Everytime I speak to him, Eugene tries to urge me to the water’s edge. I don’t know a single
person (but myself) who wouldn’t be swept away by his enthusiasm for the surf. I wouldn’t be
able to resist for any reason but mine when Eugene talks about the cold christening of the 40
Foot on Christmas day, of the swimming spot just a little way away from Dalkey where he’s
enticed all of my friends and almost all of my lovers in time. Eugene’s always been a
talented match-maker, but he’s a better swimmer, and my best friend.
‘No,’ I tell him, and I shrink further into the sofa, under warm electric lights. ‘It’s not for me.’
‘Why not?’ he demands, everytime, on the cusp of being put-out by my denial. There’s a tide
in Eugene’s mind which washes over the shore, and erases the footprints of this
conversation every time that we have it.
‘Because,’ I remind him. ‘I can’t swim.’
‘Oh,’ he says, and the light in his eyes dims a fraction. ‘I forgot.’
Every boyfriend I’ve ever had has told me that they’d teach me to swim. At the very least,
I’ve known them to secretly believe it, watching me dry my damp hair after a shower,
watching me close my eyes in the bath. They’d best my fear. It could only be a small thing.
I have a crowing delight in disappointing them. I almost drowned an ex in a swimming pool
once – I panicked, you see. We survived, but never tried to teach me to swim again.
Eugene’s never promised to teach me to swim, and he’s untouched by my curses. He
doesn’t need to. He knows that one day, he will manage to erode my defences, unpick my
hesitation, and I’ll let him lead me into the waves. It’ll happen because if I’m the earth, then
he’s the water. He could do with more grounding – and I could learn to float.
When Eugene drives me home from wherever we’ve been, we talk about all sorts of things. I
like the story about him driving across the country, on a whim, when we were both in college
together. From our coast to the other he drove, to see a girl in a theatre show. Why? I might
ask him now, but he’ll shake his head wryly. ‘Young and dumb,’ he might say. He’s got better
taste these days.
The girl in that show did not fall upon Eugene’s neck – even though she probably knew that
he’d driven the breadth of the country to drink warm pints in a pub and watch her dreadful
Fringe show. She didn’t owe him that, or anything else.
Nothing left but a long night, and the car he’d driven over in. Oh, and the other coast. A
summer night, a failed romance, and a distant coast. I’d had all of those things too, in my
time. Eugene and I could agree on that.
The water there was no warmer there than here. It was no clearer. It was nothing different,
except that it kissed a different coast, and it was the only welcome embrace that he found for
himself, and worth crossing the country for. He drove back home through the night, damp,
the windows fogged up, his jeans steaming.
When we walk side-by-side, I feel the earth align under my feet. When I glance behind, I see
Eugene still leaves footprints. They are wet. They wait for the tide to wash them away.