Fiction by Sean Gill: Shore Leave

By Sean Gill

The bell chimed and the young man in the Bermuda shorts asked the girl in the silk robe if she was expecting anyone. She rolled her eyes, opened the door, and snatched a stack of towels from the bellhop. The young man asked the girl where she thought she was going. “To the beach,” she said, and left. To the beach. Always the beach.

The young man, after selling his stake in Twingle™ to a Danish tech incubator, had begun his retirement early, at twenty-four. He’d been on a permanent vacation ever since, traveling with the girl across the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf. In Jamaica, he’d caught her eyeballing the cabana boys; in Spain, the matadors; in Greece, the beach bums; in Qatar, the Turkish masseurs. After Doha, he’d suggested they continue eastward, because out of all the sorts of men she’d confessed to having a thing for, he didn’t think he’d ever heard her mention Asians.

They were staying at a villa in Da Nang, a luxury resort on Vietnam’s China Beach. Till now, the young man had never been, but he knew it possessed some nostalgic and glamorous connotation. Alongside her slate of prime-time soap operas like Santa Barbara, Falcon Crest, and 90210, his mother had also watched a show called China Beach, and at some point he had drawn a subconscious correlation. He knew it had something to do with the jet-set, and nothing in his experiences of present-day Da Nang dispelled this notion. He was finding it difficult to fully embrace Vietnam’s exotic charms, however; his thoughts were of the girl, and who she was with (maybe even the bellhop), and his general mood was something like boredom but with an element of dread. He used to brag that he had never once in his life been bored, but he was in the thick of it now, and no amount of Himalayan Crystal Body Polishes seemed to hold the cure.

#

One day flowed into the next. Lazing on lacquered Java wicker, basking in tropical sunlight, and sipping thousand-dollar champagne, she fluttered her lids to take in the view. The milieu was stunning… the company, less so. She had been traveling with the young man for ten months now, and in that time she had learned several things about him. He possessed a small fortune. He had made this fortune in computers. He liked popular music and aromatherapy. At his best, he was quiet and generous; at his worst, mopey and suspicious.

Her thoughts returned to war. The topic had first come up when she’d mentioned to the young man that she thought they were staying in the country where Bubba was killed in Forrest Gump. The young man shook his head and sighed, slowly explaining that she must be thinking of World War II, which had involved a place called Japan.

She shut her eyes and wished that the ocean calm would be shattered by a catastrophic event—bombs, chaos, storms, war—and that the young man would suddenly be carried off and made to disappear, but in such a way where she’d bear none of the blame. She wished that she were someplace else, a place more comfortable than this, a place without the young man and his impositions. Finally, she decided she’d settle for a night where the young man didn’t try to touch her.

#

The bamboo blades of the ceiling fan were hand-carved so that in motion they might resemble a twirling lotus leaf. This was intended to have a calming effect but had failed to impress the young man, who lied awake in a state of agitation. Among the shadows on the ceiling he had spotted a strange dark bulge which had swelled in the past three hours from the size of a nickel to that of a baseball. He toyed with the idea of waking the young woman to tell her, but decided it might come off as unmanly.

By morning, it had evolved into three separate bulges, each the size of a beach ball, bruise-colored, and with the lumpy wet consistency of rainwater collected in a tarp. The young man was furious at the staff’s negligence; they were ordinarily known for their attention to detail. He called room service and waited for the girl to wake up.

#

The entire ceiling hung low, a purple bubble stretched thin and ready to burst. It was so foreign and mysterious that the girl didn’t know what to make of it, but it had worked the young man into such a childish frenzy that she felt in this instance she had to side with the blob. The blob was interesting. The blob was exciting and possibly dangerous.

A bellhop arrived, then the deputy housekeeper, the concierge, and finally the manager. Each claimed not to see the blob, and in calming tones offered to accommodate the young man in some other way, or perhaps to send for a doctor. Each denial, though acquiescent, catapulted the young man’s rage to greater and greater levels, and he shrieked till he was red in the face, slapping occasionally at the bulge, which quivered tense against his palm like the surface of a water balloon. It must have been some elaborate practical joke, and though the girl couldn’t quite fathom the intention, she decided it was a pretty good one.

#

The manager offered the insane American a different villa, a month of complimentary Astral Bio-Rhythm Sessions, a week’s worth of room service, and even one of the Cham sculptures from the lobby, but still he ranted and raved, swiping at the empty air while his lady companion wore a spooky smile on her lips. The American had such difficulty exchanging his thoughts into words that it was unclear what the problem even was. Finally, he took one last wild swing and wailed, “It burst! Blood, my God, it’s an ocean of blood!” and he wiped and clawed at his unstained face and his lady companion did, too, though her laughter stood in contrast to his sniveling. He said he hoped they had their fun and he knew what they were up to, but that he was leaving and they wouldn’t have him to kick around anymore. The lady laughed deeply at his humiliation, but when he stopped blubbering long enough to check out, she was by his side. They fled together.


Sean Gill is a writer and filmmaker who has studied with Werner Herzog and Juan Luis Buñuel, documented public defenders for National Geographic, and was a writer-in-residence at the Bowery Poetry Club from 2011-2012. He won the 2016 Sonora Review Fiction Prize and has works recently published or forthcoming in The Iowa Review, McSweeney’s, ZYZZYVA, and So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.

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