Wish you were here

Beach postcard from Dnipropetrovsk. Three teenage boys throwing each other in the Dnipro river; an old lady in a 1950s swimsuit talking to herself; two lobster-pink women in skimpy bikini bottoms lolling on towels not caring that their legs are short and plump. Games of volleyball; a young couple who can’t stop kissing, in fact they’re actually having sex in the water; a moustachioed man standing pretending to read a book, getting off on watching the kissing couple. Here is a young girl in a pink bikini, knowing how young and perfectly lovely she is, standing adjusting her straps, dusting off sand, crying out look at me. Here are two young soldiers in striped telnyashky standing and not looking, hugging each other, hugging and hugging, drunk as skunks. It’s all here: the towels and the inflatable rings and the suntan lotion and the beer, the sandcastles the sex the crappy novels, bikinis and beach balls, tattoos and sausages and brown skin, peeling skin. Here is floating in the water staring at the sky, here is swimming sedately wearing a floppy sunhat. Plastic bags full of empty bottles; blue and green and camouflage; hardly able to stand up. Bottletops and cigarette butts; the vulnerability of bare skin, of shaved heads, of happiness, of this young woman in the water who can’t swim, who jumps every time a trail of green water lily stem brushes her shivering flesh and stares about in self-conscious fear of being noticed; of not being noticed; fear of living in public; fear of dying alone. Day coming to an end, the light growing richer, golden, more precious. That child drawing up water through a sieve. That child kicking sand into the water for the water to bring back. This older brother teaching his younger brother to swim; this dad giving his daughter a piggy-back ride through the water. That grandpa walking slowly past who, somewhere deep inside, is still a skinny naked child kicking sand. All of it everlasting and for one moment only, blue and green and orange sieve red bucket yellow buoys, yellow boys, golden girls and boys… The strange man who keeps walking to the river edge to refill two white plastic bottles so he can keep washing and washing his socks. The old man who keeps picking at an ugly mortal boil on his belly. The river has that colour in its unruffled blue that is more gold than blue. All is satin, all is lucid, a swallow skims the water with the tip of a wing. Little piggyback girl screams for joy; the kissing couple have swapped sex for selfies. The drunk wallows and splashes and a fish splashes away in a series of panicked quicksilver leaps. Time for a cigarette, time to fill the plastic bottle again to wash those socks that will never be clean. Time for another beer, shake out the towels, time to go home; girls are winding up the yellow ribbons that mark the volleyball courts; old women are quietly talking through their lives and loves and deaths and disappointments; the soldiers have passed out under a bench. Time for pigeons to peck up the empty sunflower seed hulls. Time for sand to fill the great holes where adults remembering how to be children buried each other – fill them up, softly and silently, grain by grain by grain.

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