Marnie's yellow tambourine belongs to the sea, catching a wave that flings it far from the shore. Its maypole streamers trail in the foam, a celestial jelly-fish blown far from the waters of its own galaxy.
A sunburnt child pouts and points, wanting to wade in and claim it like a prize. But his parents, tipping sand out of shoes and out of crab baps, don't look up.
I bought the tambourine for Marnie. She looked like a Romany, sitting on the step of her caravan, the painted kind. Her long lemony hair flew sideways like a pennant. Her legs were nut-brown, her feet bare, ankles ringed with silver. The breeze disturbed her lime-tree grove. Their leaves hissed a warning to my heart.
“Remember, you came here to heal,” they whispered.
But Marnie was beckoning me into her Paradise.
We caught flat fish, stringing them up on oiled rope. We watched the sun and the wind bake them dry. I fell into a cobwebbed haze, as if drugged, while she danced and played her emerald fiddle. All the time the swinging fish clattered and the leaves sizzled.
I stayed for days while she fed me her salt-crusty potatoes roasted in flames that never faltered. The trees swayed and dipped towards us, fanning all day and closing ranks around us at night. The moon was always a slipping disc of light. No roundness, no substance. As my time there drew to an end, it became thinner. It wasted to a translucent curve of snipped air. Just a silvery sliver. Its mist feathered across Marnie's warm skin until she was an outline in my arms.
The last day, I felt hot and heavy. I packed the garish clothes I hadn't worn.
My heart hung like a dying fish as I walked away. Her heat, her sigh, her laughter, uncurled inside me. It had turned colder.
I turned around, but the caravan had vanished as if a single breath had stirred the wheels, rolling it away. I ran back. I called her name.
The oiled rope was coiled like a tired snake on the parched ground. There was no sign of a flame, just gritty embers blowing in the brackish air. No impressions of our bodies dented the straw-grass. An abandoned Eden was all I saw. The trees shivered like the tambourine before I hurled it into the sea.
The tide returns without it.
And when I look for it again, as far as the horizon, I can't see a trace of yellow or floating ribbons. The child is still watching, hoping it will resurface. He asks his mother to look.
“Nothing there,” she says, posting a hard-boiled egg into his hand. “Probably seaweed from a mermaid's garden. That's all you saw. Nothing there at all.”