A shrill whistle pierced the air. Marita peered into the scrub grass higher up the cliff where the partly formed track was now overgrown. Nobody was likely to be up there. Nobody in their right mind anyway. The whistle must have been an echo from the beach area past the yacht club. She ran her fingers through her hair. Thank goodness Lynn had cut it before the hot weather arrived. She continued dipping her feet into the cool salt water. What did she have to look forward to in the year ahead? God, she was almost 40. There was a movement in the bushes above. Was someone up there? She'd been stupid to come to such an isolated spot. She jumped to her feet and grabbed her sandals. A pebble tumbled down from the rock face above, gathering speed as it spun through the marram grass. Now she knew definitely that someone was in the scrub above. Before she had time to panic, the bushes above her parted and Wayne Withers slid down the steep slope, through the bracken fern.
"Oh, it's you, Wayne. What on earth were you doing up there? You gave me a heck of a fright."
He stood on the rock above her, gazing down, with a cheeky expression on his face. He always grinned like that when he did the mail deliveries. She often wondered, as she gave him his monthly trim, if he ever had any stress in his life. It certainly didn't appear so.
"Sorry about that, Marita," but he said it quickly, and she knew he didn't mean it. "I just wanted a bit of fun. I saw you making your way around the rocks. I couldn't resist climbing down from the top."
"Idiot! You could have slipped and killed yourself, apart from scaring the daylights out of me. You must have better things to do on Christmas night."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Not really. It's been a quiet day. Just Mum and me."
"You're lucky. I've had a whole day of my brother's kids and their cranky parents. This is the last time I'm spending a Christmas Day like that. I'll make my own plans next year." She knew she sounded mean spirited but it was all true, and why should she try to glamorize something that had been so foul?
"So it hasn't been a happy Christmas?"
She screwed up her nose.
He had the tact not to continue, but instead said, "Will I see you on Wednesday at tennis?"
"Can't wait. I love seeing you racing round the court."
"What do you mean? Racing round the court?"
"Don't have me on, Marita. You know perfectly well what I mean."
A hot flush started around her neck, then crept over her ribs and chest and right down to where she shouldn't have been blushing at all. Funny that Wayne could have that effect on her, despite about a twelve year age difference.
He was snickering as he started back over the rocks towards the yacht club. When he was out of sight, Marita wiggled her fingers under the bottom of her vest and held it forward to allow some air to circulate. Then she stepped over the rocks back to the well-lit part of the beach, and put her sandals on.
"Damn these," she said to herself, as she picked her way along the beach wall. One of her heels wedged into a crack between the paving stones. She leaned forward and wiggled it free. Then she wiped the shoe against the side of her shorts to remove the grit and put it back on. She reached the firm ground near the pavilion, but was conscious of the pit marks behind her on the grass. She looked around. Whew! Peter Maxwell wasn't nearby. He didn't ever miss much on his precious beach. He'd have used his overbearing manner to point out the holes, then lectured her about the damage she was doing to his beloved lawn. The beach was his empire. He lived in a small world.
Marita stood at the entrance of the pavilion, looking out to the open bay past the yacht club. Botham's Beach was a beautiful area when the tide was high as it was tonight. Half way up the hill on the other side of the bay, Christmas lights were flashing from the balcony of the Todds' house. In the distance were two figures almost silhouetted in the fading light as the shadow enveloped their house. They stood close together and Marita envisaged Stan Todd's arm around Betty's waist. She liked the Todds. Stan would probably be in his late 50s, with his thinning grey hair. He was often unshaven when he came for his regular hair trims, but now he had retired, he'd told her that the daily shave was a chore he liked to avoid. Marita made a waving gesture just in case they could see her from that distance. As they turned to go inside, Stan's limp was clearly visible.
Marita sat on the wooden ledge inside the pavilion and her thoughts returned to herself. The only male interest in her life for months, or for at least two years, was the wolf whistle from Wayne Withers, of all people. What had gone so wrong, that she had allowed someone young like Wayne to flirt with her?
The heat of the day was still hanging heavily in the air. No-one was around so she wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, then slipped her fingers inside the top of her shirt and lifted the straps of her bra away from her skin. She could feel the indentation on her shoulders where the weight of her breasts had caused the straps to press into her flesh. She must lose some weight. That would be her New Year's resolution. She'd caught sight of herself earlier in the day as she stepped out of the shower. She really wasn't such a bad shape, except for her bust. One of these days she'd find a rich man and have that breast reduction operation. But no good dreaming. The suitable guys had been grabbed already, and even the recycled ones wasted no time getting into new partnerships. She was stuck with the shape she had, unless she did something about it herself, and she'd probably be stuck with her single status as well. Damn! She rather fancied having a man in her life.
