Parting Gift

by Jon Morgan Davies

The man wonders how to say good-bye amid these strangers. He aches in all his joints; cannot bear this hot, pounding water; the plastic in his remade heart melting; the pacemaker pulsing softer, softer; his feet gleaming red in the sweating bubbles; his flabby torso knocking skin against skin, nipples to top of stomach; his legs still their spindly junior-high essence as if only his top half aged those fifty-seven years.

The woman he loves is less than six feet away and the reason he is here, this resort trip his parting gift. Twenty years his junior, she still bequeaths a bikini the glory due, her skin, after a day of sun, a dark orange just shy of rot. Let her admire him in boiling water this last time–and he her. Let them relive those first weeks in Mexico, both fresh from untoward divorces but nowhere near life’s termination. Let them relive massages; beach walks; showers; umbrellaed drinks; that horrible uncushioned bed, too small, they made do; those huge orange towels in which they wrapped and unwrapped one another; that glass patio door in which she stood nude the morning after they first slept together, her figure’s black outline a new doodle in the margins of his notes.

Four people separate him from her, two to each side, as the pool’s pump beats in his ears, as his neck longs to drop, drop, drop, to slip away from here, if only here were not so close to her.

He attempts to rise, to cross to her, but his heart tells him it is futile.

I love you, he mouths.

“What?” his wife asks.

The strangers stare at him.

If he could revert to some other lifetime, he would drop his body, in its youthful sheen, into the pool completely, submerge his acnaed teen-aged skin, his nonbald, nongray head. He would duck his eyes into chlorine and stream toward the woman. His hand would pluck an ankle, raise it to the level of air, and her hair would slide from the sultry atmosphere into the viscous-liquid oblivion pulsating against his chest. Newly arisen, she would laugh. He too. And then he would put his mouth to her ear and whisper their history, his appreciation of it, of her.

He blinks his eyes, gasps, raises his arms to the concrete edges, mouths again I love you, then grits his teeth in imitation of a smile.

“Is something wrong, honey?” the woman asks, her left eyebrow raised inappropriately, like a shirt hoisted in public to reveal a tumored breast, her mouth opening in a silent scream. The strangers rise, water cascading from torsos like so many waterfalls, panicked voices echoing against tile.

Nothing is wrong, he would like to answer before they touch him. But he has no choice. The hands pull him up like an old car that has slipped into mud, his wife, in his dying moments, no longer in his view.

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Jon Morgan Davies is a native of California currently residing in Georgia. His work has appeared in such publications as Adirondack Review, Cutbank, and Southern Indiana Review.