MUST PADDINGTON-THE-SPECTACLED-BEAR-DOG BE CONDEMNED TO LIFE ON A CHAIN?

Someone called by to report that the little dog that we found wandering in the fields three days ago is owned by a local farmer, Elias. For the sake of neighbourly relations – and Elias is a friendly fellow – we felt that we should return the puppy to its rightful owner. Elias was glad to see the dog again – he’d only had it for one day before it slipped its collar and went missing. He tied ‘Paddy’ up on the balcony once again; I handed over the bed Paddy had slept on at our house, the bag of special puppy food and anti-tick spray we’d bought. And left. Later, I cried a bit for the loss of Paddy’s life with us and ours with him. But pragmatically packed away the dog nappies, put back all the rugs we’d taken up because Paddy thought their purpose was for peeing on, and put the little dog out of my mind. Tavli was hugely relieved to be Top and Only, ‘Our Dog’ again.
 Late that night as we were watching the next episode of the latest boxed set drama, there was a commotion at the balcony door, and a little spectacled face appeared.
“Let me in, let me in!”
We opened the door and the little furry spectacled-bear-dog threw himself at us in a frenzy of yelps, licks and whimpers. This wee dog, so new to the outside world that he jumps at every new noise, had chewed through his tether on Elias’ balcony, and in the dead of night, come to the home he wanted.  He’d sloped past cows as big as houses, crossed big fields thick with giant thistles, and found his way down a dark lane alive with wind-blown shadows and the strange noises of the night.

Ti na kanoume? (what can we do now?) – the little dog has chosen to be with us. Can we negotiate with Elias, or should we return him to life on a chain? I put the debate on Facebook; Paddy now has 70 followers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local farmer Elias ties up his new puppy on the balcony of his house.

Local farmer Elias ties up his new puppy on the balcony of his house

 

'Paddy' prefers this bed at the English home down the lane.

‘Paddy’ prefers this bed at the English home down the lane.

 

PADDINGTON THE-SPECTACLED-BEAR-DOG HEADS FOR A GREXIT

paddington_thumb-1415399900077 spectacld bear dog ARKive image GES006037 - Spectacled bearA new home in England is on the cards for a Greek pup now that DEFRA has relaxed rules for pet travel into the UK. The time between rabies vaccination and entry to UK has dropped from 6 months to only 21 days. When we adopted our Naxos rescue dogs Jack and Tavli in June 10 years ago, we had to leave them  with a destabilising rota of carers and walkers when we returned to the UK for the summer, and it wasn’t until the following January that we were able to take them to the UK.

The new puppy was found wandering in the fields near our Greek island home, lost, skinny, ravenous, bewildered, matted of coat and covered in ticks (dumping is one way some of the locals get rid of unwanted puppies and kittens). We took him in, de-ticked and fed him and decided to care for him until we find a permanent home.

Two days into our foster-parent relationship, the little dog with its fluffy, soft-brown coat, willingness to please, insatiable hunger, and general skids and tumbles reminds us of Paddington Bear the film star. The pup’s ‘goggles’, though,  are far more convincing similarity to the Spectacled Bear of Peru, which the fictional bear is supposed to be.To be true to the Paddington tradition, the c. 3-month-old puppy should be called after the place he was found, but ‘Kastraki’ doesn’t sound comfortable for a young lad (although it actually means ‘little castle’).

We haven’t  decided what to do with Paddington yet; we’re just trying to get through the broken nights (3am ‘need the toilet’; 5am ‘I’m starving!’). Lucretia Stewart has donated some toilet-training pads, but P thinks they are for hiding under and chewing.

31, TURN LEFT AT THE NASTURTIUMS: things hot up on the island of Hydra

by Lyla Harling

Editor’s note: I’m getting fed up of this instalment method of publishing Lyla’s Harling’s Turn Left at the Nasturtiums, and so, I imagine, are the readers. I’ve been unable to sustain regular bi-weekly instalments, and am discouraged the limited feedback; the reader must be frustrated and dissatisfied by being unable to control how much can be read at one sitting and when the next episode appears.
The only advantage of this publication-by-blog exercise is that the job is getting done, and I will continue to the end – as quickly as possible. Then the plan is to gather all the chapters into a single file that readers can download, and which can be placed on a ‘crowd-editing’ scheme. – Gilly Cameron Cooper, editor

Chapter Fourteen

Three weeks passed. Conrad rang Kate regularly. Helena didn’t make progress, but she didn’t regress either. Conrad had all but moved in with his mother; it was a time of nervous waiting and watching, illuminated by an even greater closeness. Helena had never been clingy, but now she fretted if he wasn’t within call, at least in the evenings. I wouldn’t be much help, Kate lied to herself, Helena wants Conrad, not me, but she only half convinced herself and hated the half conviction. The minute they need me I’ll go back; I can be home in a day. Thus she sought to bury her unease.

Angela and Kate now spent a great deal of time at the little Hydra house, which Kate had made up her mind to buy. It had, as estate agents say, great potential, and Kate liked the sound of that. Angela had only really used the house as an overflow for the children and their friends, so it was pared down to basics. A perfect place to write, Kate thought – a point she’d made to Conrad, several times. He’d replied with perfect truth that her large, quiet study at the back of the house in Holland Park was also a perfect place to write, and had been for fifteen years. There was no satisfactory answer to this, other than the fact that London was full of distractions, and both Kate and Conrad knew that Kate’s self-discipline, when engaged on a book, was equal to any amount of distraction.

It was now the beginning of August and the heat had a new, throbbing intensity. Kate wrote in the early morning: letters first, and then the book about Hydra. Twice she had abandoned what she had written and had started again. On more than one occasion she had asked herself why she was writing it. Was it therapy, or a genuine desire to garland the island, to celebrate it because of the pleasure and peace of mind it had given her? That was the reason she had given Sam, and was still valid. Had she thought that the book would be easy (it wasn’t), or at least easier than a novel, and a stepping-stone from a bankrupt mind to a rich and fertile one? Maybe it was just providing an excuse to stay longer. Robin had said she should experience autumn and winter on the island, the drawing in, the digging in, after the yachts flying the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes flounced out of the harbour, leaving only the caiques with their blue and white Greek flags. And Robin was right. But there was still a half-finished manuscript waiting her attention in London. Sam would be pleased if she came home to complete it. So would Conrad.

Then Luke rang. Kate had persuaded herself that he wouldn’t, and had persuaded herself that she was glad. Felicity’s confidences, unwanted though they were, had struck a dissonant chord that continued to resonate. There was no possible comparison between Luke’s single lapse and Conrad’s compulsive flirtations. To Conrad, compulsive flirtation was as easy and as necessary as breathing, whereas Luke’s lapse would have been accompanied by the tiring emotional baggage of guilt. But pain was pain, and Kate had no wish to inflict it, or rather would have preferred things to be ordered differently so that there was no need to inflict it.

“Hello?”
“Hello Kate. How are you?” That well-remembered staccato voice.
Kate had been expecting a call from Nell, who had been ringing a lot, as the wedding was planned for October. It was to be very informal at an Edinburgh registry office. Remembering her own stylish marriage, Kate had a moment’s regret that there was to be no big event with orange blossom and confetti, three-tiered wedding cake, interminable speeches and an over-excited best man, but a moment’s rational thought dismissed the notion. She couldn’t imagine Conrad giving the bride away, and Nell would be much happier spending on enlarging the hotel kitchen than on satin and lace. But whatever happened, Kate was going to Edinburgh in October.

She sat down on the floor by the telephone. Her voice sounded less than gracious, but perhaps better that than shell-shocked:

“I was expecting a call from Nell.”
“I hope I’m not a disappointment.” Laughter…and the sure knowledge that his call wouldn’t disappoint.
“No. But a surprise.”

Kate was surprised. She was being neither shy nor disingenuous. She had thought Luke far away on Mykonos, with Felicity, Jamie and the girls. Long scorching days on the beach; early supper for the younger children, supervised by Felicity; a leisurely later dinner with Luke; Priscilla wanting to go to a disco. Family life.
“Felicity went on ahead with the children. I had a couple of things to finish up in Athens for a few more days.”
Kate waited. Not helping.
“… and I wondered what my chances were of getting into the Miranda again.”
“Slim, I should think. But you could try the Orloff, or I could try for you.”
It would give her time to think, ringing the Orloff, ringing him back.

The Orloff was, of course, fully booked, as Kate knew it would be: in August, Hydra was as full of people as a ripe fig is full of seeds. Robin and Angela would be happy to put Luke up; Robin would think nothing of it, but Angela might begin to wonder about a third visit to the island without Felicity. Or there were her two empty bedrooms here. That would be playing with fire. No, playing with matches, which could be put down, blown out…

After she had spoken again to Luke, burning her boats and offering a bedroom, Kate sat on the terrace. There’s only one possible outcome, she thought, unless I’ve utterly misread the signals. Fifteen years of faithful marriage, and now, at the age of fifty, I’m about to deceive Conrad, betray Felicity, compromise my friendship with Angela (if she should happen to find out) and amuse Anna (if I should choose to tell her), thereby compounding my betrayal of Felicity, who has this exasperating notion that we’re sisters under the skin. Perhaps that’s partly why I’m behaving so badly. Kate watched Grubby watching a lizard. Grubby pounced. The tiny dragon of a lizard darted off.

Later, in bed, Kate made a list in her head of those of her friends who would approve of what she was doing, or planning to do, and those who would deplore it. The ayes had it by a large margin.

*********

Living with Conrad for so long had gone some way towards making Kate aware of her appearance. He expected, and got, a tremendous attention to detail which hitherto Kate would have felt unnecessary:  clothes that fitted to perfection, colours that flattered instead of being chosen at random because she had a sudden fancy for orange, bespoke evening wear if the occasion demanded them. It was to flatter herself, but for comfort, too: the ease of silk-lined coats and jackets and skirts; cotton and linen, certainly no synthetics – Conrad didn’t like the feel of them. Kate’s taste and style had been well-formed when she married him. She had been thought, had indeed thought herself on the right side of chic, but Conrad had added the polish, the difference between looking really rather nice and standing out in a crowd. It wasn’t that Conrad attended fittings or fussed about the quality of her clothes in any noticeable way, but he had an unerring eye and Kate just knew when she’d got it right. Or wrong. Inevitably Helena had had a hand in his sartorial education. Not in any conscious way, but he’d absorbed it by osmosis from an early age.

For all her confidence, the evening Kate was to meet Luke she changed her clothes several times. Not that Luke was in Conrad’s class – he wouldn’t know a Jean Muir from a Christian Lacroix, or care. As she pulled off a plain black vest top and pulled on a plain white one (Vogue had said that this summer you couldn’t go wrong with a plain, dazzling white), Kate pondered the reason for the pile of discarded clothes on the floor and on the bed. Luke had seen her sandy, salty and dishevelled; Felicity wasn’t in any sense a hard act to follow; she knew herself to be in good shape for her age. But therein lay the problem: fifty-year-old bodies weren’t thirty-year-old bodies. Kate was concerned at the thought of taking her clothes off in front of a man who wasn’t Conrad, however critical Conrad might be. Time had laid a discreet finger on her. It was the lightest possible finger – no cellulite, sagging flesh or flaccid muscles – but there were the beginnings of softness in her skin that spoke of ripe fruit passing its peak.

A certain amount of self assurance could be gained by painting her usually unadorned toe-nails a lively scarlet, hanging long, freshwater pearl and rock-crystal ear-rings ­– intricate flowers that danced and swayed against her brown, satiny cheeks with every movement of her head. These had been one of Conrad’s many presents. Kate preferred semi-precious stones, and Conrad sought out unusual pieces to please her. Just before she went to meet Luke, Kate removed them. She replaced them with heavy gold hoops she had bought herself. It was a ridiculous nod in the direction of marital tact that made Kate impatient with herself.  Conrad would have been the first to laugh at such sentiment. She slipped them out and reinstated the others.

At nine-o-clock in the evening, the last Flying Dolphin of the day was already creaming towards Spetses and Kate was on her way to meet Luke at the restaurant they’d been to before. She was regretting the choice before she was ten minutes into the walk to the little harbour. If this was a lovers’ meeting, and what else could it be, she didn’t want to arrive dripping with sweat, eye make-up one way, lipstick the other, damp patches on the back of her top. It would have been so much better to have met at the house, watched the sunset from the terrace, drunk wine that was properly chilled, eaten better. Kate arrived with heat-induced resentment only just under control. There was no sign of Luke; there wasn’t even a free table.

Kate sat in a chair by the kitchen door, kindly offered by the owner of the taverna, accepted a glass of cloudy retsina, and wondered what on earth she was doing. I’ll give it twenty minutes, she thought, quarter-of-an-hour. If he’s missed the last Dolphin he’d have rung long ago. She had an acute, half remembered sensation, not felt for many years, of outraged incredulity followed by the shame of having gone to so much trouble. I bet this never happens to Conrad, Kate gloomed; it was unthinkable that he should be kept waiting. His victims probably arrived a good half-an-hour early, and hid in the cloakroom. A party of English people, pink with sunburn and not yet keeping Greek hours, left their table. Kate was collected from her seat by the kitchen door and settled – the owner of the taverna now knew her by sight. Kate attempted “I’m waiting for a friend,” but couldn’t remember the word for friend, and didn’t want to say “I’m waiting for a man.” She decided she wasn’t cut out for adultery, hoped she looked perfectly happy with her solitary state to the other diners, and faced up to the fact that her disappointment would be intense if Luke didn’t come.

