Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Sunday, 29th April: 1

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Sunday, 29th April: 1

The gothic profile of the Benedictine abbey of Mont St-Michel hove into view on its rocky islet just offshore, where it has parted the incoming tide twice a day for a thousand years. The tide was in ebb now. The sea had relinquished the causeway and reflections of the sun glinted where the vast sand flats were emerging.

She kept on driving, right on past Mont St-Michel. She said one really should see it first from across the bay. She was that kind of woman. You had to experience things just so. At Genêts she parked the car by the shore and, without waiting for me, walked down onto the damp sand. I followed. It was bright and breezy. The sea was a silvery thread far away at the horizon. The abbey of Mont St-Michel was a tiny pyramid etched on the skyline, clinging like a limpet to the coast.

She clutched my wrist and smiled up at me. “Let’s walk.”

“You’re bonkers.”

“I know the way. I spent summer holidays here.”

“What about the car?”

She tugged at my arm, frisking like a puppy straining on a lead. “What about your mortgage and your pension?” She had the impudence of Matty, but with a steely challenge in the eye. A man came down the slope behind us walking an impatient Alsatian. To avoid answering Cordelia, I stood watching him with my hands in my pockets, feeling recalcitrant and foolish.

“Fuck the car,” she urged. “We’ll get a taxi after lunch.”

When the tide is out you can walk from Genêts to Mont-St-Michel across the bay. It is seven kilometres on a south-westerly heading. But you can’t go on a straight heading, because you have to thread your way around stretches of quicksand. Hundreds of pilgrims file across these sands every July. They go with a guide. Depending on the season and the state of the moon you have a time window of four or five hours. And you don’t want to be standing on this isolated below-sea-level plain when the salt water reclaims the bay. The tidal currents between Normandy and Brittany are amongst the most powerful in the world. Every fortnight, at spring tides, the sea rises twelve metres in six hours. It rushes in as fast as a man walks.

The man with the dog nodded as he came past us. He started east along the shoreline. I had seen him somewhere before. He looked a little like Gerald Depardieu. Small world. No, the taxi driver who led me to the Auberge de l’Hermine had a ‘tache. She was waiting. “Come on, where’s your sense of adventure?”

“You’re bonkers,” I said again.

“All right then, couch potato. I’ll see you at the restaurant.” She set off towards the gleaming sliver of sea. I watched her figure grow smaller until she turned, smiling, and thrust her arm up in the air. Something bright dangled from her hand. The car keys.

“Bitch!” I shouted, and trotted after her, wiping my eyes against the watery breeze like a fretful child. She laughed and ran on. When I caught up with her, grappling, she thrust her body against me, her tongue stabbed into my mouth and an expert hand unzipped my trouser flies. Her cold fingers encircled my stirring member.

“Not here,” she breathed in my ear. “There’s a man watching us.” It was the bloke with his dog on the shoreline. She withdrew her hand and we walked towards the rocky islet of Tombelan, now a low mound beached on the flats.

Why did I set out today across an empty, treacherous strand under vacant, windswept skies alone with a murderess? Because I don’t have much more to lose. Only my life, and that has been worn to a barren nub. As Maire used to observe, my trouble is that I don’t have a hobby. Also, the widow of the late Mr Fergusson is a natural temptress. As she trudges through the sand, even her loose anorak, baggy trousers and clumpy boots cannot conceal the bottom swivel in her walk. She turns and waits for me and takes my hand while we walk, then breathes a kiss in my ear. For convenience she has left my flies undone and she slides her hand, warm now, inside again to grasp me. Even at my age, fifty today, I am still being led around by my prick.

“I love your prick,” she said last night. She said it twice again today, the last time just before she left. “This is not personal. Please don’t take it personally. I love your prick. But I can’t spend my life in gaol. I can’t spend one day in gaol. It would drive me out of my mind.” She is, I think, already out of her mind. Because she is not evil. I’m sure of that. She makes love to her fellow man with joy and generosity. She swallows him whole, then craves a sweetie of another flavour. She is mad with a deadly life force.

She went back the way we had come. From where I lay, trussed up against the wreck of the boat, I could not follow her with my eyes, but I heard the crunch of her footsteps in the sand, still not dry from the last tide and now awaiting the next. And in my head I saw her buttocks swivel as she walked.

How did I let her loop that wire around my neck? Because I had no reason to suspect menace. I thought she might be falling in love with me. I had not told her that the first time I had seen her luscious tattooed bum was from above in a balloon while she was pumping upon the late Mr Fergusson. Someone else must have told her I had seen her. But who? Eddy? Dinny? How? She would have kept well away from Westowe thereafter.

So I was unguarded. When we sheltered from the wind in the lee of the hulk of the small boat with its faded harlequin colours and she said “I love your prick” and eased my trousers down and took it out — it rising reluctant to the challenge now in the brisk wind, and she sat on it, and then told me to sit up a little, against the boat, I was just hoping to be able to please her. And then the wire burned against my throat like a knife blade. I coughed and at each gasp it burned harder, choking, while she got up and pulled up her trousers, leaving me unzipped, brave Roger still nodding between my legs, a frog fornicating with its head cut off.

She backed well away from me, wary now. My fingers eased the double loop of wire a little and my coughing fit subsided. When she spoke to me for the last time — her “nothing personal” valediction — she did not look at me but at the horizon. Then she just left, walking fast because the tide was on the turn.

It is almost noon. High tide will be around five p.m. I shall lie twelve metres under the sea long before then. Six-fathom deep. I am privileged. Like someone on Death Row, I know almost precisely when I shall die. Except on Death Row, even the guilty sometimes get a reprieve.

Guilt. The heavens are heavy with it. The grey, swollen bellies of gloomy clouds press me down into the sand. I lie immobilised, Christ-like, waiting for death. Not uplifted on a crucifix. My arms are not spread in benediction, but elbowed above my shoulders, undignified, aching. The insides of my fingers are raw and bleeding from keeping tension against the steel wire twice looped around my throat. It is fastened through an iron eyebolt in the hulk of the wooden boat which, like me, has come to its last resting place. With some pain, by twisting my head round, out of the corner of my eye I can see the black combination lock at the end of the wire jammed against the eyebolt. If I could saw the wire through my chin and let it fall off I would be free in an instant.

That man, Christ, knew guilt, too. He died for other people’s sins. So guilt is universal. Even if you didn’t do it, you’re to blame. Because we’re in this scenario together. All part of the same human organism. Or maybe I did do it and I’m in denial. We live by illusions.

I wait for the tide to creep in. The sun glitters briefly through a silvery bank of cloud. A fresh April wind sweeps the shore. Mingled with the salty taste of the sea wrack it carries just the faintest sweetness of spring. I feel a familiar stab of hunger. I should be sitting comfortably at a snug table in Le Pré-Salé restaurant over a fine lunch of roast spring lamb and a fragrant bottle of Beaune. My stomach doesn’t yet know there is no need of further meals. The sound of the waves is closer. I start to shiver. A gull shrieks, wheels about the departing disc of sun and flies due north to England. If it keeps going it will soon gaze down upon the Westowe estuary. Long before then I shall be drowned.

It is damned uncomfortable and now I just want to get it over with. I have no home. My friends have abandoned me. Or are dead. They have taken my memories with them. It is time to take my bow. And to the question ‘what was it all about?’ there is no answer.

The Great God Random knows none of this. He whittles. His sharp stone chips rain down everywhere. Chance and coincidence conflict our lives. He has no purpose. It’s just a pastime. He fashions a stone sliver, and when he is tired of it he flings it down. Upon us. Because this event has a rough shape, it seems designed or ironically intended, and is known as shafting.

Prometheus is bound and there is no helpful Hercules waiting in the wings. Tomorrow, the gulls will peck at my liver. If there is a God, even an ancient Greek god, now’s the time for him to turn up.

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