The Massage

by Sue du Feu

She watched idly as the masseuse got to work on a youngish, evenly tanned woman who was occupying the sunbed next to hers on the packed beach. A woman who saw the sun for five minutes and went brown without effort. She looked at the mottled areas of her own body with envy and recalled that her half- Italian husband’s skin also had wonderful tanning properties. He had always made fun of her when his legs bronzed by the second day of any holiday in the sun, while hers remained stubbornly purple, due, he sneered, to her bad circulation.

The little army of Asian massage ladies marched onto the beach every day wearing white blouses, black capri pants and sunhats. They chattered and smiled and cajoled prone, submissive sunbathers into rolling over for a back and shoulder massage. In ten winters here, she had never had a massage. Her husband had always waved them away, like he waved away the beach throw and sunglass sellers. She felt odd being in this familiar place without him, making her own decisions without incurring his disapproving glares. She continued to watch the lady’s hands as she firmly kneaded the woman’s shoulders and back. The woman relaxed under the pressure and after a few minutes appeared to drift off to sleep.

The masseuse looked up, caught her eye and smiled. Before she could stop herself, she smiled back. Oh Lord, what did that mean, she wondered. Had she committed herself to a massage by smiling? Don would have been furious that she had encouraged one of them. She looked at the cellulite in her legs and arms. She couldn’t do it, too embarrassing. But what would she say to the lady, how would she refuse?

She squirmed and turned back to her book, wondering how to get out of the situation she perceived herself to be in. She took a sip of her wine and closed her eyes. Perhaps Don had been right all those years. Maybe she shouldn’t be left on her own, because, as he said, she was too foolish. He had made all decisions large and small for the last thirty-five years, which she had accepted because it was better than Don in a stroppy mood, sulking for days.

She glanced apprehensively from behind sunglasses as the masseuse picked up her bag and, after a moment’s hesitation, moved to a very large man a few sunbeds down. He rolled over with difficulty at her approach, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Relief, she realised, more than tinged with disappointment. As she watched, the masseuse poured oil on the man’s huge back, glancing up at her as she did so. On impulse, she raised her hand to the lady. ‘Me next, please’, she said, as it dawned on her that it didn’t matter what Don would have thought. Those days were over.