Onward with the twenty-second installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL). We’re now about eighty percent in.
You have all the previous installments HERE.
And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.
Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!
#22: “We met at the beach . . .”
Constanța, July 1993, ten years and three months earlier. Twenty-five-year-old Pamfil met sixteen-year-old Maria as he was waiting by an ice cream stand one evening. With her long sandy hair, colored golden by the sun here and there, her pale-blue eyes, dazzlingly beautiful in her tanned face, and her easygoing attitude, Maria quickly caught his interest, and they naturally fell into small talk.
“So where are you headed this evening?” Pamfil asked as they walked away together. He took a large bite of his vanilla treat.
Maria nibbled at the swirling top of her cone. “I’m supposed to meet a cousin in . . .” She checked her watch. “In ten minutes.”
“Yes, right by that corner store.”
“Well, let’s go there, then.”
“Okay,” said Maria, smiling at the tall, dark stranger. “And where were you headed?”
“Oh, I thought I’d go to the amusement park.”
Maria leaped with joy. “Vacation Village? Good idea!”
Pamfil smiled gently. “Let’s go there, then.” A few minutes later, Maria’s cousin, a fourteen-year-old, showed up, and the three of them were off to the Vacation Village. They treated themselves to the joys of the Ferris wheel and the bumper cars before riding the kikicar—a minitram with half-height doors—through the entire Mamaia resort.
As the kikicar rattled in the night, the fourteen-year-old talked away, animated, and the more she prattled on, the more the space between Maria and Pamfil became charged with energy. When they crossed a poorly lit area of the resort, Pamfil slowly, tentatively, stretched his legs toward Maria’s, touching her calves with his own. She sat frozen, trying to hide the quivers inside.
Maria’s cousin was just as excited. “And this guy I liked, when I asked him what a kiss was,” she said, “he responded, ‘Allow me to do it, so you can find out.’ I was so embarrassed!”
Pamfil darted a quick smile at Maria and then looked intently at her cousin as he casually pulled his legs back. The younger teenager gabbled on. Suddenly she looked straight at Pamfil. “I now write poetry,” she announced proudly.
Pamfil shined a gentle smile at Maria, nodding his head slightly in her cousin’s direction. He then revealed some of his own experiences, thinking they would go over big with the young teenager.
“I, too, used to love poetry at your age.”
“Did you write any poems?” the girl asked eagerly.
“Of course. In four-line stanzas. I still remember one of them. It went something like this.” Winking at Maria, he declaimed: “Brown eyes have a way / To steal all hearts away / Blue eyes like clear skies / Inebriate like wines.”
Maria watched Pamfil interact with her cousin and was touched at the attention he was showering on her. She was also still aflutter over their own stolen moment in the darkness. As it was past midnight, she suggested with a smile that they take her cousin home.
Pamfil smiled back. “We can meet later if you want,” he proposed. Like Maria, he wanted the night’s adventure to continue, not knowing yet where or how.
“Okay. Same ice cream stand?” Maria tried to sound relaxed but couldn’t quite conceal her jubilation.
“Same ice cream stand,” Pamfil repeated, the smile opening up on his face.
They met half an hour later. Maria was wearing the same sixties-style square-neck dress from her mother’s wardrobe, falling down to her knees in rounded folds, and a denim jacket. She waved to Pamfil before she crossed the street to meet him.
When she was at an arm’s length, he reached for her hand and asked her where she wanted to go. Maria suggested they just walk randomly. Eventually they strolled toward Mamaia again, through streets teeming with people, some dressed up for the night and others in bermudas, T-shirts, and beach slippers, many of them enjoying some beers or a meal at one of the restaurants in that section of the city.
Pamfil and Maria stopped at an outdoor fast-food place for a drink and a chance to get to know each other better, but before they could start a lengthier chat, they found themselves listening to the instrumental beginning of a song they both liked—and welcomed. Pamfil held his palm open to Maria, who clasped it gingerly. They started dancing right there, next to the empty tables and a waiter watching them with warm eyes.
