It may be the dog days of summer in Sicily, but there are still beach days to be had. A pair of sisters (cousins?) sit on a rock, reading. One, as brown and flat-chested as her cousin (sister?) is pale and ample-bosomed, mutters the words silently as she reads, her lips moving constantly as her eyes fly down the page.
“Elisabetta!” There’s a shout from a middle-aged woman a few rocks away. The pale cousin looks up enquiringly. The middle-aged woman juts her chin towards the girl’s book. “Cosa leggi?” What are you reading? The pale girl, in answer, holds up the book so her aunt (mother?) can see the cover. Her mouth – immobile while her cousin’s moves apace, but with the same rosebud shape – makes a little moue towards her tormentor, and she raises a cool eyebrow. Happy? Her aunt nods. There’s a pause; Elisabetta returns to the words on the page.
However … “Is it good?” blurts her aunt. Elisabetta, her patience waning, nods with a tight smile, itching to be left alone to get back to reading but too polite to say so. She’s not off the hook yet. Her aunt has packed her beach bag, ready to leave, and calls her goodbyes across the rocks. Elisabetta starts to get up, but her aunt bats the idea aside. “Nonono! You stay right there! It’s fine – we’ll see you later …” Elisabetta, knowing better than to take this at face value, wags templed fingers up and down in front of her midsection, in the universal Sicilian sign language for ‘what, are you crazy?!’ and her tormentor stops her halfhearted protests. She kisses her niece extravagantly goodbye, and waves to her daughter, who – presumably by dint of being a closer relation – is getting away with being far less dutiful than poor Elisabetta. “See you later, yes? Yes. Bye for now …”
A conspiratorial, long-suffering look passes between the two girls as they watch their relative chattering her way across the rocks, calling goodbyes to everyone she knows – which seems to be most people. Finally she’s away. Peace at last.
The tow-headed toddler across the way is a classic second child, with a strong streak of bullheaded independence, backed up by a more relaxed parenting style than her older sister probably received. While Mum unpacks the bag of beach paraphernalia, therefore, child two is hauling the straps of her vest top down over her shoulders in a clumsy attempt to undress herself. Her movements aren’t quite coordinated enough to manage it, however; she gets it stuck at waist level, tangled with her shorts, her arms trapped inside both. She pushes outwards, against the stretchy material, determined that she’s going to get out of it somehow. Mum finally notices what’s going on. “Wait! Come here …” She pulls her daughter closer and with a quick, practised movement, hauls the vest top up and over the little girl’s unprotesting head before turning back to her giant beach bag.
Free of her impeding top, daughter now starts battle with her shorts. She tugs at the front waistband, but fails to realise that the back is hooked over the bulk of her nappy. She crouches, presumably to get the shorts closer to the ground which – in toddler logic – should mean that they come off more easily. Mum, seeing what she’s up to, scoops her up and removes both shorts and nappy, replacing them with a pair of pink baby swimming pants.
Kiddo is all set; she starts to stagger, gung-ho, towards the water. “Hold up!” Dad realises what she’s up to and grabs her arm, stopping her in her tracks, before plonking her down onto her bottom. Holding on tight to make sure she doesn’t escape, he hauls an armband over first one small arm, then the other. “OK, let’s go …” He swings her up onto his hip and – at last! – she’s seaworthy. Let babbling, watery joy commence.