Encounter with an Animal

By Bert Benmeyer

The moonlit beach warmed her feet with the lingering heat of the day's sun. During the day vacationers had sprawled everywhere, with bodies sun-screened to keep from burning. Some of the women wore sparse bits of string and cloth and basked in the glare of controlled passion. But she would not be the focus of such impotence; she would not swim in the heat of their desire. The dark moonlight was better; she could be alone in the ocean, feeling the water press her body as she challenged its rolling swells, floated in its rhythmic caress.

Her robe fell to the sand; she stood for a moment, legs and arms spread wide so all her flesh could feel the sea breeze stroke her body, then ran to the water like a child to its mother.

She swam hard through the waves; the water gurgled as she drove further out, separating herself from the land; the hotel lights became distant glimmers. Part of her longed to swim to the center of the ocean.

Later she floated, remembered bits of maternal instruction to always look a lady, remembered her discarded lover who complained about her sexual calm, laughed as she washed her body in the ocean's passion, almost removed the bits of string to feel its total embrace.

Afterwards, while she dried herself, before she could scream, a man was on her. His body pressed her down; a hand covered her mouth, the other tore at her scant protection. She bit hard, tasting blood. He jerked his hand back and slapped her, once, twice. She began to lose consciousness . . . he was gone, pulled away as if his weight were of no consequence, like seaweed a friend might brush off her body. She heard a grunt, some scuffling, then nothing but the waves.

"You ok?" It was a man's voice, just loud enough to be heard over the surf.

She ran to the water and scrubbed her body to wash away the violation of her skin. She was grateful that her savior remained distant, giving her freedom to recover herself.

Finally calmer, but not yet calm, she remained ankle-deep in the water, looked toward the beach. Many yards away a man stood over a body. He's naked. Not another one! Goddamn men.

"It's safe. He's dead."

She had never seen a dead person before and could not comprehend his meaning.

"Come out," he called again. "Dry off and get back to the hotel." He picked up the body and dumped it in a pile of boulders off to one side, then returned to sit on his haunches a few yards from her towel. She remained in the water.

"Don't stay there all night," he said. "You're safe with me."

Her feet were cold. The warm breezes chilled her wet body.

He's naked and he just killed a man and he thinks I'm going anywhere near him? He saved me - for himself? All men are animals. I was stupid to come out alone. He's crazy. She tried to speak, but her first few words came gasping out, incomprehensible. I can always get into the ocean. He'd never get me there. Her breathing gradually slowed.

"I don't trust any man right now," she could finally say. "Could you move further away?"

He laughed. "You aren't in heat. I won't touch you." He rose and walked away parallel to the shore, giving her open beach to the hotel. She watched him recede into the darkness until he was barely a gleam in the moonlight.

Out of the water, she ran, the yellow patches of hotel lights on concrete walks a haven of sanity. Then she turned and called to the darkness, "What's your name?" What did I do that for? He's crazy. He saved me.

A gigantic whisper that covered all sound, floated back to her. "I have no name."

There are times when truth is real as a heartbeat, part of a rhythm so obvious it cannot be dismissed. He had rescued her, treated her with respect. He had . . . killed for her. It never occurred to her to doubt him. She was at a loss. Everyone had a name; she was offended that he preferred to remain so aloof from humanity.

"But I want to thank you. How can I do that if you don't have a name? What shall I call you?"

"People have names. I'm not one of them." He came closer, almost to the yellow glow of lights. She would not look directly at him.

Her words were almost stuck in her throat. "You aren't human?" She felt her body shiver, pulled her robe tight, longed to race to the hotel, but stood there, traitorous eyes holding his image, then jerking away, caught between self-betrayal and the eagerness of her desire.

"No. I'm an animal."

She whirled and ran into the hotel, past the night clerk to the safety of her room. A burning hot shower, with jasmine soap rubbed deeply into her skin, finally restored her body, but her mind kept twisting over his image. She wondered why she did not call the police. Later she dreamed of lambs and lions, while in the distance a goddess scowled, melted with gentle pleasure.

