Joining hands, they walked through the arched entryway. Stone covered in ivy. “Like a movie,” Laura said as they passed beneath. Daniel smiled. They entered an open courtyard with a cobblestone floor to which their feet had to adjust after the smooth concrete they had been walking on. People were scattered, also in couples, wandering the courtyard’s perimeter, as if assuring themselves nothing of interest was missed before inevitably making their way to the courtyard’s focal point: a fountain. A few couples, having already completed the process, sat on the edge of the three-foot-tall stone retaining wall that held the pooled water, or stood and admired the statue at the fountain’s center—Poseidon, each of his bare feet planted on the back of a lunging dolphin. The couples were all similar in age—mid to late thirties—Daniel and Laura, the youngest.
From across the courtyard, Daniel stared at the statue, first at the dolphins, then Poseidon. He pulled Laura forward.
“Let’s get in,” Daniel said as they reached the retaining wall. A couple, sitting on the edge nearby who had been talking quietly, both turned and looked.
“In?” Laura asked, letting go of Daniel’s hand.
“Yes,” Daniel said. He began to take off his clothes.
“Why are you doing that?” Laura said.
Daniel did not answer. Soon he was naked. The couple sitting nearby stood and walked away. Another man who had been standing with a woman, admiring the statue, put one hand on the woman’s shoulder and turned her away from Daniel. Daniel extended his right hand toward Laura.
Laura began to undress. A woman somewhere across the courtyard gasped. Another couple left through the stone archway. Once Laura was naked, Daniel said, “Get in.” Daniel got in and sat down in the water. The water came up just above his waist. Laura got in and sat down, facing Daniel.
From his seat in the water, Daniel looked up at the statue of Poseidon, now looming over them. Laura looked up, too.
“It’s so beautiful,” Daniel said.
“Yes, it is,” Laura said.
A man, taller and older than Daniel, walked up to the fountain. He seemed angry. He stood at the edge of the retaining wall and stared at them. Daniel and Laura looked back at the man.
“Excuse me,” the man said.
“Yes?” Daniel said.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“We’re sitting in the fountain,” Laura said. Daniel nodded.
“You’re naked,” the man said.
“Yes,” Daniel and Laura agreed.
The man said nothing. Then he said, “This is a public place.”
The man paused again, then said, “People are trying to enjoy the fountain.”
“We are enjoying the fountain,” Laura said. Daniel nodded.
The man stared at Laura. For a second, he looked down at her breasts, then back up at her face. Somewhere across the courtyard, the woman who had gasped gasped again. The man took a step closer to the retaining wall. Another couple left through the stone archway. The man seemed angry again.
“Listen,” the man said, “You have to get out of this fountain. Get out of the fountain.”
“Why?” Daniel said.
“I’ll make you,” the man said.
“So make me.”
The man stepped back. He stared up at the statue, first at the dolphins, then at Poseidon. His angry look went away.
“We have every right,” Laura said. Daniel nodded.
There were still four couples scattered about the courtyard, all looking toward Daniel, Laura, and the man. The man’s wife stood twenty feet behind the man and to his right, holding her elbows.
The man stopped staring at the statue and turned back to Daniel and Laura. “Well,” he said, “Are you going to do it?”
“Should we?” Laura asked.
“It’s probably only right,” the man said. Behind him, the man’s wife nodded.
“How do you want us to do it?” Daniel asked.
“Have her stand on her hands and knees in the water and get behind her,” the man said.
Daniel had Laura stand on her hands and knees in the water. The man’s wife and the four other couples began to walk toward the fountain. Daniel got behind Laura and began doing it with her. The couples stood at the edge of the fountain, watching. Twice Daniel’s knees slipped and he had to start over. Laura first tried her palms on the floor of the pool, then her forearms, then palms again. The couples moved their heads, straining to see from new and different angles, but didn’t dare move their feet. Daniel stopped slipping, and at once both Daniel and Laura pushed toward one another and began to do it more smoothly. One person took out his phone and took a picture; three others began recording a video. “More splashing,” someone said. Daniel dropped one hand into the water and began splashing Laura.
“Hey, stop splashing,” Laura said.
“They asked for it,” Daniel said.
“It’s okay,” the same person said. “You don’t have to.”
The couples watched silently. Then someone said, “Rub her back.” Daniel began to gently rub Laura’s back as he did it with her. Then he stopped rubbing her back and began to do it faster and faster.
“How does it look?” he shouted. Laura lifted one hand from the water and rested it on the stone dolphin beside her, then gazed up.
“Beautiful,” someone answered. “So beautiful.”
B.H. James‘s novel Parnucklian for Chocolate was a finalist for the 2014 PEN Center USA Literary Award. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha MFA in Writing program and has taught high school English for eight years. He lives in Northern California with his wife and son and two cats: Rooster and Mike Tyson.
Lead image: “Statue of Neptune at the Library of Congress” (via Flickr user Matt Popovich)