It is late summer and we are eating cherries on the riverbank.
The sand has been baking in the sun all day and it is hot enough to be deeply uncomfortable, which is why I have reluctantly spread my towel on it so that I don’t burn. Normally I keep my towel firmly lodged in my bag so that it will be sand-free at the end of the day when I am ready to towel dry and reluctantly put my clothes on to go home. Occasionally my foot strays off the towel as I get distracted and searing heat alerts me to my error.
I am lying on my stomach and reading a book. Occasionally I grope behind me for the bag of cherries and fish out a handful, plump and warm from the sun. I pop them into my mouth one by one, sucking hard to pull the fruit off the stem, and then purse my lips into a blowpipe to shoot pits off into the distance.
I am not very good at this. Most of the pits land within close proximity to me and every now and then one lands on my book and I am forced to flick it off. Sometimes cherry pits land on other people and they are forced to flick them off. Sometimes they shoot them back in my general direction, but in a good natured sort of way, not an accusatory or even particularly irritated one.
Every now and then, the heat gets to be too much for someone and ou lumbers off the sand and flops into the river. The water splats back onto shore in a heavy, tired sort of way and my feet are bathed in a mist which would be cool except that the river is like bathwater. Whoever it is splashes around for a while and then hauls back up onto land to flop out on a towel again. The day is so warm that the water evaporates almost immediately from the skin, leaving a tight and almost itchy feeling behind.
Streaks of algae from the river are clinging to our skins and there are bits and pieces of foliage tangled in our hair. We probably look like wild children sprawled out on the river bank with our cherries and scattered oddments of other foods, goat cheese in the shade and drinks clacking in the deep part of the water, tethered with string so that we don’t lose them. Occasionally someone pulls on one of the lines and sees what comes up, tossing it back if it doesn’t look interesting and trying another line instead.
The heat is so oppressive that we can’t even make conversation. Occasionally someone makes a noise while they read, or reads a bit out loud, but members of the group hardly stir. We are waiting for the heat of the day to pass so that we will be stirred into action again, perhaps some of us will even enter the water together and splash about for a bit.
Even the tiny fish in the water are disinterested. Normally if you stand still long enough they will flock to your feet and legs and dart in and out between them, the occasional bold individual daring enough to nibble at your skin. Oddly enough, this doesn’t provoke any sensation. One would think that being nibbled by fish would tickle, at the least, but they brush against you so gently that actually it just feels like a passing current.
Summer days like these make daylight seem like something which is never going to end. We are flies in amber, caught in the heat and stillness and relative quiet, even the insects silent because it’s too hot to chirp or rub wings against each other. We are outside of time, almost.
It is in the midst of this deep stillness that the interruption comes, voices echoing off the trees and the sound of crunching footsteps and creaking leather straps and rustling coolers. One by one, we lift our heads up to stare blurrily at the treeline. Some of us roll from their backs to their stomachs, shading their eyes with their hands. The smells of mud and sand and algae and bay leaves and trees become more intense, stirred up by currents of air.
The first head appears, and then the rest of the body, and then the group, a chattering, laughing bunch in shorts and sandals.
They are probably perfectly nice people. It’s a warm day and a fine time to go to the river and in these semi-secret swimming holes, it is unusual to arrive and find a group of people already there. Sometimes we forget that they are public places. For this group, which appears a mite conservative, bathing suit straps sticking out of loose tees, we probably looked like we were taking a rest from a bacchanalia, naked bodies streaked with mud and algae and fruit stains, pinkening in the sun, long hair tangled with leaves, clothes scattered here and there across the beach and an amount of food which seems all out of proportion to the number of people present.
They pause, for a moment, and we stare silently at each other.
“Hello,” one of us finally says.
“Ah. Er. Yes,” one of them says.
And then, they turn around and leave, tromping back through the woods with their coolers and sunscreen and squeaky shorts. “Did you see…” they murmur. “They were all…” “I mean, really…”
Eventually the voices subside and we are alone in the summer stillness again.