Look at this: a woman on vacation. Watch her at the airport, tall and dark-haired, no suitcase, she has nothing but time. Watch her buy a coffee, and while she waits, watch her make small talk with the man behind the counter. Listen. Her voice is like water bubbling over stones. Her laugh is sudden and low, like a drawer opening. She sits with her legs crossed, chewing ice. Watch her watch other people—a woman in a flowered head wrap, a little boy chasing a rolling suitcase, dragged by his father. Oh, don’t fathers look tired.
Watch her on the airplane, eating the bland-tasting peanuts one by one, rolling them between her fingers. Through the window, she watches the ocean, impossible-looking—dark blue and far away—pocked with boats so small she could flick them with the tip of her fingernail. She watches a speedboat, its wake ripping through the water like a torn seam. Picture her on the deck of that boat: sun-drunk and dizzy, wind churning through her hair. The plane lands unsurely on its wheels, and she waits for everyone else to file out before she unfurls her spine, knob by knob, and stands.
Watch her walk slowly down the breezeway and hail a cab, where she sits in front, and says something to the driver in a different language, because she has a knack for that, for picking up where someone else—someone she has never met—has just left off.
Watch her check in at this resort, all white washed walls and ocean and sky, blue/white, white/blue, what a contrast for those postcards she collects but never sends. Watch her eat breakfast at a large round table with eight empty chairs. She eats slowly, in courses, with a book at her side. She never opens it. Watch her spend money like she spends her time, easy, in abundance. I’ll have another, she says, of everything. Cubes of melon in a parfait glass. Watch the juice drip down her chin.
She walks down the beach. She takes a swim. She emerges, blinking in the sun, the lone figure with the wet hair. It falls long and heavy down her back. Watch her re-tie the strings on her bikini, the white lines of skin briefly visible, then watch her turn away.
Keep watching. Keep listening. Every day, she is reinvented. Every day, she lies. She talks with everyone—older couples from New Jersey and Boca Raton, a mother and daughter from California, a group of widows from Denver. She pays them compliments they only think they deserve. Do you know who you look like? she asks the too-tan divorcee by the pool. A young Goldie Hawn. No honest, you do.
One day, she is in medical school. A resident, she says, and yes, the work is hard. The next day, she is grieving the death of her father, and that night, she is a flight attendant, but only in the dark. Is this a layover, a freckled man asks when they’re in bed, and her voice is gravel-scorched when she mutters into his shoulder, Over-time. She fits on these new personas, zipping them up and over her long legs and arms like a vacationers’ tan. She seeks her reflection in store windows; the ones that sell brightly colored sarongs and straw hats which the tourists will never wear again.
Don’t think she doesn’t notice you.
But you won't stop watching. You can't. You want to learn how to be alone.
Amy Silverberg is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is currently a PhD Candidate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, The Tin House blog, Joyland, and elsewhere.