21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
Politics & Living
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Reviews & stories

The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Swimming

The Luncheon
Rebecca Stonehill

The waiter was either Greek or Turkish, Edwin Durrant couldn’t be sure which but either way, he was a source of profound irritation. The Old Bridge Restaurant was a favourite luncheon spot of Edwin’s and for years he and his wife had eaten there without incident. On the past few occasions however, they had been served by young foreigners whose command of the English language had been less than satisfactory.

That, coupled with the fact that this young man had mixed up the recipients of the still and sparkling water left Edwin sweating more than normal under the collar. Frances, on the other hand, was oblivious to the waiter’s thick accent and grammatical blunders. What she did notice was that his eyes were a rather lovely shade of green; that, and the bubbles that played havoc on her tongue after bringing her glass of water to her lips.

It was a muggy day on this, the 40th wedding anniversary of Edwin and Frances Durrant. If they were being honest with one another, they would both have preferred to have been elsewhere. Whilst Edwin thought wistfully of the golf club and the latest detective novel he was reading, Frances would have liked nothing more than to be sitting under the large shady maple tree in the garden sipping lapsang suchong or wandering the cool marble corridors of the Fitzwilliam Museum. She had never imagined she would spend quite so much time there, but several years ago, an exquisite Iranian jade blue urn had caught her eye and now, every Tuesday afternoon, she walked through the museum, leaving the urn as her final treat. She sometimes found the delicious anticipation overwhelming and had to make a quick detour to the café to drink a restorative cup of lapsang suchong. It was odd behaviour; Frances knew it was odd, but relished in this knowledge. Surely at her age she should be permitted a few eccentricities? Her sons affectionately joked about this obscure habit of their mother’s; Edwin never commented - what she chose to fill her days with was his wife’s concern.

Yet instead of being at their preferred destinations, here Edwin and Frances Durrant were, sweating at table six and idly wondering how long their food would take to arrive. Neither of them were hungry; in fact, the thought of eating the swiss chard stuffed with taleggio cheese that Frances had ordered made her feel rather queasy. Her stomach made a curt, angry noise as if to prepare itself for its culinary onslaught and Frances glanced up at her husband, wondering if he had heard it. He was staring gruffly ahead of him, past her left ear as far as she could make out and she wondered at what stage it was in their married life that conversation had become quite so arid. She loved her husband, of that she was certain. But Frances wasn’t sure what that meant anymore. She loved her blue urn at the Fitzwilliam too and, given the choice, she would far rather have that sitting opposite her than this red-faced man who made her feel hot just looking at him in his jacket and tight collar. Was that a terrible thing to admit? She picked up her glass and sipped at the water. Once more, she flinched at the burning sensation on her tongue. Surely Edwin must have noticed that the waiter had given them the wrong bottles of water? He was always so particular about these things.

From where their table was positioned, they could just see out to the River Cam. It was full with punts and canoes and merry makers reddening under the sun’s fierce glare. Frances felt grateful that she was dressed in such a light frock and that she was inside. As the waiter laid the swiss chard in front of her, Frances looked up and thanked him, marvelling once again at his eyes. They were not dissimilar to the colour of the pilot’s eyes to whom she was once engaged. She had never told Edwin about her previous engagement; there seemed no need as it had been so short and disastrous. In fact, she rather liked having this secret from him. What would he think, Frances wondered as she picked at a shallot, if he knew that I nearly married another man? As she watched him attacking his poached ox tongue, she found it hard to imagine that he’d think anything at all.

At that moment, a loud splash broke her reverie and Frances glanced out of the window to see that a boy had fallen off his punt (or had he jumped?) amidst screams and cries of amusement and was swimming towards the bank. He appeared to be young, barely out of his teens and was making his way towards an excited gaggle of girls who were clapping and cheering him on. The sound of splashing and the cries of delight suddenly roused in Frances the fragment of a memory long forgotten: dappled sunlight and the cool sharpness of water against her skin.

The sun dripped through the leaves on to their bare shoulders beneath a cherry tree. Frances and Edwin were in their early twenties and they had strolled down to Grantchester one summer Sunday afternoon. They were recently engaged but still reticent with one another, inhibited within their bodies and unsure of the ‘correct’ social etiquette, so unused were they to spending time with the opposite sex. After a pint at The Green Man, they wandered slowly back towards Cambridge, fingers laced. It was early evening, but the sun still felt high and heavy. Frances would like to have removed her hand from Edwin’s, just for an instant, so she could wipe it. But she couldn’t bear the thought that he might not take it again and she didn’t want to appear rude. Instead, as they approached the cherry tree, she suggested they sit under it for a few minutes. Willingly, Edwin steered her off the path and flattened the long grass thick with meadow-sweet for his fiancé to sit on.