Three hours later, Kate and Luke were swimming in a star-spangled sea alive with phosphorescence. They went off the rocks where she usually swam with Angela. The lack of bathing suits was several glasses of wine and a couple of brandies away from mattering. They slipped out of their clothes and slipped into the water. Not for the first time on the island, Kate felt fifteen again.
“Swimming in stars?”
“Hmmmm.”

But before the swim, surrounded by the fishy debris of their supper, Kate learnt more about Luke, peeled off another layer of onion skin. And after they’d got back to her house, she told him more of her life with Conrad. It seemed to Kate that this exchange of confidence was a rite of passage, something that needed to be said and done. It prepared the ground for what was to come. My characters don’t perform this delicate mating dance, Kate thought, during the latter half of dinner: advancing and bowing and backing off. A verbal pre-mating ritual. Perhaps it’s something to do with age. Most of her characters were well under fifty and well used to changing partners.

A surprise was Luke’s version of events regarding his affair, or perhaps even the fact that he talked about it at all. Obliquely, it probably prepared the way for their starry swim.

*********

“It happened at a time when Felicity was at a very low ebb, both physically and emotionally. I wasn’t proud of myself, but that didn’t make the slightest difference, of course.”
Kate had told him she knew of the affair half-an-hour earlier – it seemed pointless to conceal it, and underhand, too – almost like watching someone who was deeply asleep, which Kate had never liked doing or think of anyone doing it to her. People always looked so defenceless in their sleep that it seemed an intolerable intrusion to stare, however lovingly.
“I don’t suppose you gave Felicity much thought. One doesn’t, I gather, in such circumstances.”
Luke glanced at her. “Miss Prim.”
“I can’t speak from experience,” Kate smiled. “Call me names if you like, but I can really only speculate. ”

She wondered if Luke was about to ask her if she’d ever deceived Conrad, or even why she’d never deceived him. She had hoped he wouldn’t; it was a banal question, usually asked by women, and one she had tried to answer, so many times. Men, on the whole, were happy to accept the comfortable myth that nice girls didn’t. Luke was silent. He fiddled with a piece of melon rind, fretting at the edge with his knife, miles away, intent on what looked like an intensely painful remembrance of things past.

“She never knew what tipped me over into adultery,” Luke finally said, still fiddling with the melon. “Perhaps I should have told her, but it would have been damaging to hear. Partly it was an irritating list of little things, I’m ashamed to say how little some of them were, but collectively, they all added up.”
There followed the smallest litany of Felicity’s failings, but hitherto Luke had been so loyal, there had been barely a crack in the facade except the fact of him being here, without Felicity, for the third time. That was a considerable crack, a crevasse… Luke continued:
“She thinks I was pursued and pounced on. I wasn’t. I did the pursuing, and it wasn’t just for sex or a new face on the pillow. I was in search of freedom, of ideas, for one thing, but freedom from the rituals and tyranny of marriage. A comfortable tyranny, maybe, but one that’s regulated by school runs, baked beans and trips to the dentist for yet another set of braces.”

Luke glanced at Kate again, pushing aside the melon fragments.
“She didn’t live by the clock, except her own body clock. In some ways she wasn’t unlike Claudia. Not as beautiful and considerably brighter, but they both had a life-force that’s lacking in Felicity. Maybe hers is all channelled into the children. Anyway, it was very heady at the time. And it was definitely me who made all the running, no doubt about that. Felicity always believed it was the other way round, which was convenient for me, and for her.  I was pitched as the hapless victim of a predatory colleague. It was a convincing excuse, with not a word of truth in it.”

“Did it run its course?”

Luke sighed. “No, it didn’t. Felicity pulled a flanker. Not intentionally, I’m sure of that. She had some sort of gynaecological trouble, and the stress blew it up into a real problem. Or that was the story I got, which was more or less supported by her doctor, and presumably true. It was thought that she’d have to have a hysterectomy; as it was she lost an ovary.”

A hysterectomy, even the threat of one, for someone like Felicity would have been desolating, thought Kate. Earth Mother losing her magic and her fertility before time. It must have really knocked her off balance.
“It really knocked her off balance”, continued Luke, picking up exactly Kate’s thought. “She was ill for a long time afterwards. Not so much physically, but she just gave up for a bit. The children were affected, especially Jamie. So it was goodbye silken dalliance and errant husband for me, and return to dutiful husband.”
“Penitent husband?”
“Hag-ridden-with-guilt, since you ask.”
“But still looking over your shoulder?”
“Well, you know – forbidden fruit is a potent diet.” Luke got up to go to the lavatory.

So Felicity retreated into illness too when it all got too much for her, Kate reflected, just as I did. Neither of us engineered our breakdowns – my shingles, her hormonal upheaval. But my drinking and obsessive slimming were self-inflicted and selfish; Felicity was at least protecting her young and securing her mate. She still is hog-tying the already hag-ridden, though I doubt whether she knows she’s doing it. Luke does, though, and is finding it hard to live with.
Luke sat down again. He looked strung-up by memory. “Have you mended your fences, then?” Kate asked.
“As you see, a bit of baler twine here and there. All marriages need a bit of baler twine now and then.”

Was he being defensive? The fences hadn’t really mended. Kate took a cigarette from her packet and Luke lit it. His hands cupped hers   – completely unnecessarily, as there wasn’t a breath of wind. Most of the other diners had left, apart from a table of fishermen whom Kate had seen there before. They drank beer followed by ouzo, and the scent of their strong tobacco hung pungently on the air. As usually happened, one started to sing and the others joined in softly, respecting other diners, but totally absorbed. The owner of the taverna was sitting with them.

Kate waited for Luke to speak. The ‘as you see’ had been ambivalent and almost teasing; a challenge. He can pick up his own gauntlet, she thought; and after a moment, he did.
“Felicity doesn’t have many fall-back positions, only contingency plans. And that’s my role: in any contingency, I’m expected to be there.”
Such is the story of many a marriage. It’s not quite as clichéd as staying together for the sake of the children, but with the wearing off of any gloss there once may have been, respect, responsibility, old affection and seeing the young safely launched become the bread-and-butter ties that keep couples together. That form the concrete between the cracks. When the young leave the nest, often enough the habit of loving takes over. But the habit of loving, in Luke’s case, was beginning to seem threadbare.

He’d never loved Felicity, he insisted, not in the true, deep sense of the word. Not like the gut-wrenching affair with Claudia, when they’d spent as much time amiably arguing – about books, painting, work, people and what motivated them – as they’d spent in bed. With Felicity this was impossible – she didn’t have a discursive mind, she didn’t read the sort of book that sparked discussion, and regarded speculation about people and what made them tick as a waste of time. The children and their development took preference, and precedence: Jamie’s asthma, Priscilla’s puppy fat. Latterly, the main topic was how soon did Luke think it would be before they could start thinking of leaving Athens and returning to London?

“You’re obviously bored with fish fingers, dental braces and the problems of puberty,” Kate said. “It’s all so long ago for me I can hardly remember.”
“Felicity deals with most of that. It’s what she does best.”
Kate forbore to say “and it’s all she does.” She sought to strike a balance, to strike a small blow for Luke’s wife, albeit a bit late in the day.
“Nell was such an easy child. And of course I only had the one. She ate adult food from the time she was fifteen months, never had a serious illness or a tantrum in her life.”
“Does she look like you?”
“She’s taller, and her skin is fair. But we have the same beaky nose, and the same ears – very flat against the skull.”
“I’ve never noticed.”
“That’s because they’re hidden by my hair.”
“I must have a look. I’ve never known a woman with flat ears.”
Luke swung one of her flowery ear-rings, moving it carefully with one finger so that pearls and rock-crystal glimmered in the now half-light. A degree of intimacy, mislaid for a while, was re-established.

Their departure from the restaurant was late. Most of the fishermen had left. The owner of the taverna talked briefly to Luke; there were smiles and laughter. The bill was large – they had eaten platefuls of Barbounia, deliciously fresh and firm red mullet, which although locally caught is expensive in the over-fished Mediterranean. Then down the steps they went, past the pots of basil and the sleeping cats.

“What did he say?” Kate didn’t entirely want to know, but the faint frisson of male complicity was irritating. They could, of course, have been discussing politics – most Greeks were willing to discuss the iniquities of the government, any government, at any hour of the night or day.
“What was all that about?”
“The price of fish. We were discussing the price of fish.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Luke laughed, refusing to be drawn.

*********

Looking back, Kate couldn’t remember who had suggested the midnight swim. She thought Luke. It was still breathlessly hot, barely cooler than it had been when she set off for Kamini. The rocks were warm, the sea was silky. Kate kept on her ear-rings, glad that she’d changed from the plain gold hoops – pearls and rock crystal made her think of ‘full fathom five’ and the magic Shakespeare wove into The Tempest.  Perhaps she was suffering a sea-change… She raced away from Luke, phosphorescence following her like a comet’s tail. She had thought he would come in pursuit, but he didn’t.

Side by side, feet in a rock pool, smoking cigarettes with damp fingers, there seemed little to say or that needed to be said. There’s no chance for last-minute modesty now, Kate thought, no drawing back. You can’t sit skin to skin, without a stitch on, alternatively revealed and concealed by thin scarves of cloud that drift over the moon, and then close the bedroom door in a man’s face. Luke’s face. Even if you wanted to, and she didn’t want to. The shyness had gone, alcohol dissolved, in part. She recalled the feeling of acute panic when Luke was late, when she’d begun to think he wasn’t coming. It was perverse – an hour before that she’d been having a low level panic attack about the way she looked. Kate glanced down at her body – in a sense she felt almost fully clad, stitched into a garment composed of deeply tanned skin. One pale triangle revealed how very deeply tanned she was.
“Kate.”
“Yes?”
“Show me your ears.”
“Not lend me your ears?”
“You’ve been lending me your ears all night. Now I want to see them.”
Luke pushed her damp hair back and traced the rim with one finger. “Slightly pointed too. You’re a faerie child. A Belle dame Sans Merci, bewitching me.”
“Of course,” Kate smiled. “What did you expect?”

Luke hadn’t kissed her. The evening was beginning to take on the aspect of some subtle game. A delicate, drawn-out pre-mating ritual. Luke re-arranged her hair, taking his time. Then he kissed her salty shoulder. He gave it a little lick, as Grubby sometimes did in one of his moments of affections.
“Grubby does that. When he’s feeling fond.”
“Grubby’s a sensible fellow.”

*********
On the way up to the house, after the salty lick (which wasn’t repeated), Kate had thought of Conrad. Her thoughts had been detached, as if seeing him through mica: I’m on the point, the very brink, of doing something I never dreamed I’d do. I’m compromising my own position, taking just one step out of line will effectively and irretrievably scuttle any high moral tone. It didn’t seem to matter any more – Luke claimed to be bewitched by her. She was bewitched by the island and on-course to being bewitched by Luke; it couldn’t have happened in London. As they walked and star-gazed and leaned on warm walls, Kate at last talked freely and in some detail of Conrad. Luke asked and Kate told him. She was still telling him as they sat on the terrace. It was an odd sensation, talking to someone who didn’t know Conrad, who had never been exposed to his charm. For Conrad charmed men as well as women. Sam had always acknowledged his skill, but now Kate found that explaining her husband’s singular gifts to Luke was like wading through thick honey. She felt that Luke was being deliberately obtuse, and she felt absurdly protective of Conrad.

“I’ve always distrusted consciously charming men. It’s bad enough in women.”
“Conrad isn’t consciously charming. He doesn’t have to try, he just is.”
Luke looked unconvinced. “There was a boy in my form at Repton who could charm his way out of the trickiest jam. All the rest of us were thumped practically senseless on a very regular basis, but never Stickland. Though he did end up in a Colombian jail.”
“Being winsome through the bars?” Kate was amused by the hint of jealousy in Luke’s voice.
“The point is he wasn’t popular – at school, anyhow. People distrusted him, in spite of his charm.”
“Well, Conrad’s very popular, and people do trust him; especially women, oddly enough.”
“You don’t.”
“No, but I have particular reasons not to.”

Back at the house, Luke brought a carafe of chilled retsina from the fridge onto the terrace.
“More wine?!”
“Retsina doesn’t count.” Luke poured.
Kate leaned back in her chair, her turn to be intent on memory, conjuring up the faces of Conrad’s conquests, each one a reason not to trust Conrad. Imogen, known as Immy, Georgina, Celia, two Carolines, and Sophie, of course. Rosanna had been the only dark one; all the others had been as fair as Helena. And these were just the ones she was certain about – there were many other suspects. The girls would ring the house number, and most hung up when Kate answered, although not all; some wanted to talk. Kate remembered describing their tell-tale, love-sick voices to Anna, Rose and Felicity. She told Luke about them, keeping her tone light, wary of pity.

“They were all vey pretty and appealing, but Imogen was a real beauty: a rare and irresistible combination of blonde hair and big, brown Bambi eyes. I couldn’t altogether blame Con in her case: I could quite see why he couldn’t resist her and didn’t even begin to try.”
“You are amazing.” Luke poured more wine. “You describe her almost lovingly. Most women would be finding the flaws, not chalking up the assets.”
“Perhaps it was a way of assimilating what was happening to me. If I understood why, could see them through Conrad’s eyes. ”
“You never made a scene? Compliant Kate, over all those years?”