In the morning a smile until she remembered the beach. Several times she dialed the police, but each time put the telephone down. She felt a sense of guilt, but did not know her crime. Not calling the police added to her sense of wrongdoing. There was some evil to confess, but she was uncertain what it might be.

Days went by. There was no news of a dead man on the beach. No one on the island was reported missing. There were no police inquiries. The . . . animal . . . had vanished the body, seemingly erased her assailant's existence.

Sometimes she wandered inland to the village, ignored the trinkets pushed at her, absently purchased brown-yellow bananas or green papayas, wandered along the beach, never finding him. Then, finally, one day she saw him in the square playing with children.

His hair and beard were a mass of brown curls. Except for dissolving, cutoff jeans washed almost to whiteness, he was naked. His skin was deeply browned and seemed hot to her, as though if she came close to him, her own skin would burn. She thought of her mother's warnings about too much heat. She wanted to comfort the scars on his chest. While she watched from a shadow, he walked to a stall and took some oranges; no one seemed to notice. The sun made everything glow in its yellow light.

His eyes caught hers; she had not the courage to approach him, turned, walked away.

Again she thought of going to the police, to confess everything to their cool authority, but still could not understand what law she had broken. Not reporting a crime - was that a crime? But not one so terrible as to cause such guilt. And if there were no body, what could she tell them?

After a few more days, the reality of it faded into disbelief that anything so outrageous could have happened. Too much sun had caused a nightmare. She resolved to swim again in the moonlight.

The sand brought back the reality of her danger. She thought to return to the hotel, but heard the thump of the waves, the whoosh of the water returning to the sea. The ocean was safe.

He was waiting when she came out to dry herself. His pubic hair was darker than moon shadows. When she paused at the water's edge, he moved away so that she could dry and robe herself.

Why aren't I scared? I almost get raped and a naked man rescues me, and I feel calm that he's here?

She rubbed herself vigorously, liked the glow it gave to her body, then wrapped the towel around her head. Her terrycloth robe reached her knees.

"Hello," she called out to him. "You still have no name?"

He howled and laughed. Her skin prickled. He did a little dance, and chanted: "People have names. I'm an animal. I don't need one. You're an animal. You don't need one."

"I am not an animal," she snapped back. "I am a person, with a name, and a home, and parents, and a job, and a boyfriend--" (a lie) "--and a place to sleep at night, and . . . and . . . " His grin through his heavy beard forced her to smile, then giggle. "Huh-how, did you get that way?" God, he has me stuttering.

"How? Born that way. You too, but brainwashed. You prefer ugly civilization." He spit, then hunkered down a few yards from her. She sat on the sand, looking out to sea. Her robe protected her buttocks from the grit.

He said, "You want my story? Easy. Born . . . saw killing . . . saw everything become garbage slop . . . civilization stinks." He spat again. "Animals are better than people."

Her voice came out shrilly. "So what do you do? Kill when you feel like it?" What's the matter with me? "Rape? Steal? You don't believe in justice?" Why am I screaming at him? "It's the law of the jungle, and the devil take the hindmost?" In her agitation she turned to him, faced his nakedness, felt her face redden, turned back to the sea.

"That's . . . " He leaped to his feet, howled to the moon, hunkered down again. Her heart thrust in her breast.

"Look!" he said. She shook her head at this demand, stared fixedly across the ocean. Still he continued: "All those things, me - I used to be." His fist pounded the sand. "No animal rapes. We fight for our mates."

He was fighting over me? He thinks I'm his?

"And stealing? That's civilized. Animals take what they need, no more."

The vibrations of his voice stroked her body; its sound was enough to keep her focused on him. Turning to face him, she spoke to keep him speaking. "But how can you live here like this?"

His explanation of how he lived with the villagers, covering himself so that he remained welcome in their presence, seemed obvious. Now she couldn't turn away, eyes gluttonous for the feast of his body.

Then he said, "I saw you in the ocean. You almost . . . but you kept the strings. We are animals, you and me. Run with me. Be naked with me."

She gasped. Her breathing became ragged. He wants me? [Oh God.] Naked? [Oh God, yes.] But that would be wrong. [Do it.] Momma would never understand, but . . .

