The summer ends. There are misty, chilly days, the sea is quiet and white. The waves break far out with a slow, majestic sound. The beach is deserted. Occasional strollers along the water's edge. The children lie on Viri's back like possums; the sand is warm beneath him.
Peter and Catherine join them, together with their little boy. The families sit separated, in the solitude and mist. Peter has a folding chair and wears a yachting cap and a shirt. Beside him is a bucket filled with ice, bottles of Dubonnet and rum. An eerie and beautiful day. The fine points of mist drift over them. August has passed.
At a pause in the conversation, Peter rises and walks slowly, without a word, into the sea, a solitary bather, swimming far out in his blue shirt. His strokes are powerful and even. He swims with assurance, strong as an iceman. Finally Viri joins him. The water is cool. There is mist all about them, the swelling rhythm of the waves. No one is in sight except their families sitting on shore.
"It's like swimming in the Irish Sea," Peter says. "Never any sun."
Franca and Danny come out to them.
"It's deep here," Viri warns.
Each of the men holds a child. They huddle close.
"The Irish sailors," Peter tells them, "never learn to swim. Not even a stroke. The sea is too strong."
"But what if the boat sinks?"
"They cross their hands on their chests and say a prayer," Peter says. He performs it. Like the carved lid of a coffin he sinks from sight.
"Is it true?" they ask Viri later.
"They deliver themselves to God."
"How does he know that?"
"Peter is very strange," Franca says.
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
Don't stop here. Read the whole thing.
Light Years, by James Salter