Sheree Knight came along the beach path in a tight red tank top, close-fitting white shorts and bare feet. Her husband Rod and his two boys were with her. Marita watched Oliver and Cole as they came closer. They were riding brightly colored bicycles and wearing Christmas hats with flashing lights on the ends of the tassels. The younger one skidded across the grass and almost overbalanced, then regained control, right by where Marita was sitting. She was about to clap her approval when an irritable warning came from Rod Knight.
"Watch out. It's getting dark. You'll knock someone over if you go crazy like that. You haven't yet got a light on that thing. Be careful."
"It's all right, Dad."
"It's not all right. You think you know everything. You're only ten. Remember that." Rod's voice was sharp, authoritative and loud, not the voice of a loving father.
Sheree put her arm around Rod, and said, "Get off their backs, Rodney."
She'd told Marita once that she called her husband Rodney when he was boring. He must be a real pain now with his nagging at the children, Marita thought. On Christmas Day of all times!
"Blame that stupid mother of theirs. She spoils them. Always gives them lots of showy gifts, then we get stuck with them for the next fortnight."
"I know it's not fair, but the boys don't bug me too much and I'm the one minding them while the factory's closed." Sheree reached into her pocket and took out her cigarettes, then sat on the sea wall, dangling her feet towards the tide.
Rod was guiding the boys and their bicycles back towards the parking bay, so Marita moved closer towards Sheree, then sat beside her on the wall.
"I've got to be careful with my cigarette butt since he took over the job." Sheree looked upwards to the house on the rise above. "I don't want him screaming at me."
"No, you can't leave rubbish on his precious beach. Even a match will get you a reprimand." Marita was aware of her scornful giggle.
"Anyway, Happy Christmas, Marita. Did everything go well?"
"Not really. In fact, if I'm honest, I'd have to admit that the whole day was a disaster. I was with my brother and his family, and that's not easy, even at the best of times. What about you?" She wished she could have retracted her words. The situation was perfectly obvious without rubbing it in further.
Sheree forced a smile. "I'll be honest too. I was hoping to get some time with Rod on my own, but it didn't happen."
"You might be able to get some time when the boys go back to their mother."
"I hope so, but Rod has a busy life and I'm actually looking forward now to getting back to the factory. I'd die if I didn't have my work. He keeps on at me to give it up, but I couldn't do that."
"What would you do all day, if you didn't work? Why would he want you to stop?"
"It's the thought of his wife working in a biscuit factory. He's a snob from way back."
"But you're one of the supervisors."
"I know." Sheree shrugged her shoulders and laughed.
"You're a real character, Sheree. No snobbery about you."
Sheree jumped up, put her cigarette butt into the bin, and with a sort of wavelike salute, and "See ya," headed back across the grass towards the parking bay. She gave a small skip as she came close to Rod, then put her hand into his. He reached across and kissed the side of her face.
Several more people appeared on the grassed area of the beach. The sun continued to sink and the heat dissipated slightly. Audrey Johnson arrived alone, and walked past Marita, her head drooping, as if she were unaware of anyone else around. This was her first Christmas without Trevor. She'd been through a bad spell. There would've been an empty place at the dinner table. Christmas Day must have been awful for her.
Harry Stevens and his wife Enid stopped their car and without waiting for him, she flung open the door and strode out towards the yacht club. Harry followed a few paces behind. What would their Christmas day have been like? Unlikely to have been a source of pleasure.
Louie from the fish and chip shop and his wife followed closely behind. He greeted Marita from a few meters away with a full blown smile. Dear, hardworking Louie. Always cheerful. But his wife, taller than he, looked thoroughly disgruntled. Marita had never met her, but she'd seen her at times in the shop. They appeared to be an ill matched pair. Had anyone, anywhere, had a pleasant Christmas day?
She'd only taken a few steps onto the winding road to the top of the hill, when there was another wolf whistle. Marita swung around. That would be Wayne again. He should have more to do with his time. Any moment he'd emerge from behind one of the pohutukawa trees. She'd let him know what a pest he was, and besides, wolf whistles went out of fashion years ago.
She turned and saw that Wayne was looking towards Sheree and had raised both thumbs into the air. Rod Knight, who was in the process of putting the boys' bikes into their station wagon, stopped what he was doing, and shook an exaggerated clenched fist in Wayne's direction. They were all laughing.
Marita walked purposefully to her home above the hairdressing salon. She felt so miffed that she didn't even notice the steep climb up the hill. Wayne Withers, so fickle! And to think he'd been the one bright spot in her day.