My Dog’s Breath Smells Too

The breakfast terrace stretches down the side of the hotel’s sun-washed walls. We pick a

table with a large parasol near the entrance. When the waiter arrives, we run through the

usual cabaret of ordering juice, coffee, and croissants.

‘Eggs this morning?’

‘No, thank you,’ Tom hands back the menus.

‘Grazie Signore.’

When he’s gone, I say, ‘I mean, who eats a full English these days? We’re all so health

conscious.’

‘Are we?’ Tom watches me dolloping strawberry jam on a roll.

‘I am on holiday,’ I reply with a grin.

A tired-looking couple arrives; they’re young and attractive; the man has a protective arm

around the woman’s shoulders. When they sit, he takes her hand and kisses it.

‘Yeah, sunny side up,’ the man says to the waiter.

‘Sweet,’ I whisper, ‘jetlagged and in love.’

‘Stop being nosey,’ Tom implores.

‘Me?’ I mime back. ‘Anyway, we were like that once. Young and gorgeous.’

‘We still are. Gorgeous, that is,’ Tom squeezes my hand.

Later, we decide to explore our surroundings; the hotel is set in a vast park dotted with

immense Maritime Pines stretching up to the sky.

Sunlight peeks through the trees, dappling the dirt track with light; shadows dance to a

silent melody. Beads of perspiration trickle down my neck. A light breeze offers relief from

the searing heat. We walk in silence for fifteen minutes until we reach the lake. Dragonflies

snap at the air, and a pair of moorhens squabble over territory.

I lose my footing, and my shoe slides along the gravel as if on ball bearings.

‘Careful!’ Tom grips my hand, ‘we don’t want any accidents if we’re to make another thirty

years.’

‘Bit of a fright there,’ I reply. ‘Look, there’s a bench. I can fix my shoe.’

We sit in the shade. The Neo-Gothic façade of the borgo dominates the hillside. On the

other side of the water, there’s an exercise area with Astroturf and fixed wooden bars to

stretch or balance on.

‘Oh, look, it’s the honeymoon couple again,’ I say.

‘You don’t know that for sure.’

‘Ah, but they were so cute at breakfast, the way he poured her coffee and kissed her hand,’ I

re-tie my shoelace.

‘Let me do that,’ Tom bends and knots my shoelace, ‘that’s better.’

The tall young man is doing push-ups from one of the bars. The woman, half his size, stands

and watches.

‘And they’re staying in this romantic hotel,’ I reply.

‘But so are we,’ he smirks.

‘Touché.’

We can hear the man breathing as he exerts himself. It feels like we’re intruding.

‘Let’s go,’ I say.

‘Not going to have a go, are you?’ Tom nods.

‘I’d like to see you try,’ I pat his paunch.

‘Later,’ he gets up.

The path snakes up towards an area with blue, yellow, and red-painted wooden logs set

around an old oak tree, and multi-cut crystals hang from its branches, glinting.

‘Kitsch,’ we speak at the same time.

‘Oh no! We’re morphing into one person!’ I laugh and take a tissue from my bag to dab at

my neck and forehead. ‘It’s so hot.’

‘Swim?’

‘Great idea,’ I fan my hand in front of my face.

‘Come on,’ he takes my hand.

A large hedge clings to the wall as we go up the steps.

‘Mmm, jasmine,’ I lean in to sniff the flowers.

In the room, I gather suntan lotion and mosquito repellent together before changing into

my swimsuit. Within fifteen minutes, we lie poolside.

Around the edges of my novel, I spot the honeymooners arriving. They settle on the far side

of the pool. The man wears shorts and a t-shirt; he picks up a book and lies back to read.

The woman removes her robe, revealing a discreet khaki-coloured swimsuit, more

appropriate to a woman my age than hers. She folds her clothes into a neat pile and dives

into the deep end. Water splashes up, creating thunder spots on the man’s clothes; he

scrambles up off his sun lounger, patting his clothes as if they were on fire.

Oblivious, the woman’s arms continue to incise the water. Her head bobs up and down in

metronomic rhythm.

‘Becky!’ The man shouts.

Still, she swims. Back and forth.

For a faltering second, the man’s eyes meet mine. I blink and return to my book.

Suddenly, an embarrassing snoring sound interrupts the calm; I tap Tom on his arm, ‘you’re

snoring.’

‘W-w-what?’ His book, which lay open on his chest face down, springs up when he startles

and tumbles to the floor.

I pick it up and hand it to him, ‘there you go.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Are you going in?’ I point to the pool.

‘Brrr... bit arctic for me,’ he replies, ‘are you?’

‘Yup,’ I down tools and take slow - getting used to the cold - steps into the pool.

I take short breaths to circumvent the shock before immersing myself. Resurfacing, I inhale