The strip of beach was usually empty at that hour, the sea barren. All the afternoon swimmers had gone home. The fading sunlight gave the calmly ripping, burgundy-colored waves a sad, dangerous look, as if there were sharks lurking just beneath, except there were no sharks in that area. Nobody had ever seen one at least.
“That’s because these waters were fished out long ago,” posited the husband. Like most men, he was a self-taught expert on the habits of the better-known predators. “Around here, there’s nothin’ to eat.”
“Except us!” the wife countered. This was when they swam together in the morning.
Now it was sunset. The couple liked to stroll after dinner, holding hands, and feeling the breeze on their faces. The husband liked that his wife put on a light dress, and her flip flops, and that the sunglasses gave her face a relaxed, opaque quality, as if in tüne with the dusk. He wore the new shorts she had bought him before the trip, and a t-shirt, no sunglasses. He didn’t like sunglasses himself, as they never seemed to fit his face.
They liked walking together because they felt closer when they walked, just as they did when they slept bundled together. At those two intervals there whatever anxieties they had vanished. Moving, or sleeping, this is when they felt closest.
The wave sounds and birds blended with the wind, creating a chime effect, ressuring them of the otherwise silence of the world at that hour.
“Shall we move to America?” the wife asked. The husband stared at the sand, at his sandals. They also were new, purchased online before they left Istanbul.
“Don’t say ‘I don’t know,’” the wife continued. “I mean, really. Shall we move to America?”
The husband fought off the urge to say he didn’t know. He just shrugged as he usually did when the question came up, hoping as he always did that the question would answer itself and blow away.
Lately since the elections the question had come up more. The wife had been depressed – they both were – and in the evenings at their apartment in Istanbul she sat out on the balcony with the cat, checking her phone. He’d been following the Cup, and when there was a good goal or surprising result he would call out what was happening to his wife.
The reason it was difficult was because of her work, and his. Also, they had just bought the apartment. It was their investment. (“We can just sell it!” the wife said. “Or rent it out!”)
What would they do in America?
“You must figure it out,” the wife said. After all, it was his country. “I mean, think about it. What would you do if we went there?”
What would he do?
He had been a journalist there, but that was many years ago. All of his old colleagues were gone, moved on, retired. Journalism had moved on, most of it was online, and paying gigs were harder to find. His driver’s license had expired long ago.
Where would they go?
Pittsburgh? His family was back there now, but he had never lived there, not since he was a boy, before they moved to Texas. Texas? He didn’t want to go back to Texas. California? That was where he had lived and worked as a journalist. But it was Northern California, really North. Maybe the wife wouldn’t like it. Maybe she would. She would love the redwoods, he knew that. The redwoods and the ocean together, converging and crashing down into the sea.
But what would they do? What about her work? What about his?
He still kept in touch with many people in America, from New York to San Diego, from Florida to Hawaii, even one friend in Alaska. It was a big country, a really big one, with many people all sprend out over the continent.
Every time the question came up, these things came into his head, crowding and clouding his thoughts – remembered triumphs, disappointments, possibilities. He remembered the America he had known, how good it could be and how hard it could be, especially for his wife.
“But it’s the same way here. It’s the same way everywhere, baby,” the wife would have said, had he spoken these thoughts.
“Oh, why couldn’t we have been born somewhere like Switzerland? Nothing ever happens there!” he would have responded. This was another common joke they had. Actually, he wouldn’t want to live in Switzerland. There was nothing to write about in Switzerland, except spas and asylums, and F. Scott had already written about those things.
Feeling selfish, he looked at her, walking beside him. It was a bit chilly out near the sea, so he put an arm around her, as a kind of shawl. She folded her arms and leaned closer so that he could hear these thoughts. He listened to her as to a sturdy heart.
It was true, what she said, about things being the same everywhere (except maybe Switzerland). Besides, whereever they went, wouldn’t she, the wife, be there too? Wouldn’t that make things easier, he thought? It had made things easier for him in Turkey. As always, when they walked together thus, his mind traced back to that life before they met. The disordered chaos, the rented room in Kadıköy where he paid too much, drank too much. The life spent between things, between regret and loathing and fear, his Bukowski days, as they liked to say.
The wife listened too, but in that way that women do. She looked for the same gestures, the way he slowed his stride, planted a kiss on her temple, looked out at the sea. These moods she knew so well, the way his sentences trailed off leaving ellipsis …
When they met, five years before, the wife had told him she loved Turkey and had no wish to live anywhere but Turkey. Then there was her family, here on the south coast where they, the husband and wife, visited each summer. They were staying at her parents’ house, ten minutes walk from the beach. They loved that being so close, “a stone’s throw from the Med!” as the husband liked to brag on Facebook whenever he posted pictures. The Med. Far away from Istanbul and its politics.
Whenever they had these discussions, the husband remembered what she had told him, but there was something else too, he knew. That fear of going back, that there would be nothing there for them except struggle. They were not young people, able to easily bounce back and forth across oceans, continents, cultures, as the millennials do so much nowadays.
Buying the apartment had been the wife’s dream – and paid for by her money mostly. So there was that to consider. And her pension, waiting down the road. “At this rate, I don’t even know if I’ll make it that far,” she told him. This was after the election. She was referring to the massive layoffs in the public sector that had occurred since the failed military coup two years before.
But the question had come up before that, too. Like during the Gezi Park protests, and later, after the failed coup and again when the referendum had passed. Or it came up when one of them had a bad day at work, or like that time when the power went out at their new apartment building and they were trapped on the elevator for ten minutes (a short terror, thankfully, for afterpounding on the door and much yelling, they were rescued when neighbors hit the fuse and got the power back on).
Fear of staying – fear of leaving. These two fears, and the two of them caught between them. And there was the other fear too, that drifting too long would create a wedge between them, or worse. That fear was perhaps the biggest one, at least for the husband. The wife feared this thing too but was more strong-shouldered about it – very often women are strongest in the places where men are most vulnerable, the husband concluded. That included facing uncertainty.
But the wife was a bit weary of that. You face it, she told him. It’s your turn this time. Why do I always have to be the one?
These things were spoken by the burgundy-colored waves, which were getting even darker now. The lights of houses could be seen now in the hills overlooking the town. The sky drew a phosporescent line over the sea, outlining the horizon.
They continued walking, until presently they reached a bar about a mile or so down the quiet beach.
“Shall we have a drink, baby?” the wife asked, knowing he would want one.
“Ok-ay!” the wife mimicked his answer, teasing him. “Just one. You had enough today.”
The bar was not very crowded. Traditional Turkish music was playing from hidden speakers. They ordered two bottles of Tuborg from the genç garson, knowing the wife would let the husband finish hers. They sat at a table that looked out at the now dark sea, and occasionally at each other. The wife had taken off her sunglasses, and the husband liked that he could see her eyes. They were almond-shaped, almond-colored, and even when they were tired were luminous and beautiful.
The wife’s phone rang. She reached into her bag.
“Efendim? Na’ber ablam?” It was sister. They were supposed to go and see them all in Silifke the following day.
While the sisters talked, the husband drank his beer and looked out at the night sea, accompanied now by the music. He turned and caught his wife smiling at him, winked, as she continued talking with her sister. She reached for his lit cigarette and took a puff. They both felt relieved, for now.
James Tressler, a writer and teacher, has been told he could pass for a young Peter O’Toole and an old Kevin Bacon – at the same time. He lives in Istanbul.