The waves lapped on the hull. The mainsail flapped in the gentle breeze. The sun burned. The coast was a hazy blur in the distance behind them. The woman lay motionless on the deck of the sailboat. She lay on her back, basking in the sun’s rays. She wore a white swimsuit and sunglasses.
From the cabin below a man emerged. He wore a plain t-shirt and shorts. He stared at the woman and made his way along the deck towards her. As he passed by her, his shadow moved over her long, tanned body. He blocked the sunlight from her face. She turned to see him and smiled.
‘Do you want lunch just now?’ he asked. She nodded. The man leaned over and picked up a hamper. The woman sat up, as he sat down beside her. He took a bottle of wine from the hamper and loosened the cork stopper. He poured them both a glass and passed one to her. He raised his glass to her. ‘Bon dixieme anniversaire, petit Georges’ he said softly. The woman nodded and they both sipped the cool wine, without taking their eyes from each other.
After they had eaten, the man packed away the hamper. The woman lay back down on the deck as before. The man stowed the hamper in the cabin and then sat at the wheel at the back of the boat. He checked their position. They had drifted further out on the tide. The air was still, only an occasional breeze drifted across the sea. To get out of Port Grimaud and along the inlet they had had to use the outboard motor. The noise and smell of petrol had taken away from the romance of the scene. Once they had cleared the inlet and were out in the Cote D’Azur there was enough wind to use the mainsail and carry on imperceptibly moving away from the coast. Now they could drift and only the swell of the gentle waves rocking the boat belied the stillness in the air. As long as they kept heading away from land, he thought, looking back along the coastline. Port Grimaud was hidden now, but he could still make out the steep cliffs covered in buildings that made up Saint-Tropez and Sainte-Maxime. They were far enough out into the calm sea that he could make out the built up blocks of Cannes, Antibes and Nice to the north. Small white specks flaked the coast, the cruise liners, sailboats and luxury yachts of the wealthy people enjoying the French Riviera. To their port side Corsica sat in the distance.
Over the wheel he watched the woman lying at the bow of the boat. The white swimsuit dazzled in the brightness of the overhead sun. Her thin, athletic limbs were silhouetted by the sparkling light reflected from the blue sea. Her long dark hair lay on the deck, sprawled out behind her head. She had always been beautiful, but the sereneness that he now saw was new. He sighed as feelings of regret and waste bore down upon him. A seabird circled high above the masthead, soaring on the air currents. The man craned his neck to watch the seabird. An albatross, he thought. As the bird swooped in front of the sun he was blinded. He snapped his eyes closed. When he opened them again bright circles of light blocked his vision. He could see through his periphery vision. He could see the sides of the boat stretching out on either side of him but he couldn’t see directly in front of him. He couldn’t see the woman. She had disappeared in the blinding light.
After a while the man stood up from his seat at the back of the sailboat and went into the cabin. He emerged carrying a small silver urn. Walking skilfully forward on the swaying deck he approached the woman. She was standing at the prow of the boat looking out at the calm blue water. She turned as he approached and smiled. It was not a smile of joy, it was a smile of acceptance and remorse.
‘It is time,’ he said to her. She nodded. He took the lid off the urn and handed it to the woman. She stared at the ashes inside the small silver ornament. She sighed.
‘Bon voyage, Georges.’ She raised the urn and gently tipped it over. The ashes scattered on the breeze, drifting away in the air. Some landed on the surface of the water before the current dispersed it. ‘I will be with you again soon, mon fils.’ She handed the empty urn back to the man, who had watched on in silence. He left her standing looking after the last vestiges of the ashes.
He went in to the cabin again. He placed the urn back on the shelf. He picked up a small jar of pills and poured himself a glass of water. He took two of the pills in his hand and swallowed them, washing them down with the water. He went back onto the deck. He approached the woman, who still stood at the bow. Again she turned. They did not speak, but she understood from his look what he had done. He gently raised her face to his with his fingers lightly on her chin. He kissed her softly on the lips. A tear rolled down her cheek and she pulled away. He stepped back and lay down on the towel that the woman had sunbathed on earlier in the day. He closed his eyes against the bright blue sky. He felt the hot sun beat down on his body. He drifted out of consciousness.
The woman stayed at the bow of the boat. After a while she sat down, crossed her feet and pulled her knees up under her chin. She listened to the noise of the sail fluttering behind her and the waves lapping on the hull. Over the noise she strained to hear the man’s breathing. She imagined she heard his breathing slow and become laboured. Eventually she sensed the breathing had stopped. She waited. When she was sure he was dead she finally stood up. She made her way along the deck to the back of the boat and made her way into the cabin. She opened the valves in the hull. Bilge water began to seep into the cabin. She took the axe that was secured to the cabin wall. She made her way forward as far as she could in the cabin and swung the axe into the hull. After several strikes she sat down exhausted. The crack in the hull creaked and sea water began to seep in, slowly at first. Then it began to bubble through in a rush. She felt the sailboat begin to lurch as the cabin became swamped. She walked through the puddle that was forming and headed back on to the deck. The sun still burned down. The body of the man still lay on the deck. The woman made her way forward and resumed her seat at the bow.
The minutes passed by. The sailboat began to list towards its bow. The woman felt herself gradually tipping towards the blue water.
‘Réunis, Georges. Réunis.’
On the still, calm Mediterranean Sea of the Cote d’Azur the sailboat La Bijou drifted aimlessly, sinking by her bow. The body of the dead man drifted off as the water lapped over the deck. The body floated for a moment on the surface before disappearing beneath the gentle waves. The woman sat unmoving as the deck lowered her into the cool water. She looked up at the sun and the blue sky one last time. A bird circled around the sinking ship. The woman did not struggle as the water enveloped her face. She remained serene as she vanished beneath the water.
Sometime later the sailboat La Bijou disappeared beneath the surface too. The circling albatross made one final loop and headed off over the still, blue sea.