted her bottle green cotton dress over
her head and left it lying on Edwins discarded shirt and trousers.
They had never seen one another in this state of undress before and
as Edwin stared at her unbearable beauty, he once more felt himself
becoming aroused. Grabbing her hand, he led her down to the rivers
Are you ready?
Frances nodded vaguely. Edwin had never acted so impulsively before
and certainly neither had she, but something about this fact made her
feel bold and rebellious and she loved him more at that moment than
she ever had done. Before she knew it, she found herself suspended momentarily
in the air before plunging feet-first into the raw, crisp water. They
surfaced, gasping with cold and delight. Weeds wrapped around their
legs like firm green fingers and Edwin reached an arm out to help pull
Frances free. They exchanged a complicit smile and in silence swam against
the current through water lilies with pouting buds sitting atop heart-shaped
pads. The water was surprisingly clear and as they moved, they watched
fronds swaying under the surface as serenely as ballet dancers. Dragonflies
with tails of electric blue darted so close overhead that they could
feel their light wings brush against them and the tinny croak of frogs
closed in on them from the river bank. After they had been swimming
for several minutes, without a word they both turned at the same moment
and let themselves be pulled back through the reeds without the slightest
exertion. Frances felt like a mermaid. She was weightless, bodyless,
the warm air against her face acting as the only contact with the world
of physical sensation. Edwin reached out his hand and caught hold of
hers and as they looked at one another, they laughed.
This, thought Edwin, is happiness.
This, thought Frances, is the man that I adore. I am going to spend
the rest of my life with him.
The boy pulled himself up on to the river bank and shook himself dry
in a histrionic manner, rather, thought Frances, like a dog. The gaggle
of girls applauded appreciatively and Frances pulled her eyes away from
the window back towards her husband. He had noticed none of the scene
outside; at least, he had appeared not to and was chewing noisily on
his ox tongue. She had little appetite and pushed a morsel of cheese
from one end of her plate to the other. Fixing her eyes on Edwin, she
willed him to look at her; willed him, for just a moment, to remember
that afternoon so long ago and the dappled sunlight and the sharpness
of the water against their skin. He seemed to be elsewhere, lost in
deep thought. About what, Frances wondered? She kept her gaze on him
until eventually he looked at her.
Edwin... She tailed off.
do you remember
Another loud shriek and a splash from outside interrupted her.
Do I remember what?
Frances laid her fork down on the largely uneaten plate of food. Oh,
No, do I remember what Frances? Try me. Go on.
No, really. Its nothing, dear. Nothing at all. She
took a sip of her water, grimaced and pushed the bottle of sparkling
water across the table towards her husband. You know the waiter
mixed up our bottles of water?
Edwin raised an eyebrow. Yes, I had noticed, dear. He passed
Frances the half drunk bottle of still water. She refilled her glass,
leant back, gazed out at the Cam and took another sip.
© Rebecca Stonehill
rnarracott at googlemail.com
Rebecca Stonehill lives near Cambridge, England where she teaches piano,
cares for her two young daughters and tries to turn her insomnia into
something creative. She dreams of the day when she can devote more time
to her passion of writing but in the meantime makes frenetic dives for
the laptop when her children take naps. She becomes most inspired to
write when she is in motion, whether it is walking or taking a bus.
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