We were driven by southern winds. We sailed northwards, to our home port. August. Behind us is the yellow light of Dubrovnik and the Elafiti Islands, the islands of Mljet and Hvar. With us is the light of August. It bears within it an orange shade of September, of brown October, mixed with the black of November, magical with the flash of December that we can only sense within it.
We rock in cabins, on deck, on land and within ourselves. We have varnished our nails, waxed our legs, drunk coffee, read the American edition of Marie Claire, compared it with the European one, put on a hat, put on sunglasses, picked up a book, taken off the hat, put the book down. We have removed the hard skin from our heels. Eaten chocolate. Meanwhile our children have asked us a number of times if we are going for ice cream, if we are going to the cinema in the evening, when they can have windsurfing lessons, when we learned to swim and with whom, and when dad first kissed us.
It’s the Sirocco, a southern wind. It presses down on us. Ropes creak, chains rattle, flags flutter.
Meanwhile our and other men in cabins and on deck spread maps and engines, lay cards, their own and others’ wives, cut corners and bills. They show off and examine wounds and mark territory.
We’re quite smart. Quite well off. Quite faithful and committed. Because of everything we see in the August light we make decisions.
Now we only need three square metres of solitude.
“I’m going to shower,” we say.
We dress. Italian women in bathrobes, German in pink dresses, Slavic sisters in a wrap and we’re off.
When we get to the bathroom we see what we saw yesterday. A young black girl leans on the door of the three square metre free zone, her arms folded across her chest, grumbling. We know who is inside, although we do not want to see. Nor did we want to yesterday, although we looked anyway and now we regret it. Inside is a tall white woman, so old that in places her skin is already blue. She has her back to us. On the floor lies an incontinence pad.
We enter the cubicles and listen to what we heard yesterday, though we did not want to hear it.
“Luciana! Turn on the water!” croaks the little one.
“Close the door!”
“Never mind the door, turn on the water!”
“I won’t until you close the door!”
“Okay, then we’ll just stand here!”
Luciana turns on the water. We hear her trembling. “The water’s cold,” she says.
“It will be if you don’t adjust the temperature. Come on, get washed!”
“Close the door.”
“Turn round! Wash your back. Turn towards me!”
“The water’s cold.”
“Whose fault is that, you dirty thing. Turn on the hot water and it’ll be alright!”
In the silence of falling water we each look at our red nails and hope that it will soon be over. But we know from yesterday that it won’t be. The young black girl and the white woman are settling scores. We don’t know why, but we do know that they need us, especially the young one. So she does not close the door. So she deflects our looks onto that naked body. We are all silent, only the two of them speak. We ask ourselves what an old lady is doing in a marina. At first glance we thought the black girl was her adopted daughter. Then we thought she was a servant. Today we think that she is the servant of one of Luciana’s children who has taken her mother with her to the seaside.
“I told you to get washed. Do you think I’m going to do it, or what?” Our hearts are in our throats. Every instance of over-familiarity, every utterance of Luciana makes our hearts beat faster. We decide that no way are we leaving our cubicles until this settling of scores can no longer be heard. We delay. We look at our legs, our breasts, our stomachs. The water is too quiet.
“Luciana, turn round! Put your bottom under the shower, unless you wash yourself we’re not going anywhere!”
We hear Luciana’s silence. We hear Luciana turn. We hear Luciana slip. We hear Luciana fall. We hear Luciana lie there. We do not want to look, but in our three square metre cubicles we see what Luciana sees. We are no longer in a bathroom. We are in the garden of our childhood, in a rusty old bathtub, where our mother has heated water in the sun and we splash and drive off bees. Asters are within reach. We gather blackcurrants and learn to swim in green rivers. We see the sea for the first time and shout the seeea. We sleep on the back seat of a black Opel Olympia with a white roof. Fathers say, check the door is locked. We go to school and have a boy’s haircut because it is more practical. Woollen skirts prickle our bare legs. Jeans appear. Girls trousers that fasten at the front appear. Italian shoes appear and with them negative grades for maths. We go on our first date. We kiss boys because others are doing it, but we feel nothing. We finish school and we are different. We go to university and are even more different. Then come kisses we do feel. We can still list them. We ask ourselves why that time, that night we didn’t go further… From our memories we extract boys who still have hair and it seems to us we are safe alongside them. We examine too short nights. We still know them off by heart, we know of each minute of beauty when we have glimpsed god. We bear children. When giving birth we are watched by students and the female students cry because we almost die, and we say never again. But life has its own plans and there comes an evening when we forget never again. Our rooms are beautiful. We like to sleep in them. We see the twilight beneath chestnut trees when someone said to us I would like to be the coffin in which you are buried. We know this was thought up by Lucio Dalla, but it’s still nice. The one who said it somehow dies and it is very hard. In the summer we open the bedroom window wide to hear the frog’s chorus. We walk stray dogs. When we are already quite old we buy a beautiful dress and attend our first ball. Our mum dies. Our grandad dies. Our mother-in-law dies. In green rivers we teach children to swim. In our gardens children splash in water that we have warmed in the sun. Asters are in reach…
We slowly turn off the water. Luciana has settled the score. We think that for her it is already December with light at the end. The black girl sobs. We hear that she doesn’t know what to do. Nor do we know what to do. How to get past the open door, Luciana and the young black girl. We take a deep breath and summon up courage. One of us, probably a doctor, kneels beside Luciana. With relief, the rest of us return to our moorings.
“You’ll never believe what just happened,” we say to our and other men. We tell them.
“The Sirocco,” they say, while in the August light and because of it we change our previous decisions.
Translated from Slovenian by David Lemon