The promise of a shady spot and a sea breeze persuaded us to have a picnic. We packed up a baguette and a wheel of fruit cheese, a bread knife, a cheese knife, a thermos of tea, and some books in which to spend the afternoon.
We spread our green and white checkered picnic blanket out underneath the cotton trees. A couple lay beside us on their rug, engaged in conversation. A Maori family was enjoying a barbequed lunch behind us. Their young children played ball with a furry tennis ball and Velcro bats, catching the ball on the bat and tearing it from the Velcro with a sgrrrrrrrp.
After our lunch, we settled down to some relaxing reading. It was now that the couple beside us properly caught my attention. They were both in their thirties. She wore a denim skirt and a green polo top which sweetly complimented her auburn hair. He wore a collared shirt and some sort of vague sword symbol was tattooed on his forearm. Within seconds I was completely engrossed in watching them.
They sat so close to each other. So close but never touching. Each spoke, using generous gestures while the other listened respectfully and intently with unbreaking eye contact. They each spoke and listened equally, sharing an even conversation that never slackened for hours. Sometimes they moved and lay down side by side, leaning up on one elbow and always looking directly at each other, never about at the high tide or us, though we were only a few metres away. They saw only each other. And still they never touched.
At one point the Maori kids threw their ball too far and it hit her on the head. Neither of them broke eye contact or stopped speaking. In fact, the only retaliation was his unconscious pushing away of the ball.
The conversation was very intimate. There was no sadness, but neither cracked jokes either. They never raised their voices from a soft tone. They were happy, or content, talking about something that appeared to be casual, but talking about that something in a very intent way.
Intrigued by the loveliness and also strangeness of their connection, we watched their hands for signs of a ring. Neither of them wore any rings at all, which thrilled us with a new mystery. It suddenly seemed very suspenseful, watching these two. We wondered who they were, what their story and connection was.
That night around the dinner table, I hardly touched my stir-fry. It seemed the same questions were on everyone’s minds and we and it was barely a matter of minutes before we began filling Dad in on the details and passionately debating the possibilities. It was a Woody Allen-esque scene.
They weren’t married, we established, but they were very close. Close, but never touching.
“So,” Mum quipped. “They’ve known each other on line for a long time, and are going on their first date. They aren’t at the stage of their relationship where they touch.”
“Yes, and they were taking it in turns to tell each other bits about their life stories.”
But we felt that they sat much too close and were too intimate with their gaze to be meeting each other for the first time.
I suggested that they were sweethearts in college and they were meeting again after he had travelled the globe, “or been to prison”, Blake murmured. I added that perhaps this was not the first time they had seen each other since his return, but that they had been slowly getting closer again after their time apart.
“They’re both gay,” Dad said, which we all tore down immediately, because he hadn’t seen them and they were so obviously not gay.
Mum was the first to remind us of a crucial piece of information that I had completely forgotten. It had seemed so insignificant at the time that I hadn’t even noted it.
“Remember the printed document they were looking at when we first arrived?” she reminded us.
“Yes, it was like a printed course reading for a university study,” we remembered.
“So they were university colleagues,” Dad summed up, but no, it couldn’t be possible. They were much too intimate.
“They were only reading it for a couple of minutes when we got there before they started talking,” Mum said, who was studying counselling herself. “Maybe they were counselling students, practising their active listening techniques. I have never seen a couple listening so well before.” But why would they lie down together and gaze so intently at each other while they spoke?
ME: “Maybe the document was the book she was writing, and she was showing him?”
DAD: “An editor?”
BLAKE: “That would make him more powerful than her, and they were both so equal in the way they shared their conversation.”
DAD: “Did one have cancer?”
BLAKE: “No, they weren’t sad at all.”
MUM: “They were brother and sister.”
BLAKE: “They didn’t look alike at all, and wouldn’t brother and sister touch as a fond or familiar gesture?”
ME: “They are converted mermaids.”
ME: “They are actors workshopping characters for a production. The document was their script, and they use certain character-specific gestures, and avoid non-characteristic gestures, like physical contact.
MUM: “But then they never made a fuss about putting down the script and beginning, did they, which you would if you were going to begin a rehearsal.”
ME: “They are divorced and that is why they know each other so intimately but have such deliberate resignations about touching. Neither wear their wedding bands, and the documents were custody rights… no that would be too controversial for people so content. No, they had a divorce some time ago and are now resuming a close friendship.”
We all yelled and talked over the top of each other, adding evidence upon evidence, probably making up things that we didn’t even see, and over analysing every minute detail that we could remember.
“We must go back every day at the same time. We have to ask them who they are. We must know.”
“I desperately want to know so that I can know what it takes to have such intimacy and respect in their conversation.”
“Well I,” Blake began. “I don’t want to know. This mystery is so fantastic and exciting, that knowing would ruin it.”
We all knew that the mystery would never be ruined by knowing.