It wasn’t her fault. The day was too gorgeous, Marta altogether too persuasive, the white swimsuit with black seams she had bought for herself the week before too flattering.
She had gone to the beach instead of staying home to tend to Charlie. Charlie had fever, yes, but it was summer fever, here today, gone tomorrow, and Charlie was a hearty boy.
The day had lived up to its promise. The warm sand had lulled her senses, Marta had made her laugh for the first time in months, the breeze had soothed her skin and the balmy, caressing water had made her wonder why she hadn’t done this before.
When she came back, the maid had called her husband. He stood by Charlie’s bedside, like a jug of ice on a summer afternoon, cold and sweating. He looked at the gasping boy and not at her when she spoke to him. He had his hand on the doctor’s shoulder.
Marta came to stand between them, one arm each around husband and wife, murmuring the sort of nonsense people utter at sickbeds without hope. It was to Marta her husband clung when the doctor closed Charlie’s eyes. If only you had called me before, the doctor said as he stood up, maybe I could have helped him. I’m so sorry.
Long after that sunshiny morning that darkened all the following days of her life; after they buried Charlie in a coffin the size of a crib, after her husband left her and married Marta, after her thick blonde hair grew wispy and gray, her body lost the battle of time without a fight– that day still came back in her dreams.
She willed the water to disappear, for the beach to become a desert, for the sun to burn her skin, anything to shorten her day out. She wanted to see Charlie. But lately, Charlie’s face had grown blurred in her memory despite the faded photographs by her bedside table. She felt tired, did not get out of bed unless she had to.
One night, as she slid again into that morning when she was a golden-haired goddess in the sun, who had a friend, a husband, and a son, and no idea at all that she would lose them all that very day, she decided she had grown too old to fight.
She had left Charlie back at home so she could enjoy a day in the sun, and that is what she would do.
As she let go, she saw the curve of her young back glowing in the sun, her blonde hair tangling over her blushing face, Marta’s neat figure in a swimsuit that was the same as hers except it was yellow, a red bandana holding back Marta’s dark hair. She saw her own face as it was on that day, smiling out a ruby-lipped smile, as if from a painting.
She wondered what had stopped her from doing this before.