A Storyby James Jung
On the last day of their honeymoon, the newlyweds drove to the one beach they’d yet to visit on the island. They were on Ibiza, the small Spanish island famous for its nightlife. The main town had a cluster of clubs where DJs presided over hedonistic dance parties that drew revelers from all over Europe. The newlyweds had come to relax. They stayed at a secluded resort on the island’s quiet northern side, where the dramatic coast crumbled into the green-blue Mediterranean in a series of cliffs, small coves, and rock spires that cut through the water like fangs barbing an underbite. The interior of the island was unremarkable, a flat, Midwestern plain of arid olive farms and whitewashed towns with four-corner stop signs and empty plazas.
Before reaching the beach, the newlyweds stopped in one of those towns to pick up sandwiches and sodas—two jamón Ibéricos and two small glass bottles of Diet Coke, or Coca Light, as they called it in Europe.
“Here it is,” his wife said when they were back in their rental car, a squat Fiat whose manual transmission the husband still hadn’t mastered. His wife sat in the passenger seat and was pointing to the top left corner of a map she had unfolded in her lap. Her leather Jesus sandals were tucked up under the jean cutoffs she wore over her candy-cane-striped bikini. “They say it’s the most scenic beach here,” she said. “There’s a rock formation offshore that’s magical at sunset.”
“We’ll be gone by sunset,” her husband said.
“I know, but still . . .” She turned the radio on and found a dance-music station. Every station here played dance music. They called it Balearic house, a breezy subgenre full of Latin drumbeats and silky disco samples. A song came on they’d been hearing all over during their trip. “Baby, don’t go,” the female vocalist sang, over and over again in a filtered, robotic-sounding refrain. It’d become the anthem of their honeymoon. His wife—it was still strange to think of her as that—sang along to it in the car. She rolled down her window and undulated her hand through the warm late-August air as if it were bobbing on a rhythmic sea, and her dark-brown hair flew upward and danced as if electrified. Her husband smiled at her and thought he didn’t want to leave this place, he didn’t want to go home.
The beach had been her idea. They had nine hours to kill between checkout from the resort and their flight back to New York, and she thought it would be a nice way to cap the two weeks they’d spent traveling as newlyweds through southern France and Spain. This was their last time together before real life started, she would say, teasing him with a smile. When she did this, her one slightly crooked tooth—the jagged little canine—would catch on her plump bottom lip in that way that had always excited him when they’d first met.
In the weeks prior to the honeymoon, he’d been worried about how he’d respond to her on this trip. How much sex would be expected, and could he muster the enthusiasm? They’d been dating for a long time, close to ten years, and living together—unbeknownst to her doting father—for five of those years, so this trip lacked the new excitement that a couple in another era might have enjoyed. But sex hadn’t been a problem. At least, not once they’d left the States and their families behind.
Their wedding had taken place in northern Connecticut in a pear orchard that belonged to his wife’s parents. His wife had planned the wedding down to the last detail, which happened to be personalized jars of strawberry jam that she and her mother had made for each of the 227 guests. During the reception his wife had become obsessed with the necessity of consummating their marriage later that night.
“We have to,” she’d say to him during fleeting moments of the wedding itself, between smiling for photos, between shaking elderly relatives’ hands, between taking bites of cake. “I don’t care how tired we are. I’m not not having sex on my wedding night.”
And they did have sex that night in the airy bridal suite of a red-brick boutique hotel in her small hometown. Or at least they tried. In her wedding dress she’d looked ravishing, which wasn’t a word he’d readily summon, at least not without the requisite amount of irony, but that evening it was true, irrefutably so. Her dark-brown hair curled and spilled over her naked shoulders, and her exposed back seemed both delicate and muscular, toned and sculpted to matrimonial perfection, thanks to four months of fitness classes.
“I’ll never look as good as I do tonight,” she repeatedly reminded him, right up to the moment he entered her, the bright lights of the suite on and their clothes strewn on the floor and chairs: his faintly pinstriped charcoal suit and floral tie; her light-blue heels and cream wedding dress with the fitted bodice. The one she’d told him had inspired tears from her sisters and mother when she’d tried it on and stood before them on a pedestal in Bergdorf three months before the wedding.
They gave the sex up after some twenty minutes because he failed to finish.
“I drank too much,” he told his wife sheepishly, which was true. After all the older guests had left the reception to take the first bus back to the hotel, he’d hit the bar with his college friends, guzzling light beers, obliging with the occasional tequila shot, even sneaking a cigarette in the darkness outside the white wedding tent, where the knotted pear trees hunched under a black sky perforated by stars. What he didn’t tell her was how, lying there in that vaulted penthouse suite, he couldn’t stop thinking about how her three older sisters—three loud, raven-haired girls he sometimes joked were like the wicked stepsisters in Cinderella—had also consummated their marriages there, right there in that very same bed.
“I’m sorry,” was all he said.
Instead of rolling her eyes, she smiled understandingly and hugged him. “It’s okay, we have the next two weeks to finish.”