As he asked, Luke was remembering Felicity’s distraught, pink-nosed, disintegrating face. Her tears seemed to wash away her features. Redheads shouldn’t cry. It wasn’t Felicity’s fault, but the ruin of her face felt like a tacit bid for sympathy. Luke remembered his revulsion, his pity and contrition, but most of all, his revulsion.

Kate shrugged. “It’s difficult to have a scene with Conrad. Usually he just slides away from them. If I persisted, he managed to make me feel like a fishwife – so no scenes.” She smiled ruefuly: “He was good at turning the tables. Has to be…”
“I’m beginning to loathe the man.”
“You’d like him, I can practically guarantee it.”
Kate chirruped to Grubby who was lying by her chair. He stretched, jumped onto her lap, then jumped straight off again and disappeared into the shadowy garden.
“Of course we had fights; I left him twice. I couldn’t go home to Mum because she was long dead, but I fled to friends, who couldn’t resist saying ‘I told you so.’ I was always glad to get back to him. Until now.”

Kate and Luke sat side-by-side, bare feet up on the wall, the bottle between them. Luke took her hand and played with her rings while she told him about Sophie, pregnant with Conrad’s child. She described her own ignorable sense of betrayal and the aftermath, how it had been the reason for being on Hydra, and the long chain of events which had led to drinking retsina on the terrace in the early hours of the morning with Luke Waterlow. Kate didn’t dwell on the grimmer details – the neglect of herself, the boozing and the bingeing. She felt it inappropriate for the circumstances, which finally seemed to be reaching some sort of climax. Luke had listened in silence, and then, again in silence, he carefully unhooked her ear-rings. Kate tilted her head towards him to help.

“There.” Luke laid them on the table. “That’s a start. I’m not very good with hooks, usually.”
“How are you with zips?”
“I’m ace at zips. Are you, pretty Kate?”

*********

How many times in literature, or in real life, has the shrilling of a telephone interrupted or postponed or just put a crimp in passion? In literature it was a useful device to move on the action, or help the writer whose nerve failed outside the bedroom door. In real life it was nerve-jangling and mood-destroying and caused Kate to remove herself from Luke’s arms with more urgency than elegance. Nobody rang up at that hour for fun or for no good reason, usually dire. Would it be Nell, Conrad,  a crisis with Helena? Sam occasionally spoke to her quite late, but never this late.
It was Felicity, from Mykonos.

The sound of her tear-stained voice was an irritation and an anti-climax. Kate had been keyed up for drama, a crisis. What she got was pathos and rising panic. Kate lit a cigarette and sat down, waiting for Felicity to draw breath, resigned to boredom, furious at the unexpected interruption, thankful for the lack of crisis, really, and thankful all that there was no internet video to capture the scene. Luke was still on the terrace, affecting lack of interest, an attitude that was abruptly abandoned as soon as he realised the identity of the caller. It wasn’t difficult – Felicity’s voice was naturally pitched high, and it became higher and more penetrating when she was upset. Finally Kate was forced to interrupt.

“Felicity!” It was difficult not to sound impatient. “It’s almost dawn. Not that I mind, particularly, but I can’t understand why you’ve rung me.”
The relief of talking to somebody released more tears, louder sobs. Snuffling and nose-blowing blurred what Felicity was saying. At last it emerged that Luke wasn’t at home and hadn’t been home all evening. It was hideously hot in Athens and it was just possible that he had gone to Hydra for the weekend to do some sailing. Had Kate seen him or could it be that Luke was up to something again, what did she think? Kate, ended Felicity, was the only person she could talk to. There was no apology for the lateness of the hour.

“He’s probably out with a friend, a male friend. Isn’t that possible? Luke plays backgammon, doesn’t he? (It was extraordinary how Kate’s innocent lies came with no previous practice). “They’re probably sitting in some all-night kafeneon playing backgammon.”
“He’s been teaching Jamie to play. The girls aren’t interested. ”
“There you are, then”
“But it’s five past four.”
“I know it’s five past four, Felicity.”
A note of apology now. “Were you asleep? Did I wake you? You answered very quickly.” She sound less tearful now, almost curious.

“It’s an impossibly hot night,” Kate improvised. “I wasn’t actually in bed. I was sitting on the terrace. With Grubby,” she added, glad to include a fragment of truth.
“It’s stifling here too, and full of gays. I wish we’d come to Hydra now, at least it’s quieter. Jamie’s very off-colour again.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s unsettled, missing Luke, and it always goes straight to his stomach. Luke’s such a wonderful father.”
The L word. A trigger for more tears – Kate wondered for a brief moment if she’d been drinking. Did Kate think he could possibly be seeing someone? Not that woman – Felicity happened to know that she’d moved to Istanbul or somewhere. But once a man started that sort of thing…

Embarrassed for and by Felicity, Kate now wondered how much Luke could hear as Felicity sobbed on. Is it having the same effect on him as it’s having on me? It’s too bizarre, she despaired: on the edge of well-deserved adultery, for the first time in my life, and I’m forced into the role of confidante to my lover’s wife! I should never have answered the wretched telephone and I bet Conrad wouldn’t have done so. He’d have let the message recording do its stuff, let automation take care of his conscience, and called it getting his priorities right. But I’d have worried if I hadn’t answered.

What was Felicity saying now?
“It’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, just like you said. Why shouldn’t he have a night out with the boys? Poor Luke, stuck in Athens. I’m sorry about the hysteria, Kate. It’s the heat: I just can’t sleep.”
She sounded calmer, thank God, convincing herself that all was well. All is well, Kate reflected crossly: mood ruined, conscience pricked, Cupid caught napping. First round to Felicity.
She carried on for some time, relaxed now, inclined to be confidential. When Kate again protested the lateness of the hour, Felicity promised a postcard from Mykonos, and at last there was silence.

*******

Luke was no longer on the terrace. She found him peeling a fig at the far end of the garden, out of ear shot.
“Want one?”
“Thank you.” Kate bit into the dense mass of honeyed, sticky seeds, with the most sensuous, translucent flesh of lychees and the silkiness of mangoes.
“I couldn’t bear to listen to Felicity in full flood,” Luke said. “I felt as if I were a ghost at a confessional, or a spy.”
Luke held out a hand, and Kate touched it briefly. She recalled him playing with her rings, her ear-rings; their closeness; the delicate, delightful game of attraction. It seemed a long time ago, and irretrievable, after Felicity’s intrusion, and her distress.
“Shall we go out and come in again?” Luke was watching her, unaware of the strength of the mood swing.
“No. I think I’ll go out and stay out.” Kate began to strip another fig with nervous fingers. “It’s impossible, Luke, now.”
“What’s this? First night nerves?” Luke was smiling.

Disappointment had made Kate cross, like a thwarted child. She read it as a misplaced, over-confident ‘you can’t possibly resist my blandishments’ sort of smile. Whatever it was, it was misplaced and tiresome.
“She was sobbing her heart out. I can’t believe you didn’t hear.”
“Felicity’s good at sobbing her heart out.” Luke shook his head as if he was trying to disassociate himself from what he’s just said. “But you shouldn’t have answered.”
“Could you have let it ring, at that hour?”
“Very easily, given our circumstances. Most problems will keep for a bit. I tried to stop you, but you were in such a hurry you didn’t notice. I grabbed your skirt. I wish I’d pulled it off…”
In spite of herself, Kate smiled. “How undignified. My skirt round my ankles and dashing to the telephone in nothing but my knickers”.
“Don’t be too sure about those either.”
“Well, you didn’t manage to stop me.”
“I wish I had.”

 

30, TURN LEFT AT THE NASTURTIUMS. a mesh of conflicting emotions and motives in the Hydra novel

BY LYLA HARLING

edited by Gilly Cameron Cooper

Luke’s affair had been a solitary indiscretion. Felicity was convinced that there had been no others – until now. She would never know what had made Luke fall for such that other woman: she was good-looking, in a way, and bright, but hard. She had no children, which Felicity considered a lucky escape for any child that might have been born to her; very female, but totally unfeminine. Kate was surprised that Felicity made the distinction.
“What happened, how did it end?” Kate remembered asking Luke the same question about Claudia.
Felicity flounced, in so far as it’s possible to flounce sitting down.
“Oh, when she realised that Luke wouldn’t leave me and the children, she dug her claws in somewhere else.”
“So you won.”
“The wife invariably wins: she holds all the trump cards.”
Felicity now sounded tiresomely smug, tears forgotten. ”The Other Woman’s stays on the outside looking in, especially if there are children.”
“Then you have no need to worry.”

There seemed little point in telling Felicity that it didn’t always follow, that a number of ‘Other Women’, many known personally to Kate, succeeded in ousting the sitting tenant, so to speak. Besides, Felicity’s moment of smugness had passed.
“What about Priscilla – you know how sharp seventeen-year-olds can be. And I love Luke. I know women find him attractive – Anna certainly does, she told me.”
“I think you can cross Anna off your list of suspects.”
It had been meant as a joke, but Felicity looked aghast at the thought.

*********

The noisy crowds waiting for the Flying Dolphin, which had once seemed so overwhelming, were now a source of amusement. Kate joined the usual scrum for her ticket, sat in what shade she could find, drank from the ice-water dispenser on the dock, and finally shuffled onto the boat with the holiday-makers, returning islanders and some very vocal cats in baskets. She had felt obliged to hear Felicity out but it had been difficult to stop her wild speculations about when, where and with whom an affair might have taken place. Had something happened when she was in London looking after Jamie, or had it been going on for months? At one point Felicity had apologised, saying that all this must be very painful, given Conrad’s behavior, but that was one reason why she felt she could talk to Kate – a shared experience. Kate was not at all pleased to be linked to Felicity in this way. There was something very clammy about the woman.

Nevertheless, she had done her best to comfort and pointed out that there was very little to go on – bringing home work was hardly conclusive evidence of adultery. Abstraction could be caused by anything, from feeling off-colour (not unusual in high summer in the middle of Athens) to difficulties with the thesis. Kate didn’t feel either able or willing to comment on Luke’s lack of attentiveness, although she had the feeling that Felicity, given the slightest encouragement, would have painted a graphic enough picture. Discussing such things with Anna would have been funny, bawdy and quite unembarrassing. With Felicity, it was a sticky and tricky situation, even without Kate’s own, slightly troubled conscience.

On the boat, Kate tried to order her thoughts. Yes, there was some guilt at being the potential Other Woman – if indeed it was her or if that was what she wanted to be, and Kate wasn’t at all sure on either count.  Felicity’s distress had touched her: Kate didn’t like to see hapless victims suffer, and Felicity was the victim of being second-best and knowing it; of being the betrayed wife, and hating it. No blame attached to her. There was no doubt that she did love Luke – in rather a cloying way, perhaps, but love, none-the-less. The three children had made the bonds of marriage more binding. Luke was trapped by Priscilla, Chloe, and delicate Jamie, whom he loved the best, and by conscience, habit, decency and kindness.

There were thousands of such marriages, which, while falling short of being satisfactory, were not quite unsatisfactory enough. Marriages that were made to work by hard work, a stricture that Kate had always mistrusted. It sounded like sensible, lace-up shoes rather than high-heeled slippers, a nice cup of tea rather than a flute of champagne… and yet I’ve worked hard enough at my own marriage, she reflected. Even though her marriage to Conrad had been unconventional from the start: her cream riding-habit with a green orchid in the button-hole instead of demure white dress and bouquet of stephanotis. Conrad had worn a matching orchid sent round to him by Kate on their wedding morning. And I’ve worked harder than most at looking the other way, she further reflected,  in not making scenes and accepting his behaviour as part of the Conrad package.

Conrad would never have chosen a Felicity – he didn’t like red hair or domesticity. Luke’s choice of mistress was interesting: silken lady to iron lady.  Sam would have disputed such polarity of choice if I’d worked it into a book, dismissing it as a plot device that didn’t quite come off,  Kate thought. He believes that men usually fall for the same type of woman. She wondered where she fell in Luke’s spectrum of  women, somewhere between the two, between silken and iron? It was odd to have this knowledge of Luke, knowledge that he hadn’t given her. There could be number of reasons why he should not have mentioned the affair; loyalty to Felicity was perhaps the most likely, although it wasn’t necessarily so.

During the remainder of her journey back to Hydra, Kate pondered her apparent and extraordinary volte face from Caesar’s wife to would-be wanton. Although nothing whatever had passed between them last night apart from the high-octane half minute in the hall, Kate had been acutely aware of Luke throughout the evening, as he had clearly been of her. That was obvious from the way they didn’t look at one another, except covertly. Had she been less interested in him, she would probably have sought him out and talked to him more, laughed at his stories. Perhaps Sam’s comments back in London had liberated her, given her permission. What humbug, Kate thought, I don’t need permission, and I can’t hide behind the excuse of Sam’s approval. How, though, would I feel about having Felicity on my conscience? Kate reflected how she would feel if Anna were in Felicity’s position, and Alex the man who had captivated her. It was hard to imagine deceiving Anna; if she suspected so much as a hint of digression, she would fire from the hip first and ask questions afterwards. There was nothing clammy about Anna. Kate was bemused by her thoughts. Blame it all on Hydra. Luke would never have happened if I hadn’t come to Hydra. If Luke does happen…

29, TURN LEFT AT THE NASTURTIUMS. The Hydra novel: a dinner party in Athens has some awkward moments!

by Lyla Harling

edited by Gilly Cameron Cooper

Chapter Thirteen

The Waterlows lived in a leafy part of Athens close to Kiffisia. With only a small stretch of the imagination, it could have been St John’s Wood – with tall scarlet and orange canna lilies, pineapple palms and a cloudless sky. Felicity had chosen the area for that very reason; it was reassuringly international rather than Greek.