During the slow intro, Maria’s heartbeat quickly accelerated. She gazed, lost, over his shoulder, as their bodies faced each other, barely moving. Then, when the singer started the first verse, Pamfil gently gripped Maria’s bent forearms, drawing her a little more toward him and calming her with his closeness before grazing her lips with his and kissing her softly. Their dance felt light and much too short. When it was over, they detached themselves from each other slowly, as if to prolong their tactile conversation a little more.
“Should we pay?” Pamfil asked, shaking Maria from her trance. She quickly pulled herself together and offered to give him her share. Pamfil waved a no, settled the bill, and took her hand. “Let’s go someplace where we can dance.”
“Or maybe a snack bar by the beach.”
“Sounds good,” Maria said, her eyes downcast. When she looked at him again, a smile bloomed in her heart.
For the next hour or so they walked down the promenade, past small restaurants with TV screens, stopping here and there to glance at a live soccer game and the news in their quest for a place with its TV set to MTV. When they found it, in a side street where they had a late-night—or early-morning—dinner, MTV was playing the video clip of a popular current rock ballad. Pamfil stepped behind Maria, placed his hands on her shoulders, and started swaying from side to side, a little clumsily at first, and then smoothly in larger movements in sync with the music and Maria’s body.
“So what music do you listen to?” she asked when they resumed their stroll.
“I’m more like a sixties and seventies man than anything else. But I appreciate many genres,” he replied.
Maria gave him a good-humored smile. “And have the haircut of none,” she said, tickled, looking at his bountiful mane of dark hair.
Pamfil gave a small laugh. “I did have the bowl-shaped haircut of a depeșar once,” he said, referring to the style favored by Romanian fans of Depeche Mode in the early nineties.
“With your wavy hair? Ha ha. Also wore pointy-toed boots and wide-leg jeans?”
“Now and then,” he said, a little out of his element. “I guess I’m more than just one thing, really. Did you expect me to be firmly in one camp or another? A rocker or a depeșar?” he added, a smile playing on his lips. “So which camp are you in?” he asked earnestly.
“I like to be my own invention,” she answered with a ready smile.
“I like strong girls,” Pamfil pronounced in a level tone before turning his gaze back to her. “And what does this strong girl like? In music, in life?” he ventured as they walked in step, side by side.
“Well, wouldn’t you like to know!” Maria responded, decidedly giggly.
“Yes, well, I’m rather curious about people and things that interest me.”
“Hmmm,” Maria voiced playfully.
They were now walking by the edge of the beach.
“Shall we?” He stretched out his arm, inviting her to step on the sand. Shortly afterward, sandals in their hands, they were attuned to the waves, watching them come in and drown music and noise, feeling them leap around their legs, pushing and pulling at the sand between their toes.
In a moment of exaltation Pamfil turned to face Maria and hugged her tightly. Maria froze again, as she had a habit of doing in Pamfil’s overpowering presence, and then, slowly, softened in his arms, abandoning herself to his embrace. They began to kiss again, finding together a place of aching joy, soulful warmth, and utter relaxation. When they pulled apart after a few long minutes, they looked at each other stunned by how good their bodies felt together. They stood quiet for a moment and then shared another long kiss, both of them surprised, again, at how they were reacting to each other.
They were now energized, so they took another walk along the edge of the water, bursting into sprints—and resting into hugs—here and there, until they came upon a cliff jutting into the sea. They climbed it sprightly, eager to enjoy the sea from a different vantage point.
They sat down there side by side for a while, knees brought up to their chests, as the sounds and smells of the splashing surf and each other’s presence suffused their minds, bodies, and souls with both intensity and rapture. Eventually, Pamfil leaned over to Maria with a serious look on his face and caressed her cheek with the back of his hand. Feeling the energy drain out of her, she kept her hands around her knees and looked at Pamfil hesitantly. He placed his left hand over her right to reassure her, but he managed to appear hurried and bold: Maria could already see his hand on her knee and above. Pamfil, however, didn’t touch her knee. Instead he gently detached her fingers from their grip, took her palm in his, and lay down holding her hand in his, thus coaxing her to lean back next to him. A whole canopy of stars unfolded before their eyes.