A few punts were making their way languidly along the river and further downstream they could hear the laughter and splashing of bathers. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Edwin staring at the ivory smoothness of Frances’s left wrist and Frances admiring the strength of Edwin’s right calf muscle. Then, at the same moment, they both tilted their heads slightly towards one another and their eyes locked. Edwin gazed at her. How lucky he was to be marrying this stunning girl, he thought for the hundredth time. He had nothing to compare the sensation with that he felt deep in his gut each time they were together, but if this was not love, then what was?

There was something about Frances’s wrists that Edwin found immensely erogenous; they were so delicate and vulnerable and he would have liked nothing more at that moment than to hold his palm beneath their slender weight. Instead, he was horrified to discover that what had begun as the vaguest stirrings of desire, were now strengthening in his groin and tightening against his flannel trousers. Edwin jumped up in alarm and, without being fully in control of his actions, found himself tugging at the buttons of his shirt.
‘Come on, Frances,’ he said, pulling his shirt free and flinging it on the ground. ‘Let’s go for a swim.’
She looked up at him, her violet eyes quizzical and amused.
‘In the Cam?’
‘Of course.’
The thought of jumping into the cold water had made Edwin’s rising lust recede instantaneously, but now that he had made the suggestion, there was no turning back.
‘I can hardly go in my underwear – ’
‘Why not, Fran? There’s nobody around.’
Frances craned her neck up and down the tow path, fringed with ragged willow-herb and foxgloves. He was right – apart from the occasional punt, nobody was about and after all, she was so hot…

Without allowing herself to give it too much thought, Frances stood up and with one swift motion, lifted her bottle green cotton dress over her head and left it lying on Edwin’s discarded shirt and trousers. They had never seen one another in this state of undress before and as Edwin stared at her unbearable beauty, he once more felt himself becoming aroused. Grabbing her hand, he led her down to the river’s edge.

‘Are you ready?’

Frances nodded vaguely. Edwin had never acted so impulsively before and certainly neither had she, but something about this fact made her feel bold and rebellious and she loved him more at that moment than she ever had done. Before she knew it, she found herself suspended momentarily in the air before plunging feet-first into the raw, crisp water. They surfaced, gasping with cold and delight. Weeds wrapped around their legs like firm green fingers and Edwin reached an arm out to help pull Frances free. They exchanged a complicit smile and in silence swam against the current through water lilies with pouting buds sitting atop heart-shaped pads. The water was surprisingly clear and as they moved, they watched fronds swaying under the surface as serenely as ballet dancers. Dragonflies with tails of electric blue darted so close overhead that they could feel their light wings brush against them and the tinny croak of frogs closed in on them from the river bank. After they had been swimming for several minutes, without a word they both turned at the same moment and let themselves be pulled back through the reeds without the slightest exertion. Frances felt like a mermaid. She was weightless, bodyless, the warm air against her face acting as the only contact with the world of physical sensation. Edwin reached out his hand and caught hold of hers and as they looked at one another, they laughed.

This, thought Edwin, is happiness.
This, thought Frances, is the man that I adore. I am going to spend the rest of my life with him.

The boy pulled himself up on to the river bank and shook himself dry in a histrionic manner, rather, thought Frances, like a dog. The gaggle of girls applauded appreciatively and Frances pulled her eyes away from the window back towards her husband. He had noticed none of the scene outside; at least, he had appeared not to and was chewing noisily on his ox tongue. She had little appetite and pushed a morsel of cheese from one end of her plate to the other. Fixing her eyes on Edwin, she willed him to look at her; willed him, for just a moment, to remember that afternoon so long ago and the dappled sunlight and the sharpness of the water against their skin. He seemed to be elsewhere, lost in deep thought. About what, Frances wondered? She kept her gaze on him until eventually he looked at her.
‘Edwin...’ She tailed off.
‘Yes, dear?’
‘Do you…do you remember…?’
Another loud shriek and a splash from outside interrupted her.
‘Do I remember what?’
Frances laid her fork down on the largely uneaten plate of food. ‘Oh, nothing – ’
‘No, do I remember what Frances? Try me. Go on.’
‘No, really. It’s nothing, dear. Nothing at all.’ She took a sip of her water, grimaced and pushed the bottle of sparkling water across the table towards her husband. ‘You know the waiter mixed up our bottles of water?’
Edwin raised an eyebrow. ‘Yes, I had noticed, dear.’ He passed Frances the half drunk bottle of still water. She refilled her glass, leant back, gazed out at the Cam and took another sip.

© Rebecca Stonehill
rnarracott at

Rebecca Stonehill lives near Cambridge, England where she teaches piano, cares for her two young daughters and tries to turn her insomnia into something creative. She dreams of the day when she can devote more time to her passion of writing but in the meantime makes frenetic dives for the laptop when her children take naps. She becomes most inspired to write when she is in motion, whether it is walking or taking a bus.

More life stories


© Hackwriters 1999-2009 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility - no liability accepted by or affiliates.