It was enough that she had seen Mr Edgar dress incognito, as though as a result of secret circumstances, hire a boy to push his suitcase on a trolley, and greet two untrustworthy people like old friends. She had been fascinated. And since everyone she, Dolores, was fascinated by in this particular way turned out to be rotten to the core, she avoided his welcome party at the port.
That morning she stayed in her kitchen, watching the ice being broken up by a ship in the sea. Her restaurant, a reliable antidepressant, would be full again at dinner. She decided not to ask about the writer moving onto the island that imposed itself across the water. She could read his books instead.
His subject was women: girlfriends and what would happen to them. He concentrated deeply on people and liked to think that after several hours he saw into them. Fate . . . Mr Edgar believed in it. His girlfriends got louder and louder, closer and closer, in growing need of his interpretation. Mr Edgar always found explanations, paths arcing out, down which he could exit arm-in-arm with his reader.
That he was a classic case of what she found intolerable did not make her less hungry; the opposite. By March she had started on his newspaper columns, guessing at the cover-ups piling up sentence over sentence. She imagined him composing them on cliff tops, staring as banks of water pulled pools out of dark caves and helped them back into the fold.
She abhorred him, felt distant but obsessed, was ashamed that he had caught her in his distortions.
In other words it came as a relief when spring arrived and she read in the paper that Mr Edgar had died.
That must have been the reason that she fell asleep on the chair by the open kitchen door in the mid-afternoon, tired and comfortable from all the salt she had eaten. Vaguely she heard a chicken facing away from her beginning to correspond with a smaller chicken across her plot. And, deeper in the port, a woman was speaking, a knitting process in which letters were picked and drawn out of loops of sound, detaching in part and rejoining, like a sort of memory.
It was Mr Edgar’s mother, Judy, who woke her from the chair. There was only one room upstairs besides hers, so any guest, Dolores explained to Judy, walked up and down the same corridor she did and shared her bathroom, if they couldn’t wash using the bedroom sink.
A surprise came when Dolores showed Judy the room and Judy leaned forward and touched Dolores’ forehead with her own, as though to give her confidence. Dolores was startled at the lengths by which she must have fallen short in order to draw this encouragement from her. In the night, she dreamt that she had invaded Judy Edgar’s house and was standing in the dining room, with Mr Edgar’s voice calling her name down the stairwell.
The second afternoon, after the funeral and before she opened for dinner, Dolores let Judy order wine, wine, house steak with cream, and bread to mop up the sauce, alone in the empty restaurant. As a baby, Mr Edgar had been precious and delicate and characterful in ways that were hard to summarise at the time and were only laid bare in retrospect, Judy began, eating as though she was building herself up.
And though he grew and moved into the world, there were thoughts Judy continued to avoid tying together, she said, thoughts that occurred to her first daily, then hourly, images of her son’s guilty moments, or perhaps they were not so much evidence of his guilt as of her capacity to hold on to loose threads.
She’d broached them with him once. ‘I couldn’t tell you how our disagreement went except that afterward he remembered everything,’ Judy said. His hindsight was increasingly punitive, and the volume of gossip he started about her was redoubtable. It was making her ill not to intervene, yet, prodigiously, she still wanted to spare him pain.
Judy looked suddenly anxious, and explained that it was like a conspiracy – Dolores, the wine, the heat in the restaurant – and that she worried that she was becoming divorced from reality, talking like this.
Dolores suggested Judy come into the kitchen while she prepared to open for dinner, and sat Judy at the table, facing the open door and the port. Behind them a vat of water convulsed, steam writhing above it, hills of foam pushing and sliding across onto the floor.
There was a time when her son might have liked to modify his behaviour, Judy said, as Dolores provided a bucket, but then it was too late. He passed thirty. He could no longer help. He needed her to understand this was how it was and forgive him—he worked within the realm of the possible, which was to say, the comfortable. So once that was decided there were a number of memories Judy had either rearranged or disposed of. It was too late to get those back. The window was cemented in. All she could do was proceed with precision and try to wrap up her own life in an efficient way.
Judy said she was making an effort to orient herself in the direction friends had suggested, toward accommodation. She was trying to look ahead into the years, and it was a blur, but she felt there was a peaceful stillness out there, and some rippling event, so different to her current situation that it was impossible to name.
She would need to lie down. She took the stairs slowly, and Dolores stepped outside to catch a sea that was just tiptoeing around, lighter even than the sky.
Painting by Claude Monet,‘Breakup of Ice, Lavacourt, Grey Weather, 1880’