I'm in trunks, bearded, on a sun bed a metre from the deep end, facing it, when a freckled British toddler points and says "Mummy, that man has a book." He might be five, six. He holds his mother's hand, a paw. She - youngish, hot - smiles in big sunglasses. "Yes, George, well done." The afternoon and the pool are both clear: I can make out sand and sunken jewellery ready for somebody. George and his mother are approaching the tiles where a Peroni is in danger. The mother, upbeat in her role as my stranger, asks "So what is he reading then George?" And the boy is afraid to look because he know that I'm just as curious as he is, and he glances embarrssedly at the cover and his answer is incorrect. "The Santa Verses." We each laugh politely, for different reasons. But the mood changes when the boy, not quite out of earshot, asks "Mummy, why is the man not with anyone?" This is the moment it gets hard for me because I'm reminded of what is really happening on this holiday.
I go in when the sun goes in, a Disney towel over my shoulder, flip flops on and pair of goggles remembered - elastic rubber over a wrist, lenses in a palm. When I enter my bedroom - a single or double depending on solitude or bed size - I whirl round and lock the door and when I undress and step into a cubicle and shower it hurts. The faucet points and powers, finding sunburn. I apply old hotel-stolen lotions - shower gel, shampoo, conditioner - preparing but not hoping for somebody, and I think about what went on here four years ago when I was eighteen. A lyric receives song in my brain, smothers me, gets me thinking Is my timing that flawed?
At night we (this incomplete family) go out where it's very happening for a while. Wearing a bowler hat I'm hiding my hair in, I make an excuse after mains and leave for another friendly bar where I drink Peroni and smoke down Camels without company. A cover artist is covering Baby Can I Hold You Tonight? for a clumsy teenage couple: a blonde boy twirls a blonde girl in rainbow beams of spotlight which forgive them their flaws, make them famous, bind them. Watching on, some mothers are pushing prams back and forth. Everybody is dancing enough.
The morning is beginning when I stumble out of a cab and into the villa, possibly waking up my parents. They shouldn't be disturbed at dawn. In my room the air con is breathing but so is somebody else because there are two perfumes under the sheets. An ex of mine is speaking slowly, telling me I've gone blind, that I've become a monster:
"Your eye sockets have wasted, sealed over. They look and taste like cream, the cream of this villa, the off milk I told you not to drink, the yoghurt you eat opposite your mother at lunch when you don't have a job and she does."
Burning starts. I can feel lenses in my palm, eyesight in the wrong body part. In my makeshift leg there is a pain I don't want to describe or maybe it's that I can't. And if I have lost sight, somewhere along the way, how then can I picture fully the persons and the fires bringing me to blog? I look down the bed or I imagine looking down the bed at this ex of mine: she is pregnant with a boy who will be ashamed of his genes. And as I move a hand and leave it draped over a bump, we are still under the sheets, this incomplete family. The last thing I remember her doing is kissing my mouth, biting her bottom lip and saying "Sssshhh. Close your eyes. Close the book. Close your eyes. Sssshhh."