“'Last swim of the year", the man shouted, above the traffic roar below.
“'You're crazy. Med's too bloody cold , it's November for God's sake”, the woman laughed with a shake of her head, graying auburn hair rippling.
Hand in hand they crossed the pedestrian bridge spanning the frenzied motorway. Massive traffic below in both directions created gale-like winds forcing them to hold tightly on to the iron railings. The bridge provided beach access for holiday home owners landside of the busiest thoroughfare in Southern Spain. A steep incline led to the pebbly cove and 'Merendero Antonio', a seafood restaurant.
From a cloudless sky, sunlight shimmered the waveless ocean gently lapping the shore.
"Hey Pepe, get our table ready. Just going for my last swim!", the man waved to a t-shirted waiter who shook his head resignedly, watching him enter the water.
“ Loco Inglezi' he murmured to himself, smiling, as the man struck out with a powerful breast-stroke.
The woman sat patiently on a sun-lounger as the swimmer reached his target, a rock 200 metres off the beach. His Shirley Valentine rock, he'd called it, the extent of his daily swim . Claimed he had a two-way conversation with it's sharp projections as he rounded it on the way back to shore .
He emerged dripping from the sea, frowning. "Must have a shower. See you at Pepe's" After immersing himself for longer than usual, the shower consisting of a pipe emerging from a concrete wall, the man did something strange. He went round the rear of the Merendero returning covered in soapy lather. The woman stared curiously as he showered again, rubbing himself vigorously.
"Strange " he muttered as he sat down at the table overlooking the sea. " Just as I came round the rock I swam through like a thick froth on the water surface. Then when I showered I realised I was covered in a greasy film, sort of transparent. That's why I soaped myself in the loo and showered again. But I still can’t get the bloody stuff off altogether”.
She looked at his hairy shoulders and chest. ”Yes, seems like you're still wet, your fur's all oily”, she giggled. “Come over here, I'll rub it off for you”.
After some effort she hung the sodden towel on the railing to dry, giving Pepe and other diners a shrug, eyeballs rolling.
" What d'you think it could've been? Like an emulsion or something. Maybe the stuff they use for oil slicks?"
The woman grinned. ” Doesn't chemically treated sewage get pumped into the sea somewhere near here?'”
He shook his head. " Thought of that . Costa del Sol's water's clean, cleanest in the Med. We're near Gibraltar so the Atlantic flows in here as well. Has a scouring action. In any case there's less sewage. Hardly any crowds this time of year. And there was no smell".
The woman sniffed . “'Yuk! D'you mind if we concentrate on lunch?”
"What have you ordered?" He settled back into his chair, taking the blazing glare of the sun full frontal.
“'My usual, grilled prawns and salad, and boquerone fritas, fried sardines plus chips for you.”
"Great, and to drink?"
“'Normal, Vina Sol plus a bottle of agua sin gas”
"You're working well. Can't believe this is our last day, can you? Tomorrow back to London Winter..ouch!"
The food came and they munched in silence, revelling in the serenity of the still ocean.
Later, as the sun dipped behind high cloud they drank strong coffee and quizzed Pepe the waiter about the oily froth on the water. As always he had much to say.
“'Senor, you see alla the birds , seagulls everywhere. Thisa time o'year, boquerones, sardinas they spawn , alla the eggs afloat ona the water'”.
"Gee,thanks for that, Pepe," the man chuckled," you mean I swallowed a whole load of Sardine roe and now I've just consumed a whole bunch of the parents?"
That night the man lingered longer in his hot shower than usual. Next morning, prior to leaving for the airport , he did so yet again, heavy emphasis on anti-dandruff shampoo.
They dropped the hire car in the large area alongside the airport.
“'Why are you scratching all the time, darling?'
"No idea, have had this itch ever since my swim yesterday".
The Easyjet flight was on time. Checking in late, their boarding pass numbers were high, so they had to be content with seats way back.
As the Boeing taxied towards takeoff the woman leaned back in her seat. “My airsick tablets’re kicking in. Please don't wake me till we're ready to leave the plane. And do stop scratching, you're making me itchy now”. She curled into foetal position , head leaning against the window.
After an hour the man appeared uncomfortable, taking deep gasping breaths, scratching the back of his hands to redness. He made his way to the toilet at the rear of the aircraft.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are commencing our descent to London Luton. Please return to your seats, make sure your seatbelts are fastened. Seatbacks to upright position".
The woman slept soundly through the gentle bump of touchdown, the seat next to her empty.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for flying Easyjet. You may disembark through the front exit only.
She looked bleary-eyed at the vacant seat alongside. “Where's my husband?” she cried, alerting the stewardess who merely shrugged. “I've been asleep. He can't have left without me'”
Impatient passengers shoved and jostled their way past her, curious yet unconcerned.
“'Just wait till the remaining passengers have disembarked, madam. He may be retrieving hand-luggage”.
“'No, no,our bags are just above us. Look!'”She pulled down two small holdalls.
The stewardess began to show concern.”'Just a minute, madam, I'll see if he's in the toilet'”.
The woman followed her down the now-empty aisle.The toilet door was locked. The light above said 'Occupied'
The stewardess knocked loudly “' Sir, are you allright?” A note of panic in her voice. She pushed hard on the door. Knocked again. “SIR ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?” Louder still. She looked down. Water was seeping under the door, staining the carpet. Squelching underfoot.
The Captain arrived . "Didn't you check the toilets were empty prior to landing?" he rasped at the stewardess who shook her head shamefacedly .
He inserted a key-like instrument into the lock. The door concertina'd inwards.
The stewardess shrieked. The woman peered over her shoulder and with a sigh fell backwards in a dead faint.
"Oh My Dear God"! from the Captain.
On the floor were her husband's clothes, dripping wet. His head was wedged face-down in the overflowing basin . He was naked except for a translucent filmy shroud covering his entire body, which.had turned a vivid scarlet.
Embedded in the jelly-like membrane were hundreds of tiny sardines flapping in their final asphyxiated death agonies.