Luke opened the door when Kate arrived, wearing his familiar yellow trousers, familiar navy blue eyes and pock-marked skin. He kissed her on both cheeks. They looked at one another in silence for a bare moment. It was the first and last significant look of the evening, picking up from where they left off, when Luke had rung her before she went to London. All he said now was “I’ve missed you. ” Kate was surprised by the depth of her pleasure at the words. Luke took her through the marble-tiled hall to a large, plant-filled terrace. Kate had an impression of great tidiness and dim, shadowy rooms with blinds drawn opening off the hall. There were many dim, shadowy rooms – it was an enormous flat, and Felicity had done everything she could to shut out the sun.

Rose Dukakis was already there, blonder than ever, and looking very well. She had a pleasant young American painter with her – in his early thirties, Kate guessed. Rose was arranging an exhibition of his work at her gallery.
“If you’re really setting up home on Hydra, you might like to have a look at Gore’s paintings,” suggested Rose. “He’s spent the last year in Greece, mostly on the islands, and produced several pictures that might look very well in Robin’s house… your house” Rose smiled.
Kate agreed to come and view when the exhibition was ready. It was pleasant to talk to gentle Rose after Anna’s stimulating, but sometimes competitive company, and Felicity’s worrying. She’d asked a friend of Luke’s to make up the table because that sort of symmetry was important to her. The man had cried off at the last moment, and Felicity was overly concerned. Anna would no doubt call it fussing, but Kate was glad as it gave her more chance to observe the others.

There were many photographs of Priscilla, Chloe and Jamie. Priscilla was as Anna had described, a seventeen-year old version of Felicity. Chloe was frankly plain, but it with the sort of plainness that could blossom later. Jamie gazed from the photograph solemn-eyed. He looked fragile and unlikely to grow to his father’s breadth and height, a child to make one feel protective. He had a look of Luke and very little of Felicity. Kate asked how he was.
“Oh, he’s fine now, much better.” Felicity glowed, as she always did when talking of her children.
“They’re all coming out in August for part of the summer holiday after a fortnight with Granny – that’s my mother, not Luke’s – and then join us here, and we go to Mykonos or somewhere.”
“Why so far, why not Hydra?” Kate asked, and immediately wondered why. She had no particular wish to see Luke en famille.
“Not enough to do for the children. And there are no safe beaches except for that very tiny one that gets so crowded. Besides, Pris is getting to the age when discos are important, and there’s only that awful Disco Heaven on Hydra, which has deafening music and nowhere to sit.”
“I thought the whole point of discos was deafening music.”
“There’s more choice on Mykonos.”
Felicity went into the kitchen to fetch the salad. Kate felt the subject was closed because Felicity wanted it to be closed, not because there was nothing else to say. She wondered if Luke liked Mykonos.

Felicity was a surprisingly good cook, Kate thought, and then corrected herself – why should she be surprised; home-making was what Felicity did. The plants on the terrace were huge, green and glossy, positively gleaming with health and much better than anything Kate had ever achieved. The linen guest towels in the bathroom were starched. Felicity’s bedroom was like something out of a twee interior design magazine: very comfortable and in shades of pink – from the pale rose sheets and towels to the carmine carnations by the bed.Kate thought with amusement of the dormitory conditions at the house on Hydra. There were no books.

For dinner Felicity served a very fair Vichysoisse followed by large, succulent slices of swordfish, and melon ice-cream that had been scooped into cool green balls and garnished with sugar-frosted mint leaves. Fussy or not, Felicity believed in looking after her guests and refused all offers of help. Luke opened bottles and kept glasses full.
Watching Rose and the young American, Kate speculated as to whether they were ‘an item’. They seemed close, more than just business partners. Rose touched his arm once or twice, Kate noticed, and she wasn’t the sort to be demonstrative unless it meant something. Before coming to Greece, Gore had spent some months painting in the Mohave Desert, on the Mexican/Californian border. Kate asked him if he knew Palm Springs. He did.
“I once went there, it must have been in June, I think,” said Kate.
“Hot, then!”Gore smiled at her, showing perfect teeth. He helped himself to salad. “Nobody goes to Palm Springs in June. In fact most folks pull out.”
“100 degrees in the shade. I just stayed in the pool.”
“Did you like it?”
“Well…” Kate reflected a moment. “It’s an odd sort of place, isn’t it? All those sugar pink houses and the fanatical neatness of everything – lawns trimmed with nail scissors. I loved the humming-birds – I’d never seen one before, and the dragonflies. The birds were very small for birds, and the dragonflies were enormous. The palm trees were in flower too, with a heavy, heady smell rather like our English meadowsweet. I felt quite drugged.”
“You do use your eyes, and your nose.”
Gore (an unusual name, she thought) told her about painting in the desert. The extraordinary colours and textures, the surreal shape of the cactus. The silence… and keeping an eye out for rattlers.
“Do they really rattle?”
“I’ve never stayed around long enough to find out. Whatever you do, if you ever go there, don’t go poking about under stones.”
Kate felt Luke’s eyes on her once or twice when she was talking to Gore but she tried not to look at him except when convention demanded that she should.

Felicity knew all about Kate’s proposed purchase of the house. Anna or Rose had told her, Kate supposed. With unerring aim Felicity homed in on what she saw as the disadvantages.
“Hydra’s a ghost town in the winter. Everything shuts, and there isn’t a soul about.”
“The islanders?” Luke suggested.
“Oh well, I meant visitors. A bit of life. There are no boats in the harbour, you know, I mean no yachts. I’d hate it.”
“I think Kate’s rather looking forward to the emptiness.”
A more perceptive wife might have noticed something wistful in Luke’s comment.
“What happens if you’re ill?”
I’ve heard the most spine-chilling stories about island doctoring, or the lack of it. ” Felicity related a few choice examples.
Kate listened in silence, wondering why being ill in the winter would be worse than being ill in the summer, then said that she was very healthy, as a rule. Luke changed the subject.

Felicity withdrew to make coffee. When she returned they moved back to the terrace, where Felicity sat a Luke’s feet, full skirt arranged carefully round her. It made a pretty picture, but it wasn’t entirely convincing. Kate noticed that Luke smoked very little when at home. In bed that night, thinking over Felicity’s very damp blanket comments about Hydra, Kate decided that they were kindly meant. There was no malice, and certainly no envy. But Luke had been embarrassed.

*************

The next morning Luke had to leave early, before Kate. Felicity was pale and puffy-lidded, the beautiful red hair tied back with a tired baby blue ribbon. Kate, who always woke well, looked the younger of the two women. Luke kissed them both on the cheek.
“Until this evening, darling.”
Felicity nodded, intent on buttering toast.
“Hope to see you soon, Kate.”
Kate also nodded. How soon was soon? After the school holidays? Once Luke was gone, Felicity was disposed to talk.
“He’s working too hard, I can always tell, and brings work home too. He sits up until all hours, huddled over his thesis.”
“I expect it’s important to him. It’s what he’s here for, isn’t it?”
“I thought I was important to him.”
There was a dismaying tremor in Felicity’s voice.

I don’t want this, Kate thought. To hold her hand, hear details of a marriage I’d rather not hear. She considered standing up, saying something about getting down to Piraeus before it got too hot. Felicity was rummaging in the pocket of her robe. Why was listening to Anna’s difficulties entirely different? Whatever she said was redeemed by humour, while Felicity’s tale of woe, if tale of woe it proved to be. Kate waited.

Felicity had the sort of features that blurred when she was in tears. Kate made more tea – anything rather than witness the collapse. She gathered that Luke and Felicity had had a fight last night. Luke had said he wanted to look at some notes before he went to bed. Felicity had protested, but Luke had insisted, and it had gone on from there. Kate listened, her sympathy partly engaged. There were resonances with her own life. Felicity was frightened. She revealed that Luke had had an affair some years ago – Kate wasn’t to repeat a word of this because it wasn’t common knowledge – and Felicity thought it might be happening again. There were familiar signs – abstraction, retreating into work, lack of attention to her. (Kate thought how Conrad was quite the opposite: his increased attentiveness when he was misbehaving was one of the give-aways). The woman had been a colleague, Felicity continued, about his age, so no question of a Lolita, thank God. Luke had been strongly attracted, though, no doubt about it. Not besotted; the woman had made all the running, but if someone throws herself at you, what’s a man to do! He’d stayed out all night sometimes. The children had been upset – not that they knew, but children pick up things. The atmosphere had been tense. Jamie had been the worst hit. Felicity had lost weight.
“Did you ever meet her?”
“Yes, I knew her, which made it worse. You know, thinking everyone might be talking about me and my shortcomings, laughing at me.”

28,TURN LEFT AT THE NASTURTIUMS: Return to the blissful haven of Hydra, and an interesting trip to Athens

by Lyla Harling
Edited by Gilly Cameron Cooper,
Copyright Pamela Walshe & Gilly Cameron Cooper, 2015

Chapter Thirteen
Grubby reappeared the day after Kate got back, with one torn ear and a tail full of burrs. His contented purring throbbed and rumbled as he wound in and out of her legs. Kate couldn’t fault her welcome: a long letter from Nell waiting, an invitation from Anna, and a call from Angela saying how much she’d been missed. The heat was a benign furnace after the apology for a summer she’d left behind in London. There was also an invitation from Felicity.

Nell said in her letter that by the time Ben came up to Skye for his fishing, she’d be beginning to bulge a bit. It tuned out that Ben was short for Benedict, not Benjamin, and that he’d been ringing her almost daily. Reading between the lines, Kate detected a softening of Nell’s ‘far too old’ rejection.

The invitation from Felicity was a surprise. Kate had rung Anna from London, to ask if there was anything she wanted from England, such as Marmite or Worcestershire Sauce, so Anna must have told Felicity the date of her return. The thought of seeing Luke again was tempered by Conrad’s attentions during her last week in London, when he’d been at his very sweetest and most irresistible. All the stops had been pulled out ­– he called it a second honeymoon. Was it calculated, or simply Conrad turning on the charm, which is what he did best? Helena was looking better, so they had taken a long weekend driving through the Cotswolds, staying at country hotels. The hedgerows had been foaming with meadowsweet and thick with fresh green; it was all so different from Hydra and its blazing bougainvillaea: the delicacy of watercolour compared with the brilliance of acrylic.

Kate had been dreading the goodbyes, but Helena, with gaiety undiminished and considerable grace, had made her departure relatively easy, thanking Kate for her kindness and repeating her intention to visit Hydra. She had almost managed not to put in a pleas for Conrad:
“Don’t leave him to his own devices too long, darling.”
On the last night, Conrad had asked Kate if she planned to go ahead with the house. Kate had said that she did. Then, ashamed even as she spoke, of her lack of candour, she talked about needing to off-load capital and investing in such a beautiful place where land was at a premium. It sounded lame, but Conrad let her ramble on until she ran out of what were becoming increasingly like excuses.
“No other motive, Kate?”
If it had been Conrad who was intent on buying a house for his private pleasures, the ulterior motive would have been only too clear. He found it hard to imagine that others wouldn’t follow his example, even Kate, whom he trusted. (He’d never had any reason not to trust her, after all.)
“I feel well there, Conrad, and I’m writing again. I’m not sure that I’d be doing that here.”
Conrad would respect the latter reason even if he pooh-poohed the former. Kate tried to justify her reasons to herself, but it was neither easy nor possible. She knew she wanted her freedom, or at least the notion of it, but if she said that to Conrad, he would point out that she was perfectly free in London – which wasn’t quite the sort of freedom that Kate meant.

She didn’t want Conrad to see her off. He was still in his dressing gown when she left the following morning to catch an early flight back to Athens. She would keep in close touch now and come straight back if Helena’s improvement went into reverse. They both knew that the word remission, rather than improvement, was probably the more precise.

And now, here she was, watching furry grey bees tumbling drunkenly in the lavender-coloured rosemary. London, Holland Park, Sam, Conrad and Helena seemed to sink into the sea and dissolve. Maria and Dimitri declared themselves glad to see her back. Dimitri sent up his mules that afternoon with bottled water and a large, honey-sweet melon from Maria. The first figs were beginning to ripen. Kate loved fresh figs, and to pluck them from her own tree, translucent green and cracking open in the heat to reveal ruby red and cream flesh, was wonderfully satisfying. Later came the grape-purple figs, warm to the touch and each with a bead of nectar at the base. Years later, when Kate was in her late seventies and holidaying in Italy, the distinctive smell of ripe figs rose up from the tree in the courtyard below her hotel room, bringing back intense memories of her Hydriot summer.
*********

Kate had had enough of city life after London, and the thought of going to Athens in the torrid heat of July was anathema, but Anna was insistent, with a persuasive sort of insistence that brooked no refusal. Felicity was equally insistent in a different way when Kate rang her. She so hoped that Kate would come, how lovely to have been in London all this time.  She reported that Athens had been intolerable, and that she was suffering from prickly heat rashes all over her body. Luke sent his love and asked if Kate would like him to meet her at Piraeus, which would be much better than struggling for a taxi.

Faced with such goodwill, Kate was disarmed, and swallowed her excuses. She said she’d love to come, but would be there a day ahead and stay overnight with Anna. When she’d hung up, Kate examined her feelings about seeing Luke again with some interest. Had he told Felicity of his second trip to Hydra? It was probably better to assume that he hadn’t. On the whole Kate was glad she’d accepted Felicity’s invitation – the potential was there for a diverting evening.

