Adam Roux

On the Beach Near the Hospital del Mar

Martin at the beach, but not alone. Annalise is there too, on her towel beside him, in sunglasses and a large straw hat. The hat has a white band and is tipped forward slightly to shade her face. She might be asleep, her arms, stomach, legs, exposed to the sun. The beach is crowded. Towels are laid hem to hem, a host of tanning bodies stretched from the road to the sea. People are talking, laughing, playing tinny music over small plastic speakers. From time to time, they stand, then run at the water. Barcelona in the afternoon. The sea at the end of the avenues, the city rising into the hills.

Martin reads. Annalise has brought a book also, but it lies next to her on the sand. Now she rises. Props herself up on her elbows to look out at the ocean. On her left ankle Martin has noticed a tattoo, the design aggressive but fluid. He thinks it must signify allegiance, but to what or whom he does not know. He is waiting to ask about it, when the moment is right.

Hey, Annalise says, pointing with one hand, placing the other on his arm. What do you call that, what that man is doing?
Martin puts his book down and looks. He tries not to think too much about her hand resting there on his arm. He plays it cool, says, Parasailing, I think.

Stupid, says Annalise.

What, the word or the thing itself?

She wobbles her head in theatrical deliberation. Both, she says. The word, it sounds important, but because the thing is stupid, the word becomes stupid, too. Empty.

Martin, amused, grunts, and wonders whether he should pick his book up off his bare chest, if Annalise is done speaking. At parties, Martin has observed that she will often erupt with thoughts after a long period of silence, seizing the conversation in order to drag it two or three topics back, and so Martin now waits. The two of them sit quietly for a moment. The water is a heavy, painted blue. There are no clouds, no wind; breakers rumble and hiss under the chatter of the crowd, the honking and growling traffic. Seawater skims lazily along the wet sand, retreats, evaporates, and Annalise, it would seem, has nothing else to say.

Together, Martin and Annalise turn their heads to watch a loud discussion that has erupted nearby. Martin is surprised but pleased at the fluidity of the way this happens, their watching together, the unconscious connection.  The discussion is taking place in a language Martin doesn’t understand among five people, three men and two women. Martin figures them for Scandinavians, maybe Swedes, by the way even the most brunette among them is still arguably blond, including the one woman in dreadlocks, and the way the men, with their round glasses, and thin, swept-back hair, all slightly resemble a young, lithe Orson Welles. Martin has never been to Sweden. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s gone alone.

A girl in jeans and a t-shirt approaches the Swedes. She has been wandering the beach all afternoon, passing out bright green pieces of paper, and now she hands the Swedes a flyer and tells them, in English, about the deals or drinks at a particular club, the DJs, etc., and the Swedes take the flyers, listen politely, and thank her. Then, loudly, they go back to their discussion, and the girl moves away. She stops to scan the beachgoers.

Hey, Annalise shouts at the girl. Can I get a flyer?

The girl looks at Annalise, looks away quickly.

Halloo, I want to go to your club, Annalise says. Here, a flyer, please.

The girl is frozen in place, clutching her flyers, staring now at the sand, now at the sky. Martin notices a saccharine, mocking edge in Annalise’s voice: she is using the flyer girl to pass the time, and Martin, realizing this, realizes also that Annalise might be bored, and so he becomes slightly, secretly, alarmed. He picks up his book and aims his sunglasses at the page in front of him and, caught between pity and a desire to play along, attempts to grin.

Come on, please, Annalise says. A flyer.

At last, the girl looks directly at Annalise. A momentary pause, as if considering options, and then an obscene, levered gesture (“up yours”) in the middle of the hot and crowded beach. The girl turns and walks away.

Rude! Annalise shouts after her.

Martin lowers his book. If she gave you a flyer, he asks, would you actually go?

No! Annalise says. No way. Those clubs are awful, and besides, all our students, they go there.

So much of their lives is delineated by the choices of their students. In their time off, it is hard for Annalise, Martin, and their co-workers to find a space where they will not be discovered in a state of relaxation and transformed into a responsible party. Annalise and Martin are not even educators, they are administrators, coordinators, further advice and cultural knowledge follows on the next slide, please. The students, almost all American, are shipped over a semester at a time to accumulate an experience of Spanish culture, gulp down gallons of sangria, collapse from heatstroke in the cable-car down from Montserrat. From a seat along the edge of the Plaça de Catalunya (where Martin sometimes grabs a few quiet minutes alone, between office errands), the students can be seen crossing in large packs. Their shoes, their clothes, their determined walk and unmitigated volume of conversation make them easy to pick out. They are like zebras, Annalise once said, crowding together to confuse their predators. And Martin has seen those eyes on the edge of plazas flick across his young charges; part of his job to warn the students, to educate them, to intercept their naïveté, and also, from time to time, to rescue.

Behind her sunglasses, Annalise smiles. Martin goes back to reading. A woman walks by at the waterline, hawking, in English, cigarettes—in the other direction comes a girl selling Juice, Juice, Juice, and the two stop to have a short conversation. Behind them the sea glimmers. As the women talk, they catch sight of something—the flyer girl, moving along the beach, who, realizing she is being watched, attempts a friendly gesture, which is not returned.

No, no, I can’t stand it, Annalise says, standing, readjusting her swimsuit. I’m going in, are you coming?

​Martin wiggles his book at her without looking up.

Klootzak, Annalise hisses, then turns to start threading her way through the crowd. As she walks, Martin cannot help but raise his eyes to follow her. She is tall, taller than him, with long arms and legs that might seem disproportionate, even monstrous, if she were not able to maneuver them with such control. Her swimsuit, still wet from their initial dip, shines in the arch of her back, the curve of her waist. There is a slight oval of sand on the back of her right thigh; Martin notices it as she nears the waterline, and as if sensing his stare, her hand brushes it off, almost involuntarily. She steps into the sea, careful, jumping slightly with the waves, holding her hands out in front of her as if to sense the ocean bottom. Finally, she dives, her he