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The sea is still.

The vast expanse of it fills half of the horizon. A large motorboat appears from the right and powers diagonally to the left. Two little figures move on its front deck. Very soon it disappears behind the viridian leaves of a tall tree. A solitary boat is left. A fishing boat returning late from the fleet that lit up the horizon last night.

A loud mechanical whirling sound rises all around the timber hut perched on the side of a steep slope. Hundreds of cicada wings are rubbing, the forest of sounds undulating and rise to crescendos, an orchestra of new music.

From the sound of the buzzing music and the shapes of the bright patches on the curtain, Liv knows what time of the morning it is.

The evening cool was so soothing last night. As usual, Liv let the cool night caress her body, bared of all its cares. With the thin mosquito net wafting in the breeze, protecting her from unwelcome pricks of insects sucking her blood, she enjoys her favourite way to be free.

She washed this body well just now. The strong shower, tabbed directly from the waterfall, was clouded from rain washing in mud. But it felt soothing. There was a flabbiness and wrinkles of age now where firm, rounded and tanned flesh used to be not all that many seasons ago.

Then there was again a noise that she had heard before in the roof. It was not the scurrying of feet that the many rats that lived around here made but more like a dragging of something with weight across the thin material of the ceiling.

As Liv laid facing up on the bed, the sound moved to where there was a largish hole in the ceiling. She waited. The night also paused and waited with her.

In the dark cavity, she imagined that she saw a flicker of a tiny red tongue as it felt the air. Soon a nozzle and a large head showed themselves then slid ever so slowly over the gap. The thick trunk of the beautiful body of an obviously large snake was revealed section by section, the white skin underneath shiny and almost wet.

Liv shuddered. She loved all animals but snakes terrified her the most. This particular one now felt so close, as if wrapped around her leg or her loins, a visit of an expected lover. She felt the way its long shape move and could feel it tightening its muscles around her, intrusive, yet strangely protective and reassuring.

Liv had been without that reassurance for some time now. Coming back to this virgin island had been her aim for some years. As she walked to work through a thick soup of snow and wind, through the grey and uncaring streets of her hometown day after day, she often thought of the her first soft summer nights on the beach on Panghan Island, half way around the world.

Often late at night, she would sit by the glowing ambers of her fireplace, looking out to what she could see of the snow outside. In the street light, more snow would fall in a white shower that she loved.

Yet this white world of home was as empty and lonely as it could be. In this bleakness, words from her sister about the Thai hidden hideaway that she had just returned from held promise of at least a temporary escape from this grey routine. As soon as she could save enough, she eagerly handed her money over to the village travel agent.

The tropical night opened its fold of humidity to her. The friendly smiles and laughter of the Thai people came as an unexpected but much-needed bonus. Very soon the hidden beach of the green island clothed with primary forest became a home that she had never known.

Her prince appeared out of the velvety night very soon after her arrival. He was simply the handsomest man that she had ever seen.

He walked in from the darkness of the beach to greet some Western travelling girls at the next table in very good English. The girls were obviously comfortable in the circle of his charm.

Other girls or no, Liv knew immediately that before the night was out, he was going to slip straight into her empty bed and the empty room in her heart. If she played her cards right, she will make him her life companion, father of her children, her most treasured possession, her life, her all, her main reason for living.

As the halcyon days and nights passed, he became more captive in the auburn strands that she was able to gently and seductively twirl around him. There he would be each day, besotted. For her part, Liv had never known such attachment and devotion to a single person.

She loved to watch him rise, pulled on his shorts and stride out to the white beach for his first swim of the day. They shared long morning swims in the cool water of the wine-glass shaped bay , rippling the the surface of a mirror. Their new laughter rose to greet the tiny swifts whirling in the bright sky, then floated further up to the blue beyond.

With great difficulty, and perhaps against her better judgement, Liv was able to persuade Som to return home with her to Germany after her long holiday.

The poor man had never left his village by the placid sea. The long days of the German summer at first suited him. Like home, the forest to one side of her old stone village was green and the river flowed sweetly when they rowed on it. They loved to walk through tracks in the surrounding gold of wheat fields, Stingís song about love in a field of barley, sounding in their ears.

They loved to walk through the ripening heads of wheat to the ruin of a castle on the hill. There they would sit and lean their backs on a wall and watch the long summer evening leave the earth.

Then the cold winds came. She and her prince charming danced in the thickening carpet of gold and red leaves while more floated down from the trees ablaze with autumnís gift.

Then the trees became bare, their dark branches and twigs stark against a cold, grey sky and Somís exuberance shrunk to the same sparseness.

Liv would leave for work with the sorry vision of Som trying to keep warm by the white-frosted window of their living room. With his chilled fingers, he was drawing with sure lines the rich tapestry of foliage of the forest of his island.

When Liv came back from work the picture was finished, each tiny leaf systematically hand-coloured in watercolour the deep hues of greens and blues, vibrant when viewed against the white landscape background outside.

Then through the window she sees him trudging back from his walk, the collar of his jacket turned up and his covered head bent into the jacket as a snow storm gathered in the perfectly dark sky.

She kept his watercolour picture framed and hung near her bed for a long time. Not long after that, it was all that Liv had.

Her Thai love simply was not home when she returned, dispirited and cold, from work one dark night. A short letter arrived much later in early spring to say that he had returned home. It did not ask her to join him there.

Long and tortuous years have passed and Liv does not fully understand why she is now again sitting near the restaurant when she and Som first met.

Like the first time, her man arrives as the socializing warms up, coming to a table full of party-goers. He looks well but has probably had too much to drink.

He holds the hand of a pretty Thai girl who was being pulled along behind. Her beauty is stunning.

Liv makes sure that Som does not see her and slips away quietly herself, walking back in the dark towards her bungalow up near the cliff face.

In that still cool night, all is certain to her, for the very first time in a long time.

The last chapter of a wonderful book is being finished by its author, the only one that she would ever write. It is a love story, the likes of which the world has never seen.

It is the best that she could have managed.

Liv touches the familiar leaves, some dark green, some striated with yellow and red. Flowers are also blooming on this last pathway and she touches them also. A feint perfume from another flower fills the still air. Liv breathes in all in.

Life continues, as vibrant as ever in this part of the world that she would not know.

It is dark in her bungalow. Liv leaves the door open, so that from the bed she can see the vast expanse of sea below her where she also glimpses her wheat fields at dusk.

Liv puts on her favourite dress and wonders whether the cobraís poison would be cold or warm as it enters her blood and how much its fangs will hurt as they pierce her skin.

She hopes that it would be gentle with her. She has done it and its world no harm.

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The following comments are for "Her prince"
by Norachai

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