*********

Alex and Anna took Kate out to dinner and on to a night-club. Both restaurant and club were heavily air-conditioned – Kate felt almost chilly. This was the first time she’d seen Greek women en masse en fête, so to speak, and the effect was overwhelming. It was not just the amount of scent they all thought it appropriate to wear, but also the amount of bare skin on show, the fairy-on-top-of-the-Christmas-tree dresses, and the Aladdin’s Cave display of jewellery. One or two of the women in the restaurant were elegant and restrained. The rest, as Anna had predicted, were still engaged with keeping-up-with-the-Costas.

A man had been provided for Kate, a colleague of Alex’s. He was urbane, bland, attentive, and like Alex, he’d been at Bryanston. Kate enjoyed a mild but pleasurable flirtation with him throughout the evening – she felt as if she was flexing muscles she hadn’t used for some time. He said he was coming to see her on Hydra. He didn’t interest her in the slightest.

Anna was anxious for news of Sam. In the cloakroom, when they were repairing their make-up, she asked about him.
“How is he, the old buzzard?”
It wasn’t an inapposite choice of word: Sam was tall and hunched with  sharp-features and  beady eyes.
“He’s fine. Sent his love.”
“Did you talk about me?” Anna was refreshingly direct. Other women might have burrowed coyly for such information.
“Yes.”
“Nice things?”
“He’s very fond of you, Anna.”
“Fond?” Anna was dismissive. She felt the back of her head where her hair was put up into a glossy coil. She adjusted the jewelled pins shaped like golden bees that held it.
“Any sign of a Mrs Gordon?”
“No. And I’m sure he would have told me if there were…”
Kate knew that if she hadn’t become Mrs Conrad Bredon she might well have become Mrs Sam Gordon. That was better left unsaid. What a merry-go-round though, Kate thought: Sam very happy with his attentive ladies but I’m the one he really wanted. Anna married to Alex and still looking over her shoulder at Sam. Luke commendably loyal to Felicity but still regretting Claudia and casting an eye at me. And here am I, loving Conrad, but having what Catholics call impure thoughts about Luke.

They left the night-club about two in the morning. Anna and Kate sat up for an hour after Alex had gone to bed – the house was deliciously cool, and they undressed, wrapped themselves in thin robes and sipped lime tea.
“Did you enjoy the evening?”
“Yes. I think I did.”
“Well, Takis was very smitten.”
“I’m going to London next week. The Greek mother-in-law is really getting on my nerves. She’s broodier than ever.”
“Would you be pleased if you got pregnant?”
“I wouldn’t be pleased if she thought she’d won.”
Kate laughed, and waited.
“On the whole I’d be pleased, I suppose.” Anna continued. “As long as I had a Scots nanny to take complete charge, you know – a dragon, the starchier the better. That would spike mother-in-law’s guns.”
“I’m beginning to feel rather sorry for your mother-in-law”.

It amused Anna to hear of Kate’s plans for the following evening.
“Felicity’s what I call a fussy hostess, ” she said. “It’s all very well meant, but so exhausting having to reassure her every other minute. I don’t of course. Just let her get on with it. But there’s always Luke. Have you noticed that he looks a bit like Charles Dance?”

It was clear that Anna didn’t know about Luke’s second weekend on the island either.

27, TURN LEFT AT THE NASTURTIUMS. Leaving Hydra for London to see Conrad and his seriously ill mother, prove challenging

by Lyla Harling

Edited by Gilly Cameron Cooper
Copyright Pamela Walshe & Gilly Cameron Cooper 2015

Helena was carefully dressed and made up – all flags flying. Her turban was, as one might expect, a minor work of art in fabulously coloured silk, and rather flattering.
“I have tried to avoid the Carmen Miranda look, darling. Definitely no bananas!”
Kate admired grace in adversity, and was struck by the courage of Helena’s determined gaiety. As Conrad had said, wigs had been offered and imperiously turned down.
“Darling, you should have seen them. I told Con they made me look like Harpo Marx, or Widow Twankey on a bad night. It made him laugh. He’s been so glum, lately, poor boy. You’ve got to help me cheer him up.”

Jocularity in the face of suffering was a side of Helena she didn’t recognize at all. There was no sign of bitterness or fear. Kate had gone to see her alone, though Conrad had asked if she’d mind. Kate preferred it this way, as she could take her cue from Helena, but she found it quite hard to respond to the determined cheerfulness.
“In any case they say my hair will soon grow again. I’m thinking of an entirely new style – short and curly. Without this little medical adventure I’d probably have hung onto my long locks for far too long.”

It was only towards the end of Kate’s visit that Helena let her guard slip. She took Kate’s hand (Kate was beginning to feel self-conscious about her own firm, brown flesh compared with Helena’s fragility and Conrad’s pallor) and tried to extract a promise from her.
“He misses you, Kate.”
(The Kate was a give-away – ‘darling’ usually did.)
“Con’s quite a lonely boy, in some ways. He’s got lots of friends, but nobody close. You’re the only one close to him.”
After herself, she means, thought Kate. I’m not going to be blandished into making promises I can’t keep and don’t want to keep.
“Conrad has always struck me as being pretty self-sufficient, Helena.”
Kate smiled, to take the edge of what she was about to say.
“And Conrad is Conrad’s best friend.”

“But…” Helena managed a laugh. “If I’m gathered before my time…” she looked at Kate. A ghost of fear showed itself for a moment, but it was not fear for herself. “…He’s going to need a shoulder.”
Kate didn’t reply. Helena hadn’t said “your shoulder” but it was implicit.
“I’d like to think you were back to stay,” Helena continued. “I’d feel better if I knew you were.”

Emotional blackmail. Helena was fighting with the only weapon that came to hand, and it could be her final battle. I can’t let that influence me, thought Kate. What shall I say?  If I temporize, she’d see straight through me, she wants a solemn promise.
“I’ll be here for a bit. But I’m not back to stay, Helena, not yet. I’m buying a house out there.”
“But Conrad loathes Greece, and it’s so far away.” The phantom of fear was taking over.

Kate explained that the house was to be a retreat for her, somewhere to write, for a week or two at a time, perhaps, when she needed complete peace. They were kindly lies, utter humbug, but it seemed to work. Helena brightened.
“Perhaps I’ll come for a little holiday. When all this is over and my hair’s grown again. In the spring, when it isn’t so hot – I haven’t got your Mediterranean skin, darling.”
It was a brave, hopeful note. Kate agreed, encouraged the idea, and then escaped.

Driving back from Chiswick, where Helena had a small, elegant house filled with rivery reflections, Kate felt immensely saddened. There was no vice in Helena. She was what she was – decorative and designed for pleasure, not for practical use. Shallow, perhaps, but overall, she probably added rather than subtracted from the sum of human happiness. Oh god, I’m thinking of her as if she’s already dead, again, Kate thought. Nevertheless, underneath the careful make-up and the brave, gallant turban, the bones of Helena’s face were prominent, with sharp angles where there should have been pretty curves.

************

Sam had been largely silent when Kate told him about Turn Left at the Nasturtiums. Now, sitting on his desk, glancing round at the familiar office, she waited for his opinion. It was a pleasant room – large and untidy, dedicated to comfort rather than to show. Rather like Sam himself, in fact. Ashtrays and reference books all over the place; tottering piles of hardbacked books and manuscripts, and a messy nest of correspondence on his desk and spilling over onto the floor around. Kate knew Sam well enough to know that the despite the air of disorganisation, this was well-organised chaos. The same floor-length, dark olive-green curtains had hung at the long windows for twenty years or more, and had never been cleaned, as far as Kate could remember. There was a photograph of herself in a tooled leather frame that she had once brought him back from Mexico. Kate picked it up, examined her smiling face. Twelve years ago, maybe; something like that. Sam wasted no time and launched his offensive.
“Doesn’t sound like your usual style.”
“It isn’t. But my style seems to have deserted me, either that or it’s being very coy.”
“Katy, the world is full of memoir and travel writers. They usually fall flat on their faces.”
“You mean unless they have masterful literary agents who save them from their folly?”
“Precisely so.” Sam was laughing. He regarded Kate as one of his thoroughbreds – temperamental, but the right stuff. Sam’s other consuming passion, apart from his work, was a lively interest in race-horses. He was modestly successful, having had recent winners at Lingfield and Doncaster. Kate noticed that the other photograph on his desk was of a dark-eyed chestnut mare and a grinning, triumphant jockey, representing his latest venture.
“Well anyway, it isn’t a travel book.”
“It’s still a bum idea.”
“I’m enjoying it, Sam. And the things one enjoys writing usually read well too. How many times have you told me that? ”
“How long will it take you to finish?”

What Sam actually meant was: “How long will it take you to get back to the other one?” He believed that the book Kate had abandoned was her most accomplished yet. But he also believed that thoroughbreds don’t respond well to the whip; gentle persuasion was called for, the velvet hand in the velvet glove. Sam was prepared to indulge her for a few more weeks, and let her hang on at the Arkwrights until September.

Annoyed with herself for sounding defensive, Kate explained at length why she needed to spend at least the autumn on Hydra, and possibly winter as well. Unless of course, something happened to Helena. She couldn’t pretend that when Nasturtiums was finished she’d simply pack up and return to Holland Park and her London life as if there had been no interruptions. Sam was silent when she told him of her plans for creating and living in a spare, unfussy space of an island house. And in telling him it became clear that Holland Park would be seeing a great deal less of her.
“What does Conrad think?”
“I haven’t told him yet, but he’ll know soon enough. I told Helena.”
“Why? That’s hardly likely to cheer her up. What touches Conrad touches her.”

Kate had spoken to Sam of her visit to Chiswick. He’d known nothing of Helena’s illness. Conrad had confided in few people, possibly at Helena’s request. Sam had immediately rung him, not to offer sympathy – Conrad would have hated that and seen it as premature – but to suggest a consoling drink. Conrad had been touched – there were those who shied away from sadness as if it was infectious. Sam might disapprove of Conrad, but he still liked him. Most people did, in spite of his lamentable behavior, and often, in spite of themselves.

“It was your idea that I went to Hydra, and spent the summer there.”
Kate felt she was sounding like a sulky twelve-year-old.
“Summer’s not over yet.”
“Don’t you miss London at all?”
Sam was curious, faintly aggrieved, and well aware that it was indeed he who had orchestrated her trip.
“Not so far. Well, in the beginning, when I first arrived, of course. But I’ve settled down now.”
“It sounds as if you’ve settled down for good. Not the best time to pick, surely?”
“I didn’t pick it. It picked itself. And from the financial point of view it’s a very good moment. My accountant says I ought to off-load some capital.”

It was Kate’s turn to feel aggrieved. So often Sam had urged a firmer hand with Conrad. Now it seemed as if masculine solidarity was surfacing, as if Sam was rowing on Conrad’s team, and she was to play the loving wife. Kate couldn’t believe it – Sam, it seemed, was metaphorically singing ‘Stand by Your Man’ as loudly as Dolly Parton, and Kate Bredon was to stand by her man no matter what the personal cost.
“Anyway, I’ve fallen in love,” Kate finished, and had the satisfaction of seeing Sam sit up. One seldom sees a person actually physically sit up. On this occasion, Kate did, and it restored her sense of humour.

“Oh God…”
Sam buried his head in his hands. He had beautiful hands with finely-kept nails; Kate regarded them with familiar affection and approval. There was a gold-mounted cornelian ring on his little finger, which Nell used to play with when she was small. One day he nearly swallowed it, giving Sam the fright of his life.
“Don’t tell me, with a fisherman. You’re going to spend the rest of your life mending nets. Barefoot and covered in fish scales.”
Sam’s sense of the dramatic sometimes took over.
“With the island, you clown. I’ve fallen in love with Hydra. Not with a man.”
Sam reached behind him and produced glasses and a bottle of San Patricio. Kate shared his liking for this very dry sherry. They sometimes had a square or two of bitter chocolate with it. She nodded her assent.
“Absolutely no fisherman?”
“No. It’s the way of life I’m in love with. That’s why the book is so important. I want to celebrate the place, garland it.”
“Ruin it, you mean. ”
“It’s too small and rocky to be ruined. The sort of people who might ruin it wouldn’t go there. You must come and stay. I’ll make an islander of you too.”
Sam eyed her, and rooted in a drawer for chocolate.
“Come on, Kate. I’ve known you a long time, longer than most. It may not be a fisherman but I don’t believe you’ve lost your heart only to an island.”

It was against her nature to deceive Sam. Impossible too – he had known her for far longer than Conrad. She told him of Luke, what there was to tell, which wasn’t much. It afforded her a keen pleasure to describe him. Sam was quiet and attentive as she talked on. During the telling, it occurred to Kate that Sam might not only close ranks with Conrad – some sort of obscure male bonding – but also might mind on his own account. There had never been anything physical between, but there were other sorts of love. Sam, however, clearly didn’t feel anything of the sort.
“I think it’s done you good.”
“There hasn’t been very much ‘it’. But I’ll tell you something – your friend Anna’s got her nose down.”
“Anna’s a truffle hound when it comes to romantic entanglements.”

