short story by Nadim Silverman
That morning, Julia and I walked twenty minutes away from shore to meet the sea, over that bit of nameless land that only reveals itself during low tide. We found a wooden boat, old, not much larger than a dinghy, half submerged in the wet sand. I started talking at Julia, expounding on how the boat sank, what became of its crew of Melvillian sailors—torn asunder by bad weather and vicious pirates. You could spin that around, I thought. Vicious weather. Bad pirates. I sensed her lack of interest, and it weighed on me like muggy air, but I kept talking, defying her and her vibes. When I was done, and my little tale came to its natural conclusion, she undid it all, unspooled my careful weaving with one spin, gently and immediately, reading the text on the boat’s battered hull, tracing the faded, screen-printed letters with a long finger.
“‘The Rod and Reel.’ Some kind of fishing boat. Definitely modern.”
Now it is night, the salt water has returned in full force, lapping under stilt-held bungalows, and that poor boat is drowned once again. It has all the makings of a minor Greek tragedy—that very Greek kind of repeated torture.
Julia is asleep some ten minutes behind me, curled up in our cottage that costs two months' pay for the week. If they hurried, beat the eroding effects of the rising tide, someone, a bad operator maybe, could find their way from me to her by simply following the impressions of my feet embedded in the wet beach sand.
I push my thoughts of night time intruders aside and remind myself that I am doing Julia a service by being out here. I know she sleeps better when I’m not in bed with her. All my rolling around isn’t good for her REM cycle. But she likes waking up with me beside her, so, to keep her happy, I’ll be back by dawn. Or at least, I’ll try.
The day before we flew to Zanzibar, my boss pulled me out of my office. I was working on a deadline but he said it was important.
“I need to warn you before you ship out.”
Made it sound like I was going off to war, and not vacation.
“Don’t let your guard down just because of the beautiful scenery. There’s a whole ecosystem of people who make their living preying on tourists like us. And these guys mean business—not just your average thugs, but sex traffickers, drug runners, that level, you know.
“A Maasai warrior working security at The Atlantis gave me the whole spiel. He should know, right? Nice guy… The wife ended up reporting him to hotel management—I tried talking her out of it but in her defense he did say that sex trafficking stuff right in front of the kids. The little twerps wouldn’t let it go, kept jabbering all week long about how they were gonna get kidnapped or killed, and how we were ‘endangering’ them.”
There are a few Maasai men who work at our resort, but they never say anything as I head out for my midnight strolls. They give no warnings. Just a subtle nod of the head. Either they’re not too worried or they don’t care.
The whole point of this vacation was to get some rest. To unfurl a little bit. Stretch out. Unwind. I think that’s the problem. I want it too badly.
Five more minutes on that sand, which is really just clay, and I find them. They are stretched out over beach chairs on their private verandah. He’s drinking a dark liquor, she’s sipping something gold and bubbly.
Today, the mood is not amorous, and though I’ve enjoyed watching their lovemaking the past few nights, there is something intriguing about this new, tense atmosphere. They are speaking without looking at each other, eyes towards black waters. From my spot behind a row of Monstera, which have the perfect fenestrated leaves for lonely peepers like me to hide behind, I can only hear their voices as mumbles. So I get closer. The shrubbery here is smaller, and I’m more exposed, but the night is dark and deep, lending me a certain degree of invisibility.
I catch clips of conversations on the wind.
“I feel stupid not knowing,” she says. “Downing’s wife is always holding it over my head. He tells her everything. She’s his confidant in all things. Not just the easy things.”
“Do you really want that?” he says. I can hear in the tone of his voice, he is not really offering. It’s a tone I’ve aspired to but have never quite mastered.
On more than one occasion during our more tumultuous periods, which now come almost cyclically as winter begins to recede, and springtime and good weather start peaking their pretty heads, Julia has accused me of being “an enforcer of my own private reality.” It’s a very lofty thing to say, and she means it as an insult, so it hurts like one. But I think that idea, in the abstract, excites me.
“I thought we had fun. Didn’t we?” the man says.
“That’s not the point.”
It is hard to string together a coherent narrative from these bits of dialogue, and the wind is picking up, making it increasingly hard to hear anything at all. But that’s alright. I’ve heard enough to construct my own story for them.
He is involved in a business of gray morals. It’s nothing crass and obvious like the mafia, or mundane as insider trading. There is a trace of danger in what he does. That much is obvious. Guns maybe? Bombs. Chemical weapons. I decide he trades in them all. And she has no idea.
They take trips like this often—to the most beautiful places on the globe—but they are just a smokescreen for him. He enjoys having sex on their patio. He even likes that voyeurs like me can watch. It confirms his virility. But he is really here for the work. They go to parties. She dazzles. Then, he asks her to leave, so he can discuss business.
I’m plagiarizing a bit. Taking from the spy novels I can’t put down. Julia says they don’t qualify as real literature. But I don’t enjoy real literature.
I can admit that there is something a little old fashioned about these characters I'm constructing, and not in a good way. In my mind, there is a stark divide at the parties they attend. Wives are sequestered on one side, while the men, all dressed in pressed suits, talk in hushed tones on the other. Later, I will take some time to reflect on why I can’t see the woman as the dealer, the mover, and shaker, but for now, I’ll enjoy the fantasy.
Behind me, I hear the soft shuffle of feet over sand, and flares go off in my head. My first thought is of the rumored sex-traffickers, and then, more reasonably, of Maasai warriors. This place, like my resort, must have some kind of security, and I am definitely trespassing. So, I abandon my couple, and the story that I have given them, and rush back to the shore, which is, as far as I know, neutral territory.
By now, it is so late that it’s early, and the sun will be rising soon. So, I head back to Julia, my feet weighed down by the wet sand between my toes.
I’m tired to the edge of delirium, and my thoughts are moving without direction or purpose.
I wonder what Julia would do if I was taken while out on one of these strolls of mine—a bag thrown over my head, wrists zip-tied behind my back, held for ransom. I’m not sure that’s how they do it here, but that’s how I’ve seen it done on tv.
The truth is, I know exactly what she would do. She’d burn the island down looking for me. The American Embassy would get involved, she’d get them involved, helicopters would take to the sky, searchlights crawling over every inch of sand, dirt, and sea. That’s just the kind of person she is. A mover and a shaker.
But, if the situation was reversed, and it was up to me to save her, I worry I might just walk away. It’s scary how easy it would be. To leave her behind, and start again.
Nadim Silverman is a Bangladeshi Jewish writer and illustrator based in NYC. He is currently studying creative writing at SUNY Stony Brook's MFA program. His work has appeared in Quibble Lit and The After Happy Hour Review.
Why we chose it. Paid subscribers can read the editorial notes on this story below.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial