Awoke to the deafening sound of the ducks, having a huge row down on the pond, which is wide and deep and fringed with bulrushes. I’m here for a week, with the Daves, and three friends, all women, and their children. I bask in the sun, wondering if my novel will ever get published. Sarah, one of the women here, is reading it, on her Kindle, and I keep wanting to ask her what she thinks of it.
I wander indoors. The house is old from the outside, but inside it’s 80s monochrome, with glittery embellishments. I come across the Daves basking on the enormous black velvet sofa, watching the Commonwealth Games. They remind me of Jonah and Raff, my fictional brothers in She’s Not There, watching the cricket and wondering where their mother has gone.
Then, in the black and white gloom, I come across a small book. More or a pamphlet, really: a history of the village by Doris E Coates. It starts with the pond:
For over a thousand years the presence of pure water has encouraged settlement at this spot.
Two Neolithic polished flint axes were found here in 1950. The church was built seven centuries ago. Much of the village history is “shrouded in mystery”. No record has been found of a mill on Mill Road, nor of a gibbet on Gibbet Lane.
Then, on page 28:
The pond was a scene of tragedy in 1929, when three young brothers were playing on the ice, which was thawing. John Howlett fell through the ice, and his two brothers tried to rescue him, but fell through also. John managed to scramble to safety, but Frederick (aged 13 years) and Walter (aged 8) were both drowned.
To have been John, the survivor. How did he live on, without his brothers? Did he manage to fall in love, marry, have children of his own?
Last night we reminisced about a long-ago holiday in Cornwall, at a place called Prussia Cove. “You should write about it!” said Lisa. I start thinking about Prussia Cove. I went there a few times. Nearly always midwinter, wet and blustery, the sea a rolling, icy cauldron. Trudging along the cliffs, behind the man who didn’t love me. One afternoon we were returning towards our tumbledown cottage, when we came across a knot of people, all looking down at something basking in the small bay below. A seal? As we joined them the helicopter arrived. A black rubber man descended on a rope, and lifted the shape from the water. It was a woman. He put her over his shoulder and started back up the rope. There was a gust of wind, and the helicopter rose, and they swung towards us. Her nylon tights, which she was wearing under her jeans, drooped down away from her feet. Then I saw her face, grey and sunken. She had slipped from his shoulder. The way he held her as they swung.
We drove to Penzance to buy her flowers, a bunch of tiny, multi-coloured freesias. We had dinner in the big house, with his sister and brother-in-law and their friends. We played a game called Know Your Partner. Like Mr and Mrs, that 70s TV show, you got points for writing down the same answer as your husband/wife. It was drunken and hilarious, and we actually won the game. Clutching the flowers we staggered out into the raging elements.
Back along the cliff top, then down the winding path and over the rocks towards the noisy, seething water. We had a torch between us. The rocks were slippy and the waves kept crashing over them. We both dropped to all fours. J shone the torch towards the water – and we gasped.
The beam had landed on a figure, very small, maybe eight inches tall. He was standing right on the edge of the furthest rock, and the waves kept nearly taking him. He had a long red beard, and the gnarliest face, from which his two eyes gazed back at us, unblinking in the torchlight.
We lay flat on our stomachs, our hearts racing. He couldn’t be real. And yet. After a while I dared to edge closer. The pointy wizard watched me, but stayed still. I pushed up onto my knees and threw the flowers into the black water. They bobbed away in the torchlight, bright as sweets.
Doris E Coates was born in the North Derbyshire village of Eyan in 1908. So she was 21 when those two brothers drowned. A teacher, she retired in 1972 as Senior Mistress of a Secondary Modern. She wrote other books, including: Tuppenny Rice and Treacle – Cottage Hoousekeeping 1901-1920 (David and Charles).
The pointy wizard turned out to be a hook for mooring boats, with various types of rope wound round it. I don’t see the hook, though, when I remember. I see the unblinking gaze of the wizened face of the pointy wizard.