Sam had nearly said sex, but Kate’s face had been very revealing when she spoke of Luke. Not the face of a women in love, perhaps, but the face of a woman-in-waiting or on the brink. Knowing Kate as he did, Sam hoped there would be no backlash to cause the corrosive and damaging pangs of guilt that might stop her. It wasn’t that Sam was in favour of idle affairs, but he felt that Kate deserved something, and something deeper than a quick fling. She wasn’t a shallow person, but if this archaeologist could complete the cure that the island had begun… he smiled affectionately at her.
“And I’ve always thought of you as the Fair Miss Frigidaire.”
“I was, and still am. It’s just…”
She faltered; it was an impossible conversation but a huge relief to be having it.
“Well, don’t lose your nerve, although I’m not sure you’ve got the temperament for adultery.” Sam relit his cigar, and continued.
“I’m very sorry for Conrad. I never liked Helena – a silly woman and a bad influence, but that’s neither her nor there. If she dies, it will hit him very hard.”
“Oh yes, it certainly will.”
“But he will recover, Kate. Or he’ll make an accommodation, and you’ll be there to help him. So consider this: I know you love him, but kicking up your heels, just for once – as you’ve found someone you want to kick up your heels with, might be very good for you, and even good for your marriage.”

When Kate left, she had Sam’s agreement that she should continue her book about Hydra. She didn’t have his approval about the house, but then she hadn’t expected to. Sam liked his clients where he could keep an eye on them, not 2000 miles away.

*********

A fortnight passed. Kate went most afternoons to see Helena, driving herself down to Chiswick in time for tea. She didn’t want to go so often, but a bad conscience dictated that she should.  Kate was missing island life and was uneasy at the intensity of her self-interest. Conrad sometimes came with her, but usually he didn’t. They did have Helena for dinner twice a week, which Kate was glad to do. Conrad would bring champagne, which she thought was a false note as it was a celebratory drink. But maybe he was right; there was a party atmosphere, even if it was forced and rather febrile. One or more of Helena’s darling boys would be in attendance; Conrad and Helena would sit holding hands, which Kate no longer found an irritant. The turbans became more elaborate at night, almost fancy dress, with feathers and beads. Maybe it was Helena’s way of dealing with her illness: she was playing a part so it wasn’t really happening. The evenings ought to have been a strain, but on the whole, they weren’t. Helena’s gaiety, however assumed, put to shame long faces. Conrad and his mother and whatever guests there were played bridge while Kate cooked. They all gossiped and behaved as if Helena’s fragility and small appetite weren’t apparent. Indeed, she claimed she felt better, and that her specialist was pleased with her.
“It’s because darling Kate is here to look after me,” she would say, and Kate could never decide whether it was meant to please or whether it was more emotional blackmail.

To her surprise, Helena hadn’t mentioned the house on Hydra to Conrad. One evening, driving back from Chiswick, Kate brought it up herself – she could hardly sneak back to Greece with the thing undiscussed. For once, Conrad was at the wheel.
“I can’t see the point. If we want a holiday house, why Greece? Why not France? It’s closer and a great deal more civilised.”
“Conrad, it’s not a question of we. It’s about me. I want a safe haven, somewhere that’s entirely mine, with my things and my ideas. My choice of place, and that place is Hydra.”
She’d meant the safe haven as an emotional one, away from Conrad’s pranks, but was afraid she had sounded rather pathetic. It was not the moment to mention Conrad’s pranks…or maybe it was, to bring it out into the open for once and for all.

“Sam Gordon’s got a great deal to answer for.”
Conrad’s voice didn’t suit anger; it was designed for seduction rather than aggression.
He’d taken a wrong turning, and the next five minutes were spent trying to get back onto the Chiswick flyover. They argued most of the way home, and the row was continued upstairs. Conrad lay on the bed smoking a rare cigar. Kate hated smoking in the bedroom, which he knew perfectly well. He was careless with his ash, and the smell got into the curtains of the four-poster. However, this didn’t seem the right time to be housewifely; Conrad would certainly seize what he saw as an advantage, and make some comment about abandoning her responsibilities towards him, so what did it matter if he burnt a hole in the sheets or indeed set fire to the whole house.

The argument, which had begun as an uneasy discussion and was now a battleground, had been going on for two hours. The chilly embers of a score of fights were being fanned into flame again. Conrad, who rarely fought, was fighting now, and the words “you knew what I was like when you married me” would no doubt erupt. As would her weary reply: “yes, but knowing, and having my nose rubbed in it are two very different things.”
“Even if my mother weren’t dying.”
Aah, the emotional blackmail, like mother, like son.
“We don’t know that she is,” interrupted Kate.
In fact she was dismayed at her own selfishness; it was monstrous to hope that Helena wouldn’t die purely because of her own self-absorbed wish to get back to Greece. It had only just occurred to her that this was at least partly true. Until now she had comfortably felt that her concern for Helena had been largely altruistic. Perhaps altruism was only achievable in small doses.
“Even if she isn’t,” Conrad persisted, “you’d have to come home sooner or later.”
“Why?” It sounded truculent, and was. Kate went into the bathroom and ran the taps.
“Because you love me.”

And there it was. A statement of fact. Kate wouldn’t confirm it or deny it. She could hear Conrad’s sudden laughter, sense his mood abruptly change by scoring a silly, but fair, point.
Kate made up a bed in one of the other bedrooms that night. Neither she nor Conrad occupied it.

In the morning, he brought her a cup of tea. She hadn’t wanted to be roused from a pleasant dream of pushing Nell’s baby round the lake in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, but Conrad’s early morning tea-drinking was sacred to his well-being; it was a ritual he seldom shared. Sparing a cup for her was a considerable olive branch. The subject of the house didn’t come up again until the evening before she left.

26, TURN LEFT AT THE NASTURTIUMS. Enter Conrad, with news to disturb Kate’s Hydra calm

by Lyla Harling

Copyright Gilly Cameron Cooper & Pamela Walshe

Chapter Twelve

Nell’s letter, when it arrived, was neither as long nor as detailed as Kate would have liked, but she gathered from it that the father of Nell’s child had been a guest at her hotel on Skye. It wasn’t his first visit. He was very sweet, very English, Nell wrote, though at forty-five, far too old to be considered as husband material. Had they been thinking of marriage, Conrad would have had a step-son-in-law of his own age. Nell liked him very much, loved him, really. She hadn’t yet told him about the baby. He was coming back for some fishing later in the year, so there might be wedding bells, Kate thought, which would be a good thing. Single parent-hood was all very well, but perhaps more difficult on a remote Scottish island.

After she’d read the letter, Kate drifted into an agreeable little fantasy about being a granny. A few of her friends who already had grandchildren seemed to love their role; it was so rewarding. There was a large empty room right at the top of the Holland Park house, which would make a wonderful child’s bedroom. She (Kate somehow saw a grand-daughter) could be pushed out in Kensington Gardens; it was rather a hike, but… Later, there would be trips to the ballet; all little girls like ballet. They’d have to think about a school. No doubt there were excellent schools on Skye, and no reason why she shouldn’t go locally – Scottish education was excellent. And there was St Leonard’s in St Andrews for when she was older: those romantic, purple-lined cloaks. But only if the child was happy with the idea of boarding, and Nell would have her own ideas – grannies should keep a back seat unless asked, but she and Nell agreed on so many things. Of course, all this meant being back in England; it was odd how a single item of news completel changed one’s perspectives.

Her happy preoccupations were interrupted by the telephone. It was a brutal, bumpy landing back in the real world.
“Katy? Sam gave me your number. I had to have it, my darling.”
If Sam had disobeyed her instructions and given her number to Conrad, then it meant that Conrad was in a jam. The line was atrocious. Guilt overwhelmed her – she had done nothing about ringing him.
“What’s wrong?”
“I’ve just come back from New York. Helena came with me. She’s very ill, Kate.”
“What sort of ill?”
But Kate had guessed before Conrad told her. She felt a moment of unrelieved panic – plans threatened, twitched back to London by Conrad’s distress. So like him, to get his own way, one way or another.
“The big one. I’m not sure she’s going to make it.”
“I’ll come back. ”
“I wish you would. Right away?”
“Yes.” Conrad sounded lost; he never sounded lost. Kate’s moment of selfish panic was overtaken by sympathy.
Robin and Angela had to be put off – Kate had asked them to supper to discuss her purchase of the house. It was to have been a joyful occasion. Rose Dukakis had been coming too – in a quieter way she was as pleased as Anna that Kate was to become a bona fide Hydriot.
She was off the island in a matter of hours. She’d thrown some things into a bag, fastened the shutters of the house, doused the geraniums and left. Grubby was nowhere to be found. Kate filled his water bowl and shoved it into a shady spot under the jasmine.

*********

During the flight from Athens to London, Kate reflected on the last few months and speculated about the next few days. Even in the midst of her concern for Conrad and her dismay over Helena, it had occurred to Kate to ring Luke, to say she’d be away for a while. Perhaps she was showing her hand, declaring an interest that would probably be better left undeclared. She hadn’t done so in the end. Rose Dukakis would probably tell Felicity that she’d had to leave at a moment’s notice, so Luke would know anyway sooner or later. He had rung her the day he’d got back from Hydra, and had left her in no doubt that he’d enjoyed her company. Ostensibly the call had been to thank her for the party and the picnic, but one or two things that he had said – not compliments exactly, or at any rate very Delphic ones, and very pleasing. Felicity could have heard every word they exchanged and wouldn’t have had her feathers ruffled, unless she was particularly astute at spotting obliquely expressed affection.

As she opened plastic packets of knives and forks, and fought her way into foil- and film-wrapped food, Kate considered her position, and Conrad’s. He was defenceless in the face of such a blow. His love for Helena was no small thing and a tremendous irritant at times; some might say it bordered on the unhealthy, but it was real. It was certainly difficult to handle although Kate had long ago faced the fact that the three things pivotal to Conrad’s life were his mother, his wife and his women. Which was most important was debatable. Quite possibly it was Helena. Now that pivot looked as if it might be removed, cruelly prematurely.
“She’s barely sixty, Kate, ” he’d said over and over again, “and looks forty-five.”
There had been no mention of why Kate was so far away at this time of crisis. That seemed irrelevant now. She had refused Conrad’s offer to meet her flight and was heading straight to Holland Park. Besides, he’d never find his way to Heathrow, she thought, with a sudden uprush of tenderness.

Helena had cancer of the lymph glands. She and Conrad had travelled together to a New York clinic. The specialist’s prognosis hadn’t been optimistic. Chemotherapy might help slow the progress of the disease, but it was likely to spread. Chemotherapy worked just as well in London; Helena hated New York, so there was no point in staying.

An hour or two into the flight, the woman in the next seat to Kate became disposed to talk, starting with the standard opening gambit: “Excuse me, but aren’t you Kate Bredon?”
After a polite interval, Kate opened her copy of The Times at the crossword, and her companion subsided. The woman would say to her sister later: “I sat next to Kate Bredon on the plane. You know, the writer. We had a long talk. She looks prettier, softer somehow than her photograph.”

Staring blankly down at the clues, occasionally filling in a word so that her protective cover remained intact, Kate pondered what to tell Conrad. Should she tell him about the house, even if it served as a counter-irritant to take his mind off Helena? If it did so, perversely, she’d think the less of him if he could be so easily diverted.

Her panic returned. I don’t want this interference with my plans, she thought. It may be appallingly selfish, but I’ve come back to life again, and I want to stay alive. I won’t give up Hydra. I’ll ask Robin and Angela to put everything on hold for a bit; they’ll understand. One step at a time; poor Helena might not have many more steps to take. It seemed inconceivable that so much vitality, such a firm hold on life might soon be prised away. Kate tried to remember the last time she’d seen Helena. There had been no sign of anything then – Helena had been her usual gay, immaculate self, as exasperating as ever, and constantly defending Conrad. One of her ‘darling boys’ had arrived to take her out to lunch and Helena had left in a cloud of scent, managing to have the last word by telling Kate not to fall in love with any Greek gods. Kate had been furious – in the particular circumstances it seemed offensive and impertinent. Now she recalled the remark almost with affection – Helena enjoyed her life and expected other people to enjoy theirs. Kate was, however, realistic enough to know that if further chemotherapy worked, if Helena recovered, her ability to irritate would recover with her.

*********

The courtyard at Holland Park was lush and green. It had been a poor summer, with only a scattering of hot days and far too many cool, wet ones. The magnificent ‘Albertine’ rose that festooned the walls made the tough old roses in the gardens on Hydra look like poor relations. The clematis that romped alongside wasn’t bleached by strong sunlight. But there was no tortoise, lumbering purposefully from one patch of shade to the next, and no Grubby, or any of his battle-scarred cronies, slinking away like shadows when she approached.

Conrad had been waiting when she arrived. He had bought flowers and put them in the kitchen sink, which Kate far preferred to a bought-in arrangement, however imposing. When she went up to the bedroom, Kate noticed a single rose, dark red, by the bed. It was in a small crystal vase she and Conrad had shopped for together in Venice, years ago. However overwrought he might be, Kate thought, he still remembers the appealing grace-notes.

The house looked neglected. Kate’s daily had jobs that she liked doing and those she disliked. She liked polishing furniture, but without Kate’s eye on her, the hoovering might have been done once a fortnight. The bathroom was sparkling (Conrad wouldn’t have tolerated anything else), but the kitchen was not. There was an interesting collection of stale leftovers, both inside the fridge and out, bearing witness to random shopping and snatched meals. The whole place had the smell of a bachelor establishment and a home that has been left to its own devices.

