The End of Summer
by Mia Funk
He was my first boyfriend. I’d met him before I knew just how bad people can be. Before I grew up and met the creeps and liars, the cheats and assholes, before he died and, missing him, I met people who smile on the outside but are ugly inside and want you for only one thing. Before I realized not everyone is kind and generous and good, and before I grew older and the assholes and creeps dried up and stopped wanting me for one thing, and I grew to even miss their company.
We’d spent all morning driving and when we check into our hotel we discover it’s nothing like the photos on their website. Maybe it looked like that once, but now it’s all kitsch nostalgia and littered with cheap clichés of the South of France style. Waxy turquoise curtains that belong in a bathroom. Twin beds, pushed together, covered by a Provençal tablecloth and, hanging overhead, a laminated St. Brigitte Bardot. And that’s the wonderful thing about Cannes––it’s a place living in the past. Bardot has aged, grown old, but in Cannes she’s already died a thousand times, stuffed and embalmed in the waxy perfection of perpetual youth.
A bell rings somewhere outside and there is a rustle of footsteps in the hallway.
We leave our bags in the room and go right to the beach. I’m hungry and irritable and, I suppose, looking for someone to pick on. We eat coquilles at the hotel’s beachside restaurant, and I don’t know how our conversation swerves and starts up that dead end, but I find myself repeating the realization that I’m twenty-five years younger than David and when he dies I will end up alone.
He usually gets angry when I mention this. Says something like, ‘I’m not dead yet,’ then storms off. Only this time I’m the one to storm, but because we’re on the beach, there’s nowhere except the coast road and the crashing surf, so I swim away.
David doesn’t follow me. He’s full from lunch and probably needs some peace and quiet. It’s tiring being with someone half your age, even if you’re healthy and young at heart.
I swim far out just to show him. And because there’s no rocks to rest on close to the shore, I swim for a long time, freestyle against the relentless waves, but hardly seem to be getting anywhere.
Finally, I find a flat rock and scramble onto it as the waves crash against me. As I climb to a dry part of rock, I cut my hand against a sharp edge and it begins bleeding. I look back towards the shore. The blood is traveling down my arm and I raise it above my head. David is sunning himself and does not see me waving frantically at him. When he finally looks up, he waves back at me––he must think it’s a friendly wave. A conciliatory wave. And he forgives me.
He waves at me again and smiles, then turns over to get sun on his back. In a few minutes the blood stops flowing and although the cut is long, it’s not very deep. I lay it faceup to dry in the sun.
The waves splash my feet and in no time I’m asleep. When I wake it’s growing dark and I’m surprised to see my cut has dried up and begun to heal.
The hotel has already brought in its beach parasols and folding chairs. David has gone in too. Probably thought I’d find my way back or was still a little mad at me.
Getting cold, I swim ashore by another route. I take the long way, around the other side of the rock outcropping and find a private beach similar to ours, but somehow brighter, more promising.
As I walk ashore, towards the yellow illuminated face of the hotel, I think we should have reserved a room here. It’s like all the best aspects of the south of France, charming and old-fashioned.
I’m surprised that I’m nearly dry as I walk into the lobby. I apologize for wearing a swimsuit. My clothes, I say, are in my car.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ the silver-haired receptionist smiles and, unwrapping a black sarong at her waist, reveals a second pink one underneath. She hands me the black one to wear.
‘Are you sure?’ I ask. Having picked up the Parisian suspicion of warmth and friendliness, I don't believe she’s for real. ‘But I can’t take your sarong.’
‘Don’t be silly. Of course you can,’ she smiles again, her eyes shining and generous like a younger Olivia de Havilland.
‘I can’t pay for the room now. I have to get my purse from the car,’ I say, expecting her to throw me out, but again she says, ‘My pleasure, no rush!’
There are some elderly people standing in the garden beyond the lobby’s glass doors.
I go up to my room to take a shower.
When I return to the lobby the same group is still there, only now I see they aren’t senior citizens, but a group of kids even younger than me. They’re standing next to their scooters. Some of them have helmets on.
The path is steep, so I ask them for a ride to my car which is parked farther up the coast road.
‘No problem,’ says someone called Giles. I hop on the back of his Vespa. They go down the road to fill up on petrol, and then, forgetting they’re to take me to my car, turn around and start climbing the hill in a line.
Giles says, ‘There’s a party at a movie director’s house,’ and they’ll bring me to my car later.
The director’s house reminds me of ones you see in American films set in L.A., with a great big Eagles Nest lounge and a massive stone hearth that looks like it’s carved into the face of a cliff. There’s a cavelike warmth and giant panoramic windows of the Côte d’Azur. I wonder how they possibly got permission to build it.
My friends disperse and I find myself alone with strangers. Everyone looks so young, cool; indifferent.
Just as the band starts, the hotel receptionist arrives at the party. She looks even younger than before. She has two dates, one to each side of her. A moody looking man in a leather jacket with brown soulful eyes, and another in a sky blue jacket and canary yellow pants. They must be half her age, both obviously smitten with her.
As I wander around the party, I see not everyone is young. It’s funny but the ones who are trying the most look old and tired. Unlike the real world where vanity is rewarded with good looks, the more vain and self-obsessed you are here, the greater an effort you make, you are rewarded with wrinkles and worry lines. The young here are those who think young––as though time doesn’t matter.
I realize I must be thinking bad, worried thoughts and it’s reflecting on my face because a young man approaching me suddenly turns away. I try thinking good thoughts and can feel my face suddenly smoothing out again. A few minutes later, as I am refreshing my drink, I fall into a conversation with the same young man.
Right away I tell him I have a boyfriend and he seems relieved.
‘It can be tiring when everyone is so young and beautiful and trying to get off with each other. Sometimes I just like to talk.’
He asks me how old I am.
I say I’m 22.
‘Oh, that’s why,’ he says. ‘You really are young, so you don’t feel the difference.––I’m 78.’ He watches the ice melting in his glass. ‘Getting old is easy. It’s staying young that’s hard. Don’t burden yourself with reality. It’s only temporary,’ he says before walking away.
I wish that David could be here with me in this place where people are only as old as they seem in their own eyes and the eyes of the person who loves them. And then, sensing his presence behind, I turn over on the rock and, forgetting that I’m supposed to still be mad, I put my arm around him and realize it’s been a dream, and that I’d imagined a reality like the place where I already live.
David was the youngest man I will ever know.
After that, we had ten more summers together.
But that’s like a lifetime spent with someone else.