Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story

Digging the Earth

Sara Freeman


I had heard people having sex before, but this time it was different. With Simone, everything was different. Our hotel room in Zipolite was small and I had taken to the floor when the night before, between shots of tequila, Simone had whispered, ‘I think Rojelio wants to come home with me.’ At five o’clock, mummified in my sheet, I heard Simone’s first slow call for more breath and thought it might be a dream. She was the only woman in the world who could make sex sound as innocent as water being poured into a glass. I watched as Rojelio emitted a deep muffled sound into her thick hair. 

That night there had been dancing by the beach and a lot of people saying ‘This would never happen in the States’ in loud North American accents. At about nine o’clock I latched on to an architecture student from Barcelona, pretended I had an interest in the shapes of things and quickly thought about all of the ways I could excuse myself – explosive diarrhoea, a suicidal boyfriend back home, an unexpected UFO sighting. The night ended with people grinding to ‘Sexual Healing’ and my feeling like a cactus amongst lilies. Tripping over sand and coral on the way to our hostel room, sandals hanging from her pinky, Simone had said ‘You don’t mind do you?’ in the way that meant, if you mind, you are a bitch and you are frigid too. I set up camp on the once-plush carpet and tried not to breathe in too hard because of my dust allergies. I also tried very hard not to overhear when Rojelio whispered, ‘You are white like milk’ into Simone’s small ears. 

It’s not that I listened, but I didn’t exactly stop listening either. It’s more that I was curious. I had spent so many decisive years thinking of sex as the low monotonous grumblings of tanned men with perpetual hard-ons, it was nice to hear it happening for real. I had had sex too, of course, a few times at least, and that sounded a lot like hearing my own voice recorded and played back to me in a sordid karaoke way. The whole performance also interrupted an unusual dream I was having where I lay naked in a field and my mom tilled the land with large agricultural instruments the names of which I have now forgotten, avoiding only the contours of my body. This was of course not an unusual dream for somebody on malaria pills and a lover of magical realism. But this dream accompanied by the soft movements and breath of my best friend in a seedy hostel on the beach in southern Mexico was enough to push me over the edge.

I got up and looked into the mirror that sat atop the linoleum vanity the colour of seashells. My eyes were electric emeralds staring right back. The bunny rabbits in the bed did not stop hopping, seemed to have completely forgotten that they were not alone. I forged hypotheses about the world being divided between two essential types of people, those who could forget that somebody else was in the room while they were having sex, and those who couldn’t. 

It was nearing sunrise when I made my way out of the hostel and on to the beach. I wore a cotton dress and felt something sticking in my hair from the night before. For the first few minutes of my walk I enjoyed digging my feet as far into the sand as possible and trying to lift them up as fast as possible. It was a silly game, but one appropriate for my mood of self-loathing. My solitary moment was cut short by the appearance of the architect from Barcelona walking on the beach with a fedora. I went up to him and imagined for a moment that he may have been waiting for me, that my explosive diarrhoea had not been a deterrent, that love had finally conquered all. This thought was quickly outlived as I noticed that he was both surprised and disappointed to see me. ‘Feeling better?’ he asked me. I noticed the sand in his eyebrows. ‘Yes, I’m just going on my morning jog,’ I said, knowing he would know it was a lie. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked casually. I dug my foot into the ground, this time, reaching the cold wet part with my big toe. ‘I’m walking towards the sunrise, you know, chasing the sun.’ I wondered whether he was trying to be poetic or whether this might be an instance of English being his second language.

So we chased the sun together and pretty soon after I began to tell him about Simone and how we were friends but I sort of hated her as well, because she had had sex in front of me. He said that in Spain people had sex in front of each other all the time and that I should try it sometime. I assumed he was joking but again the irony did not come through because English was his second language. ‘My friend is also making love,’ he said. ‘This is why I am with you digging the earth,’ he said.

So we sat and watched the waves form milky mounds on the shore and I told him that I knew nothing about architecture because my people had invented the strip mall and he was very sympathetic and asked me about my passions. Later, he gave me his fedora and told me if I was ever in Barcelona I should look him up because he had connections to the sky. I did not know what this meant but I said thank you and kissed his neck by mistake. When I went back to the room, Rojelio was gone and Simone said with her voice as deep and empty as a well: ‘I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t keep you up last night.’ And I thought how Simone was so beautiful that she would never need to apologise the way normal people did.