Maria was, nevertheless, very tense now. She tried to enjoy Pamfil’s closeness and the beauty of feeling surrounded by a whole vast universe but only felt her fast-beating heart and the cold, so she withdrew her hand and pulled her jacket tight around her, trying to loosen up—which she couldn’t: she only trembled more. Eventually, after a few long, uncomfortable moments, she sat up and ran her hands along her calves, as if to take control of her body. She was about to suggest they leave when Pamfil, intent on warming her up, wrapped his left arm around her shoulders and started rubbing her left arm. She lowered her head toward her knees again, this time relaxing into his touch. Pamfil, however, felt his gesture wasn’t tender enough and presently withdrew his hand, pushed it against the ground, and got to his feet. “Let’s go.”
Maria got up as well. She brushed the dust off the back of her skirt, took off her jacket, shook it with both hands, and then flicked it clean with her right hand. She was mad at herself, thinking she looked like she had yielded too soon, so when they were ready to leave, she casually put her hands in her pockets. It was now four in the morning. Pamfil walked Maria to her aunt’s home, said goodbye with a quick brush of her forearm, and disappeared into the night.
Present day. Eleven summers later, at the end of June 2004, Pamfil met Maria again at one of Anca’s parties.
“Maria?” Pamfil asked, his eyes straining, when he stepped into the living room.
“Pamfil?” Maria mimicked. “By the way, I go by Marie now.”
“Marie,” Pamfil said wistfully, wearing a smile as his gaze lingered for another moment on her long, dark blonde hair with honey highlights, styled in large rolling curls, and the snug violet shift dress elegantly accented with a Murano bead necklace. “How do you know Anca?” he asked, looking into Marie’s luminous blue eyes, now set off by kohl and mascara as well as by her lightly tanned face.
“We were very good friends in high school,” Marie said.
“You know each other?” Anca asked, stepping in.
“We met at the beach . . .” they both started.
“In 1993,” Pamfil said.
“The year you discovered Woodstock,” Marie said to Anca, “after teaching those kids English.”
“She taught some ten-year-olds English,” Marie explained to Pamfil. “They were really cute. Came every morning at eight bleary-eyed and left with sparkly smiles. Anca had a videotape and cassettes. It was really interesting for them.”
“How many were they?” Pamfil asked.
“Ten. Half of them came at eight, and the other half at ten. Anca was a great teacher,” Marie said. “I sat in on their classes. I can’t believe she spent so much time away from teaching.”
“So you’ve been entrepreneurial ever since you were a little girl,” Pamfil said, smiling at Anca.
“Hardly that,” Anca said.
“She’s designing postcards now, among other things,” Pamfil said.
“You are?” Marie inquired politely.
“Yes, I’m doing postcards of Romania with several photos from different places on each card.”
“And where are you selling them?” Marie asked.
“Only in Bucharest for now, but I plan to distribute them elsewhere as well.”
“Sounds good,” Marie said with a smile.
“And you, what are you doing these days?” Pamfil asked with an unsuppressed grin.
“I’m a market researcher,” Marie responded. “I work long hours, but it’s a good job,” she commented. “You?”
“I still play violin,” Pamfil responded. “It’s a good job,” he added wryly.
“Do you get to travel a lot?” Marie asked.
“I do. What about you?”
“I go to Austria to ski in the winter, and to the beach here, in Bulgaria, and in Greece in the summer. And I squeeze in some city breaks when I can. Two, three days at a time. It’s all my schedule allows for. I often work on the weekends as well.”
“And you live in Bucharest?” Pamfil asked.
“No, in Cluj.”
Just then Daria played a Celine Dion song.
“May I have this dance?” Pamfil asked, extending a hand to Marie. He pulled her gently to the center of the room.
Daria lifted her eyes from the computer screen and winked at Pamfil. Midway through the song Vlad walked up to her. “Care to dance?” he asked, his face all serious.
