The first kiss is a giraffe doing headstands: it’s not meant to happen. But it does happen and in full view of the window behind which his wife may or may not be waiting. It is dark by the garden pond so she won’t have seen. It’s a mess of a kiss, really – they don’t know the wherefore of each other’s mouth. Yet. That comes later; in swimming pools and on beaches, snug behind rocks so as not to be seen.
He takes a sick day from the factory and drives to the coast. She meets him at the inlet, where the smell of salt-sea rime is highest. He is getting used to hefting her from water to land and back again; it is of no consequence to him that she can’t walk. Bending down, he goes to lift her from the sea.
‘No,’ she says, ‘you come to me.’
He strips off in the cold, wet morning, folds his clothes and leaves them in a clump of marram. The water is startling; it burns him. He holds her rump; she presses her breasts to his chest. The air around them fizzes. All he wants to do is grasp and knead her.
‘You’re so beautiful,’ he whispers, into the shell of her ear.
‘Vanity is what we are known for,’ she says. ‘You picture us playing with pearl-strings and combing our hair; flicking our tails to entice landmen. Pretty idlers.’
‘You’ve enticed me.’
‘I have beauty, but I work too: I lead the whale to plankton; I calm the waters for boats; I sing to warn the sailor of storms.’
He fingers the join of skin and scale; pushes himself against her. She bobs on the waves, holding him close. Shoving his toes downwards, he flails his legs when he finds the sand is no longer there. He flicks his head around – the shore is far behind.
‘We should go back now,’ he says. ‘I’d like to go back.’
But she is gone from his arms and all he can see is the dark pelt of a seal, darting through the water below his feet.