The two of them sat outside in the early evening sun. It was cool enough for a cardigan, and Kate thought regretfully of the caressing heat of Hydra. They opened a bottle of champagne. It was the only festive note. Conrad slumped on his bamboo chair, shoulders bowed. Something he never normally did. Then he raised his glass to Kate, and gulped down the wine – which was something else he never did.
“You look wonderful, Katy.” He gave her the familiar, appraising glance, which was usually reserved for other women, taking in her smooth tan and sun-bleached bronze hair. “Have you lost a bit of weight?”
“A little, perhaps. I’ve swum alot.”
Conrad had never seen her ballooning obesity, and her subsequent skeletal thinness. If he had, he wouldn’t have needed to be thrown out, he’d have packed his bags and moved out. Kate wondered how he was reacting to Helena’s changed appearance. Chemotherapy did nothing for the looks.

“Well, it suits you. ” Conrad sighed heavily. “It’s a sad home-coming, but  I’m so glad you’re here.”
Kate put out her hand, and Conrad took it and held onto it. His looked pale in her dark brown fingers. He’d lost weight as well. Too much, Kate thought, and remembered Sam saying that Conrad had lost his gloss. Surely Helena hadn’t been ill for so long? Kate thought of her own peaceful life on Hydra and her delay in ringing Conrad. She reminded herself again of why she’d gone there, and made to remove her hand. But Conrad’s grip tightened and Kate once more wrapped her fingers round his.

“I’m so very sorry, darling. ” The endearment came quite spontaneously.
“I haven’t given up hope. Neither has Helena.”
“No, of course not. Hope’s half the battle, more than that sometimes.” It was a comforting cliché, but true.
“I’ll go and see her tomorrow.”
“She’s so bloody brave. Looks like hell and still holding court – you’d better pack your paper hankies.”
Normally, Conrad detested sentimentality. An unwelcome thought struck Kate.
“She’s not bald, is she?”
“A few wisps left. She wears a sort of turban thing. She said the wigs on offer made her feel like Harpo Marx.” Conrad grimaced, and gulped down more champagne. Kate was appalled at the image.
“Oh God, Conrad. How cruel. Her beautiful hair.”
“Mmm.”

Conrad got up to pour more wine, and kept his back to Kate. I’ve never seen him cry, she thought, not once in fifteen years. Oh, there were crocodile tears at Glyndebourne, luxurious, sensuous tears stirred by the music and drama of Der Rosenkavalier, but nothing more.
“Do you want to talk about it? Can you?”
Conrad shook his head. “No. ”
But of course they talked about little else throughout the evening. Conrad would be in the middle of recounting some titbit of literary gossip of which he had an enormous, amusing and sometimes-scandalous fund. Then he would lose his thread, look at Kate as if for help, and then drop the gossip and talk of his mother again. It’s as if she’s already dead, thought Kate. These are the conversations we’ll be having after her funeral, if there is one: people do sometimes recover against the most enormous odds, and Helena is certainly a fighter.

What would I be doing on Hydra now, she wondered, her mind straying. It’s seven o’clock here, so nine in Greece. I’d be on the terrace with Robin, Angela and Rose, having a glass of wine and eating olives. We’d have looked over the house together, and we’d be making plans. Suddenly ashamed of her lapse of attention, Kate forced her mind away from Hydra.
“Strange, isn’t it, ” Conrad mused, “one jogs along in life, more or less in control, more or less happy, minding one’s own business and trying to live a decent sort of life. And then, right out of the blue, a double whammy. Kate walks out and Helena’s under a death sentence.”

The thought of Conrad jogging along was pretty bizarre. His happiness was highly orchestrated, there was absolutely nothing random about it. And the way he conducted his life was indecent by most people’s standards, although one of his saving graces was his generosity, to friends and charities alike.
“Do you think I’ve left you?”
“Well, you’re not here. That’s as good a definition of having left as I can think of.”
“You know why I went.”
“Rather harsh punishment for one mistake. ”
“Oh Conrad, one mistake? The one I couldn’t forgive, if you like, but…”
“So I’m not forgiven?
“The one I couldn’t overlook, I meant, not forgive. Oh, I don’t know. ”
Kate was tired.

They ate an omelette in the kitchen. She arranged Conrad’s flowers and put them in the hall and in the drawing room – he’d bought half a florist’s shop. It seemed ungracious to leave them in the kitchen sink, however weary she was. Conrad went to bed. Kate took a long bath, perhaps as a delaying tactic before deciding where to sleep. She stretched out in the deep, scented water, taking in all the familiar things around her: the marble surfaces and brass fittings, her collection of Lalique glass and Conrad’s battalions of cologne bottles. In the bathroom on Hydra, she wouldn’t have been able to lie so comfortably, full-length, with clear water gushing hot from the tap at the touch of her toe. The bath on the island was barely bigger than a bucket, and while the clarity of the water had improved, there was still some way to go. Grubby would be sitting on the closed lid of the lavatory half asleep, keeping an eye on things. Grubby believed in togetherness when it suited him.

Kate was in no hurry to leave the comfort of the oil-softened water. No bed had been made up in any of the other rooms. It seemed that Conrad was happy to pick up where they’d left off so many months ago, before Sophie Gore-Ewing was anything other than the pretty daughter of one of Conrad’s colleagues. Kate had hovered between irritation and amusement. Amused resignation, really, because it was such a typical Conrad reaction. It wasn’t that he didn’t think, he just thought differently. Why shouldn’t she want to share his bed, he must have thought, especially now, when he needed her.

Some time after three, woken by a sleep-sodden but restless Conrad, Kate lay in the lacy luxuriance of their four-poster. It was a far cry from the orthopaedic hardness of the Arkwrights’ bed, which Kate had found daunting but now rather liked. She could hear the late traffic on the Bayswater Road. It compared unfavourably with the night sounds of the island – she’d forgotten how noisy the slamming of a car door could be. No soft starlight illuminated the room, there was no emerald green star hung in the sky like a jewel, to get her out of bed to star-gaze. Without a stitch on, too. Aah, that wonderful privacy, the freedom. She turned to look at Conrad, his face half buried in the pillow, and breathed in the familiar smell of his body, his hair, his breath. Again she thought how little she had expected to be sharing a bed with him. But as she had suspected, Conrad had taken it entirely for granted. Like Grubby, he too believed in togetherness when it suited him. Kate had tried to stand back, had tried to distance herself, but it hadn’t worked. She and Conrad had had fifteen years to get to know each other, to learn how to please each other. But he had turned to her for comfort too. It’s what I’ve come back for, Kate reflected, whatever form the comfort takes.

25, TURN LEFT AT THE NASTURTIUMS: return to Dokos after the kiss…

INSTALMENT 25, TBP 12 FEB

Luke sat on a rock with Kate’s foot in his lap, picking sea urchins out of one of her heels. He applied his lips to each tiny, rosy wound and sucked vigorously. Conrad would have walked away.
Kate watched with interest.
“Maybe we ought to pour some wine on them?”
“Spit is better, it’s just as antiseptic as alcohol. Leave it to me. I didn’t get my Scout’s first aid badge for nothing. ”
“I bet you’ve never been near a scout hut.”
“Well, had I been a Boy Scout I would have got my badge. There, does that feel any better?”

As Luke continued to examine the sole of each foot for further spines, Kate scrutinised him with equal care. That kiss last night had been a single, wordless kiss – all the more delicious for that. Luke had taken his time. It hadn’t been unexpected, and didn’t require explanation or conversation. The whole evening, from their first dance to their final drink, seemed to be leading up to that moment – leaning on the warm wall, watching the sleepy duck. They had then continued their climb, and Luke had left Kate at her gate. Earlier, plans had been made to take a boat to Dokos again.

The next day, they set off about ten. Kate had met Luke on the port, and they’d embraced in a friendly fashion. They bought fresh fish, bread and tomatoes, tiny, creamy bananas from Crete, and retsina (which would have to be inadequately chilled in a rock pool). Now, sitting on a damp towel while Luke attended to the final, stubborn spine, Kate looked down on his blond, sun- and salt-roughened hair, and wondered what Conrad would make of it. He had never once said “Katy, I don’t mind if you have some fun too. Fair’s fair.”

She knew perfectly well that he would mind, very much indeed. Whenever she had confronted him with dismay at his own irregular behaviour, Conrad would robustly declare that infidelity was entirely different for men. It was unimportant, he claimed; men had different needs. He could, albeit rarely, be extraordinarily pompous and unoriginal on occasions, and capable of turning a moderate feminist to militancy. He regarded the feminist movement as a joke and his mother was right behind him.
“All those strident, unkempt women, screeching about their rights. Not all that fond of washing, either, by the look of them,” she had once said to Kate.
When Kate asked her views on the suffragettes, and the sacrifices they made, of their liberty and their lives, imprisonment and forced feeding, Helena had looked vague and changed the subject. It was as if she, like Conrad saw herself in some mythical golden Edwardian age in which women knew their place (in drawing room, ballroom or bedroom, not at the kitchen sink, of course), and was happy to stay there. As so often with Helena, Kate had given up.

The morning on the little island beach had been spent swimming. Not always together: Luke had brought his snorkel and flippers and Kate went off by herself to explore another small beach and a series of watery caves. It was there that she had trodden on the urchins as she scrambled over rocks encrusted with the pretty rosewood-red creatures. She thought nothing of it until she tried to walk. Luke collected wood, lit a fire and grilled the fish while Kate sat and directed operations. The small boat bobbed a few yards away from where they were sitting. There was a new closeness between them. Was it spiked by anticipation? Luke was going back to Athens that evening.

They ate the fish. Kate had forgotten the salt. Luke made her pay a forfeit – fetching the second bottle of retsina from the rock pool. She limped into the water. Luke pulled the cork and poured them both a glass. They ate the flavoursome little bananas; Cretan bananas were always the sweetest, Luke told her. For the last hour they had been talking about their childhoods. Kate was a vivid storyteller and Luke was an appreciative audience. He listened attentively, asked the right questions and knew when to stay silent. He learned of her rather lonely early years, which were peopled largely by imaginary friends and made tolerable by imaginary games. She told him of her great affection for her French grandmother, from whom she learnt to cook and appreciate wine at an early age. Her parents had thought her too solitary and sent Kate away to school. It was a disastrous decision, nearly ending in a breakdown. Kate couldn’t believe the horror of organised games, the ridiculous importance they seemed to merit and the scale on which they were played at the school her parents had chosen. She loathed communal life, the lack of privacy, and acquired a reputation of being clever (a grave sin) because she retreated into books. As a result, she was severely bullied. Only the English mistress had understood her, and had eventually told the headmistress that Kate should be allowed to return home. Kate’s father had insisted that she remained until the end of term. When her tormentors heard that they were about to lose their victim, the bullying had increased. It was mental as well as physical, with whispering campaigns, silences and disconcerting laughter.  Kate, who was a brave child, had fought back, but it was an unequal battle, and even now she had nightmares about those last few weeks. In a way it paralleled Luke’s own experiences at Repton. Kate had been rescued by the intervention of one humane and sensible woman, and Luke had learnt to box.
“Why didn’t your mother intervene?”
Kate laughed. “My mother believed that if a school came highly  recommended, the school was above reproach and if things went wrong, it was the child who was at fault.”

Conrad had never been very interested in such reminiscences or how they might have affected Kate. He was largely indifferent to what happened to her before he entered her life. The past wasn’t so much another country, it was another planet, and he had no desire to step into the space-ship of memory and go exploring. The most he’d ever said, when Kate tried to tell him about it, was that Stowe had been pretty brutal too. So Luke’s interest was welcome and consoling.

After she’d talked for an hour or so, Kate said she was getting hoarse. Luke seemed unwilling to give up his role of good listener and said he wanted to hear about Kate’s early struggles as a writer and the coming of Nell. Kate said she wanted to hear more about the time he lived rough in Turkey, and his relationship with his children. Had she been on oath and asked what she was secretly hoping for, Kate would probably have mumbled something about wanting some healthy criticism of Felicity. She liked Luke’s loyalty, and had he made any serious mention of Felicity’s shortcomings, she would have shut him up. Nevertheless, self-esteem is never so burnished that it can’t do with an extra polish, and listening to mild criticism of someone else can be very pleasurable.

What Kate actually got was unexpected, and a completely new perspective on Luke. He began to tell her of a love affair that had long preceded Felicity, and which, in a sense, had prompted his marriage to her. In his twenties, he had fallen deeply in love with an Italian woman. She was older than him, very beautiful… and married. But that did not preclude her from have a tempestuous and highly charged affair with Luke that had lasted several years. Their meetings had been snatched and infrequent, but all the headier for that. It was Luke’s first serious involvement, the first time his heart had been engaged. It marked the crossing from adolescent flings and sexual romps to something more mature. It was painful as well as joyful. Luke was impetuous, keyed-up by passion. She would sometimes retreat, to keep him on the boil. Cat-like, she played with her victim, and Luke would play along, more than half aware that it was a game, less than able or willing to call her bluff. He had spent money he couldn’t afford on extravagant presents, and on lavish dinners at restaurants he had hitherto only dreamed of dining at, and on short, achingly sweet holidays with her, where no-one could detect them in adultery. Claudia was rich in her own right, and also married to a rich husband, who from time to time was away visiting his factories in Milan and Turin. She would willingly have paid for the clandestine holidays: Tobago once, a remote part of Corsica twice, twice to Switzerland, tucked away in a cuckoo clock village high up in the Alps. But Luke didn’t want to feel like a gigolo, and Claudia had expensively stylish ideas, expensively stylish tastes; love in a cottage wouldn’t have suited her.