"Yes, yes, yes," she blurted--What am I saying? I'm going to . . . ?--and waited for his embrace. He howled joy, pleasure--leaped for the moon, danced around her, ran into the darkness.

Later, she lay in bed with images of passion, shuddered, gasped, slept. The angry goddess of her dreams filled her with dread.

The boat that would take her from the island would not be back for a week, but she decided to spend the next day preparing for her departure. What am I doing? I won't be intimidated by that damned animal. He wants me? He's crazier than I thought. What would momma think? She went back to the village square to buy some trinkets for her mother. Perhaps he would be there too, and . . . the hell with him.

The villagers smiled broadly at her. There was a doll she liked, but it showed too much bare skin. Momma doesn't like n . . . naked. She laughed to herself, then felt very sad, as if something were missing. Before she could put the doll down, the old man said, "You like it, Senorita? It is yours, with my greatest compliments." Her protests did no good. He wrapped it in old newspaper and with a slight bow, handed it to her. A woman put some fruit in a little boy's hand and pointed at her. He dashed over, offered it and blurted out, "For you, senorita." She was too delighted to resist.

It was time to leave. As she turned away, a woman came running out of a shop with a package in her arms. "Wait, senorita," she called out, "this is for you, for the wedding." The woman ran up and thrust it at her; reflexively she took it. Ignoring her questions, the woman scurried back to the shop.

At the hotel, the clerk came from behind the counter and handed her the key with a deep bow. "We are pleased that you are our guest, senorita. May your days be filled with loveliness as marvelous as . . . yours." They know that I'm leaving and want me to return . . . my, aren't you a cynical bitch . . . but why else all this special attention? She opened the door . . . reds, yellow, greens, dazzled her eyes, she breathed in aromas, felt them radiate through her body. Flowers, flowers everywhere, in cool white vases, covering every surface, with petals like naked flesh aching to be touched, glowed in the sunlight shining through the windows.

Beautiful. Beautiful. She embraced them, inhaled their fragrances, entwined a yellow one in her hair, danced around the room, felt her body ripple. Incredible . . . but, they can't be for me."

"Who sent these flowers?" she demanded when the clerk answered the telephone.

"Senorita, they are for the wedding. Surely you understand." He hung up.

Who's getting married? There was something nagging at her, but the thought was caught between delight and desperation.

She remembered the strange events in the village square. The package lay on the floor where she had dropped it. Like all village purchases, it was wrapped in newspaper tied with string. It was for the wedding, the woman had said.

Finding some nail clippers, she cut the string and pulled off the paper, tossed it all in a trash can, made sure everything was tidy before examining the contents. She saw pink cloth. It was filled with fragrance even more dazzling than the flowers that continued to glow in the sunlight. Her hands trembled as she unfolded its layers and found a pure white dress, unadorned, of material so thin she could see her fingers through it.

She gently spread it out, then, standing in front of the mirror, draped it over her body. In another moment she was out of her clothes, pulling the dress over her head. It felt like feathers floating down, stroking her as it settled into place. In the mirror she could see the dark of her nipples; the triangular patch of hair between her thighs darkened and lightened as she thrust forward and back. She fell on the bed, hips compressed . . . finally slept.

She was awakened by a light tapping on her door. A message was shoved under it. "Senorita," it said, "The ceremony will be on Sunday. May your children be blessed."

Sunday? But the ship leaves in the morning, after Mass. My children? The ceremony? Oh my God, no. That can't be.

After that, she did not leave her room until the ship arrived. The bellman was confused when she asked for a taxi. The hotel jitneys would be crowded with guests. She didn't want to be near anyone who would talk about how sorry they were to be leaving, about the great bargains they had found, about how they would return the following season.

The taxi went very slowly. The driver kept turning his head to her, but her dark glasses kept them apart. She ignored the distraught villagers gathered near the gangplank. Once on board, she did not leave her cabin until the ship was deep into the center of the empty ocean.

Copyright 2000, Bertram Benmeyer

About the Author

Bertram Benmeyer is a retired clinical psychologist who has taken up writing in the last few years. He has published more than 20 short stories and articles and is currently working on a science fiction novel. He enjoys listening to jazz, blues, classical, and other music.

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