“Give me one second,” Daria said, cueing up another song. Then she gave Vlad her hand.
“Remember the video?” Marie asked Pamfil after she had danced in silence with him the previous song, the two of them smiling and looking in each other’s eyes.
“Who doesn’t?” Pamfil said, smiling at the memories. “The nineties. The era of the supermodels: Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford. They’re all about my age.”
“When were you born?” Marie asked, tucking strands of hair behind her ears as Pamfil held her by the small of her back.
“In ‘67,” Pamfil answered with a smile. “I’m thirty-six. Will be thirty-seven in August. And you?”
“I’m twenty-seven,” Marie responded. “Same age as Anca. We were both born in ‘77.” She looked toward the computer, where Vlad was fiddling with the playlist. “Whom did you like best?” she then asked Pamfil. “Of the supermodels.”
“Oh, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell.” He searched her eyes. “When in ‘77 were you born? What month?”
“April,” Marie said. “The month of Venus, when everything blossoms,” she added with a smile.
Pamfil smiled back.
Vlad started a Lara Fabian song.
“I will die in your arms of dehydration if they continue with slow songs,” Marie said, keeping a straight face.
Pamfil chuckled and took her by the hand. “Let’s see what Anca has in the kitchen.”
They found some elderflower cordial in the fridge. Pamfil poured each of them a glass.
“Mmm, good,” Marie said, after pulling up a chair and sitting down to enjoy her drink. “But how come they still had elderflowers to make it? It’s July!”
“Anca keeps them in the freezer in vacuum bags and makes cordial all year long.”
“I guess she must really like it,” Marie said, amused.
“Yes, and we do too,” Pamfil said, searching her blue gaze again. “Want something to eat as well?” he then asked, looking into the fridge.
“What does she have?”
“Not much. But there’s monk’s stew. Have you had it? It’s very good.”
“Yes, I know. Lots of veggies. Let me try it,” she said, looking at Pamfil’s tall figure bent double as he rummaged through the fridge.
He got out the stew, ladled some for Marie into a deep plate, and heated it in the microwave. “I also have melon and watermelon,” he said, sitting down. “Are you still thirsty?” he asked with his lopsided smile when she finished her drink.
“You can have my cordial if you wish,” Pamfil said with a playful look in his eyes.
“You mean Anca’s,” Marie said.
Pamfil laughed. The microwave clinked, and he gave Marie the stew.
Marie took a small spoonful.
“How is it?” Pamfil asked.
“Divine! I can taste the eggplant. I love to use it in stews,” Marie said. “It’s salty, though. Can I really have the cordial?”
“Go ahead,” Pamfil said.
“Okay.” Marie drank half the glass.
“So how come you’ve never visited Anca before?” Pamfil asked as Marie tucked into her food.
“Oh, I have visited her before,” Marie said. “Not very often, but I have. Sometimes we collaborate with market research companies here.”
Pamfil studied her Murano glass necklace. “You’ve been to Murano?”
Marie touched her necklace. “Yes. And loved it. Venice is so sad and yet so beautiful.”
Pamfil put a bottle of chilled Prosecco on the table. He then looked into a cupboard and promptly produced a bottle of crème de cassis, blackcurrant liqueur.
“Are you making Kir Royale?” Marie asked in between mouthfuls.
“Yes!” Pamfil exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Your talk of Venice had me thinking of Prosecco, and then of Kir Royale.”
“I love it, but somehow after I drink it, I get very tired. Different from when I drink wine.”
“Really? All alcohol has the same effect on me,” Pamfil said. “Taste is all that’s different.”
“Maybe you don’t know yourself well enough,” Marie said.
“Maybe you’re not paying enough attention to how you’re feeling,” Marie offered. “But we’ll leave the philosophical discussions for another time.”
“Yes, better,” Pamfil said. “So, do you want some Kir Royale?”
Pamfil made the cocktails.
“What are we drinking to?” Marie asked as they clinked glasses.
“Venice,” Pamfil said.
To be continued . . .