“Did she love you?” Kate asked.
“Yes. I think so. In so far as she understood the word. It wasn’t that she was shallow, but she was spoilt.”
“And you continued to spoil her?”
“Within my limited means. She was very spoilable.” Luke sounded defensive.
“She had a face like an angel, Kate. She’d have tempted St Paul himself, in spite of all his dreary admonitions to abandon the joys of the flesh.”
“My, my.” Kate was amused, and moved as well – Luke’s face had been intent on memory. She longed to ask if Felicity had been told of the irresistible Claudia. She rather suspected not. Or not quite in the terms that Luke had told her.
“I suppose any man likes a woman on his arm who makes heads turn, and at that age…” Luke considered for a moment, then went on.
“She had the gift of making you feel as if you were the only man, the only personable man, in the room. Perhaps it was a useful trick rather than a gift, but she’d look at me with her huge pansy-coloured eyes, through eyelashes you could trip over, and I’d be drowning. Am I boring you?”
Kate shook her head. It surprised her that Luke could be so articulate and lyrical in his description. Uncommon in most men of her acquaintance – apart from Conrad, of course, who always noticed the colour of women’s eyes.

“Other people’s love stories always interest me. What happened in the end?”
“What happened was that Claudia couldn’t imagine life without a second Ferrari. I don’t mean that exactly literally, but it will do. I begged her to live with me. She was perfectly right not to. It wouldn’t have lasted six weeks. She needed the trappings, you see, as well as the adoration.”
“I thought she was rich”.
“It wouldn’t have done, Kate. You’re forgetting the game-cock image that men like to display. Claudia couldn’t live in a cottage and I wouldn’t let her pay for a castle. ”
Luke laughed. “Our last night was like something out of a Puccini opera. Tears; promises of undying love; plans to meet once a year for one night of bliss – you never heard such drivel. And all fuelled by a very great deal of very expensive champagne, I seem to remember. ”
“And did you ever see her again?”
“No. I met Felicity. ”
“In the Pass of Glencoe. ”
“In the Pass of Glencoe”.

Kate hadn’t the smallest intention of saying “but why Felicity?” although the question was bubbling up. Luke saved her the trouble of suppressing it.
“Felicity was the dock leaf to a nettle sting. Soothing. She was very much in love with me, and still is, I think.”
“You didn’t love her?”
“What do you call love on the rebound – convenience? Selfishness? Balm for a broken heart? There is something very soothing about unconditional love…”
Luke poured more wine. It was now tepid and barely drinkable.
“Do you think Felicity’s had a bum deal?”
“Does she know about Claudia?”
“A sanitised version. The fact that it happened, but not the passion. You haven’t answered my question. ”
“Did you tell her before or after you married?” Conrad hadn’t told of his indifference to becoming a father until after the honeymoon.
“Before. I think it sharpened her appetite. You still haven’t answered my question. ”
“She wasn’t who you really wanted. She knew that, and she wanted you anyway, so no, I don’t think she had a bum deal. You’ve always seemed to me to be very protective of her.

They swam again, then packed up the picnic and headed back to Hydra. The day hadn’t gone as Kate thought it might. There had been precisely no reference to last night and the spinning out of the last hour in each other’s company. It had been a very public kiss on the cheek when they met this morning, and an almost brotherly removal of the spines from her foot. There was no particular feeling of closeness when he was doing it, but later, there certainly was, in the conversation that went far beyond small talk. And what would I have done if he had pounced on me, wondered Kate, as they sailed away from Dokos. I’m not in the market for an affair. I’ve never done it before. Why now? There had been other opportunities, with better-looking men, and yet Luke had somehow got under her skin in a way that no-one else had.  Claudia, though. I wonder why he told me. She called out to Luke, who was handling the tiller.

“You didn’t see her even once more?”
Either Luke had kept pace with her thoughts, or could read them. He called back:
“They left London shortly afterwards. Returned to Milan. ”
“No yearly trysts?”
“No. Commonsense told me that they would be painful, or even, perhaps a let-down. I wonder what Claudia looks like now. Must be fiftyish. ”
My age, thought Kate. I wonder if Luke knows how old I am.
“I’m fiftyish. ”
“I know. Felicity told me. ”
Any sympathy Kate had felt for Felicity abruptly curdled. Later, poking moodily through her thoughts and impressions of the day, Kate felt some compunction at her irritation. She’d never made any secret of her age. There was no reason why Felicity shouldn’t have mentioned it – it presumably wasn’t done with malice.

They parted on the port, Luke to pick up his things from the Miranda, Kate to climb back up to the house. She felt flat and out-of-sorts. It could have been the warm retsina, but she knew it wasn’t. It was because there had been no mention of a further meeting. Maybe affectionate goodnight kisses were all part of the Luke Waterlow package.

24, TURN LEFT AT THE NASTURTIUMS: Hydra island is curing Kate; will Luke be an extra balm?

INSTALMENT 24

Three things happened in quick succession that disturbed Kate’s peace of mind, her progress with the book and her happy preoccupation with Robin’s offer. She had not yet spoken to Sam or to her accountant about the house. It was like having a delicious, potentially explosive secret: a grenade of controversy from which she would shortly pull the pin and then lob into their laps. Sam would probably be puzzled at the idea, and Conrad appalled. Helena Bredon’s reaction was also an interesting part of the equation. Kate was surprised that she herself was deriving such satisfaction from being, for once, the one who stepped out of line.

The three things, in no particular order of importance, were the following: Sam rang to say that Conrad had returned from New York and had asked him to ask Kate to get in touch; Nell rang to say she was having a baby, and did Kate mind; and Luke rang to say he was returning to Hydra. He explained that Felicity had to stay in London an extra week as Jamie was still under the weather and didn’t want her to leave. As for Luke, he didn’t want to stay in the heat and ever-growing piles of garbage in Athens. If Kate was busy, he could of course amuse himself, but it might be pleasant to have a glass of wine on the port, or something…

The thought of being a granny, even without the benefit of a son-in-law, was an unexpected delight. Nell no doubt knew what she was doing, and Kate had hardly been a conventional role model. She rang Skye that evening, and Nell said there was a long letter on the way.

Ringing Conrad was something that could be fairly comfortably postponed. Kate knew that two minutes of listening to Conrad’s seductive, persuasive voice might well be a step backwards into her old life lived on Conrad’s terms, not hers.

And then there was Luke’s proposal. Kate wondered if she could take a guest to Susanna’s barbecue – things like that were usually pretty informal. The idea of ‘being busy’ never entered her head. But at the back of her mind – what exactly was at the back of her mind? Kate had never been a promiscuous woman. Had she been a little more so, her life with Conrad might have been easier – playing him at his own game, as Anna put it. But Nell’s father and Conrad had been Kate’s only lovers. Luke was an attractive man, and the truth was he attracted her. Well, nice to think about the possibility. Besides, going to a barbecue seemed so wholesome, there was a sort of down-home innocence about it. Nevertheless, she wondered whether Luke would tell Felicity about his second trip to Hydra in a week.

*********

Kate had never eaten goat before. It tasted like a cross between mutton and venison, slightly gamey and more than slightly stringy. She didn’t think it would ever replace roast lamb in her affection. Luke whispered that it reminded him of school food, overcooked and lacking clear identity,  designed to fill up but not to tempt one to ask for more. There were several different salads, a great wheel of cheese pie, and baked peaches stuffed with almond paste and orange peel – a German speciality of Susanna’s. Yiorgo had a generous hand with the ouzo and retsina.

The house was some way from the port, buried under a blood-red bougainvillea that drooped under its weight of bracts and tiny flowers. A heavy blue gate in a thick, white wall led into a wild, tangled garden where a massive vine romped over its supports. White lilies had been planted in the shade, and a blaze of geraniums in the sun. Yiorgo and Susanna had been to considerable trouble to please their guests and hung the tall pepper trees with pin-points of light. This is quite magical, Kate thought, as she tripped over a slow-moving tortoise.

Robin and Angela were already there when Kate and Luke arrived. Kate remembered the Arkwrights’ words about nobody dressing up on Hydra. It was plain that they had never been to one of Susanna’s parties! There was everything from a white tuxedo (Susanna had invited a party of Americans from the most opulent yacht in the harbour who looked as if they’d escaped from the pages of The Great Gatsby), to an original, fringed, spangled and beaded, 1920s evening dress worn by a woman who ought to have known better. It wasn’t her age, it was her shape – 1920s dresses weren’t designed to accommodate Mae West bosoms. Luke said he applauded the woman’s courage, and Kate called his bluff and dared him to ask her to dance. To his credit, he immediately did so. Kate thought how very different he and Conrad were: faced with such a dare, Conrad would have left the party rather than take up the challenge.

Angela asked where Felicity was. Luke explained about Jamie, and Kate added (rather unnecessarily, she thought later) that Luke was staying at the Miranda. Angela would hardly be concerned or even interested, but Kate felt easier with things absolutely clear. Luke teased her about it later.

There was the usual polyglot gathering that Kate was becoming used to on Hydra: French, German, Greek, Dutch, the Americans from the yacht, and a man in a kilt with a strong Glaswegian accent. Luke remarked that the kilt must have taken quite a lot of courage, and Kate said “what about the Evzones guarding Parliament house in Athens – they practically wear tutus, ” and Luke said he hadn’t meant that, he’d meant the heat. On more than one occasion, Luke was taken for Kate’s husband. After a while they both gave up trying to explain. The man in the tuxedo asked Kate if she’d like to bring her husband to cocktails the following evening – the yacht was leaving for Turkey and a cruise in the Black Sea the day after, and he wanted to have what he called ‘a little clam-bake’ before they went. Kate gave a noncommittal answer, as Luke had said nothing about the following day.

A small courtyard had been cleared for dancing, the choice of music rather reflecting the average age of the guests: there were few people under forty. Dancing with Luke, Kate felt unconditionally blithe, as if she were cocking a snook at Fate. A few months ago she was drowning in insecurity, self-disgust and rancorous damaging resentment. There had seemed, at one or two low moments, little point or even hope in trying to regain her looks, her spirits, her figure or her confidence. The savoury smell of Susanna’s barbecue, the aromatic herbs flavouring the meat, and the scent of the lilies were a heady liaison. It made Kate’s happiness sharper and sweeter.

“Glad you came?” Kate, who was five feet seven in her heels, still had to crane up to Luke.
“It certainly smells nicer than Athens. ” Luke smiled down. “Of course I’m glad I came. Look, ‘White Tuxedo’ is trying to teach Angela to rumba. ”
“Ought you to rescue her?”
“Must I?”
“Perhaps Robin will. I can see the whites of her eyes, poor woman.”
“On the other hand, I should dance with Angela, I’d like to dance with her, and it would be polite.”
“Go on then. ”
“No.”
“England expects…”
“I don’t care. I want to stay with you.”

This infantile and hugely enjoyable exchange was brought to an end by the tape. Luke engaged White Tuxedo in conversation. Angela slipped away. Kate was claimed by Robin.
“What a lovely party. ”
“Yes. Greeks do know how to enjoy themselves. ”

Robin had a curious, highly idiosyncratic style of dancing – just swaying gently backwards and forwards, more or less in time with the music. Other couples eddied past them. It was rather soothing, anchored as they were.

“Have you thought any more about the house?”
“I’ve thought of very little else. ”
“There’s no hurry, my dear. We hadn’t dreamed of selling before you came along.”

They continued to rock peacefully together, and Robin told her of his progress with his editing; it was nearly finished, but the temptation to tinker, to embroider, was addictive. Did Kate find that? It was almost as if one was postponing the moment that the manuscript was out of one’s hands.
“Well, with my first book, I was just completely relieved to have it out of my hands. But I do know what you mean.

Robin was going back to see Sam the following week.
“Shall I mention the plan? Say we’re looking forward to having you as a neighbour?”
“Um, the thing is, I haven’t mentioned it yet. I’ve been sort of sitting on it. Sam will start raising difficulties I haven’t thought of, and I suppose I’m trying to put that off.”

“It sounds as if you’ve made up your mind. ”
“I think I made it up about one and a half minutes after you told me. I’ve just been pretending to think it over. ”
“Angela will be pleased. ”

 

 

*********

Luke and Kate left the party just after two. Robin and Angela had long gone. Susanna, the now familiar eyelashes heavier and bluer than ever, embraced them both warmly and went back to the dancing. The Greek guests were just getting their second wind.

They passed the Miranda on the way to Kate’s house. Kate said she’d be perfectly alright to continue alone. Luke told her not to be silly. Climbing up through the quiet little streets, Kate outlined Robin and Angela’s offer. He was silent for so long that Kate repeated what she’d said.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted. ” Luke sounded wistful.
“Well, at least you’ll have a base here now, somewhere to come. You and Felicity. ”
“Will I?”
Will ‘I’, not will ‘we’, Kate noted. She felt she was sailing under false colours, sending the wrong signals.

“There’s only one bedroom at the moment, but there’s room to build.”
“They build very slowly in Greece, hadn’t you heard?  It can take months.”

Suddenly Luke was laughing as he spoke. They’d stopped to rest, and were leaning on a wall, watching in the half-light, a sleepy duck which was tethered by one foot to a long lead. It seemed to enjoy its life in the pretty, shady garden with a makeshift paddling pool – Kate had several times seen it sitting companionably on the shoulder of a young Greek boy, gently quacking while he stroked it. They lingered, unwilling to end the evening. A small farm abutted the duck’s garden. They could smell homely, farm-yard smells, hear homely sounds as stock rustled straw.

Luke ran his finger down Kate’s cheek. It was done with great tenderness. She waited.
“Kiss me, Kate?”