It was the middle of July.
I had flown out from Gatwick to Skiathos to join Eadmund’s family for their annual holiday on mainland Greece.
To be invited to join them was an honour that had not been mine until we’d been together for about four years. To say I was looking forward to it would be an understatement.
He met me at the airport. We waited for their local taxi boat to take us back to the mainland. It was baking hot and we spent lunchtime by the sea, basking in warm waters but in the shade to avoid sunburn quite so early on in my holiday.
Skimming over the waves, the sunlight glinting off them and all around me warmth and blue sea and sky, we made our way to their house by the sea and its jetty where his daughter sat sunbathing and reading. As we clambered out of the little boat and manoeuvered my suitcase up onto the wooden boards, she greeted me with a hug and:
‘Welcome to Pelion!’
The family holiday had been sacrosanct. With all the changes to the family dynamic, this one last vestige of the past had been preserved. For a month, whatever might have changed back in London, they were all together as a five once more. Until this year. Rupert had already been with them for a week before my arrival. I had my own annual holiday in Italy to attend. As Cloe had wanted him to join the family this year, the invitation had also been extended to me.
It was an intoxicating week. The weather was a little stormy for the first couple of days and we lit wood fires indoors and cooked. Soon it became warmer and clearer. We barbequed on their little private cove. We took the boat down the coast to find tiny and beautiful chapels glittering with gold and frescoes. We walked inland high above the sea amongst olives and pine trees. We ate at their favourite restaurant walking there and then after a quick walk to the coast, swimming around the headland to the house again. There were fireflies at night, glowing greenish white. The sea had a beautiful phosphoresence as we swam in the dark. We visited a bay littered with green agates. We dived beneath rock arches under water. We jumped off high staggered rocks into the sea. We even visited a series of caves, blacker than any night with a tiny white beach at the end and pungently smelling of guano.
By night, Eadmund and I slept outside on the balcony, the sea breezes caressing our skin as we slept. The gentle roar of the wind in the pine trees proving an effective lullaby. We awoke with the dawn and watched the world turn from dark to silvery light and brighten into gold. Then, fortified by cups of tea, we ran down to the beach to swim out into the bay and bask in the morning light and the cool, cool water. We breakfasted on thick tangy yoghurt and rich treacly thyme honey with the most succulent fresh peaches. We spent most of the day in and out of the water.
After lunch as the sound of the cicadas reached their loudest, we lay down to siesta together. The house was silent with sleeping people avoiding the heat of the day. We were outside, hardly private, and yet in the heat and stickyness of the middle of the day, lying skin on skin, langorous and languid touching became more sexually charged. Relaxed with the freedom of being on holiday, in the sunshine and basking in warmth, we both experimented with things we had never tried before and felt more unified, more trusting and closer than ever because of it.
Intoxicated with love and sex and summer, we talked about our future. It was no secret that a big stumbling block between us was the loud and insistent ticking of my biological clock. The more in love with him I fell, the more every atom of my being wanted to carry his children. It filled my heart and womb as we made love. But he had been clear from the start. He already had three children. He was sensible of how much of his time, energy and freedom they had taken and he didn’t begrudge them a second of it. But he didn’t want any more. He didn’t want to start the whole process again just as he was getting glimpses of the freedom that beckons as your teenage children approach the time when they might leave home.
‘It’s the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done,’ he had told me in our early days,’I wouldn’t take it back for the world, but I’m glad to be where I am now, as they are growing up. I can see myself getting a little bit of my time and my life back. I don’t want to go back into giving that all up a second time.’
My hopes dashed, I had wept bitterly over this and my heart broke time and time again. When everything between us felt so overwhelmingly right, how could he not share this dream with me? How could he not see that this time, with me, it would be different, easier, that I would make it easier for him, sensible that he had already given the past twenty years to raising a family with Cloe.
But for all that I argued, persuaded, cajoled and begged, he was adamant.
Yet under the Grecian sun, lying in each others arms, sated and warmed, in hushed whispers, we approached the subject again.
‘I’m making no promises,’ he told me, ‘but I have never felt so close to someone as I do to you. I’ve never felt a relationship to be as effortless as it is with you. I know how much it means to you. I will really and truly think hard about if I can go through being a father again.’
The sun had never shone brighter. There had never been more beautiful music than the sound of the sea, the cicadas and the wind in the pine trees, The whole glittering and brilliant little cove on which we holidayed took on a magical air as if it were the setting of a fairytale. For a brief moment, it seemed that I might really be able to have it all: the man I adored, the passionate yet effortless relationship of my dreams and his baby too.
Years later, post break up, I took myself to the cinema to see Mamma Mia. It promised to have sunshine, seaside, silly music and be camp and unrestrained. I was depressed. It should be a tonic, I thought. As soon as the titles finished and the introduction of the first song began, I realised with a pang like a knife to the heart that the beautiful scenery I saw on screen was exactly the same as this magical place of my holiday, the place in which I had been the happiest I had been in my entire life. The lump that rose in my throat threatened to choke me. My shoulders shook with suppressed sobs as the music rose in happy, life affirming cadences. I was in a cinema full of people who were laughing, sharing drinks and popcorn. This wasn’t a weepy movie. There was no way I could give way to the tidal wave of emotion that I felt. So I sucked it in, suppressed it and although trembling for ever minute that the film lasted, I got to the end and survived the bus journey home without giving the heartbreaking grief free reign.
The house was empty when I got home. I was destined to be on my own again. I turned round, grabbed my purse and headed up the road to the off licence. I bought a 750ml bottle of gin and enough tonic water to match it. I spent the rest of the evening drinking the whole lot and crying my eyes out as I mourned what could have been.