The view through Kate’s bathroom window was no longer of Van Gogh poppies. The figs were swelling, plump and purple. The year was turning fast, ripening into full summer. It was a miracle that Luke had got a room at the Miranda. Kate peered into the murky glass over the wash-hand basin. Whatever the Arkwrights were like, they certainly couldn’t be vain because the image reflected in it was far from flattering. She made up in her bedroom where the light was better. Her skin was now the colour of rather old heather honey, dark and gipsyish.
Luke was already at the restaurant. He got to his feet as she climbed the steps. They bumped cheeks a little awkwardly. Like Robin, Luke was head and shoulders above all the Greeks. He was wearing a soft, blue well-washed shirt and canary yellow trousers. The trousers were a surprise; they were so, well, joyous.
“I’m glad you could come.” Luke pulled out her chair. “I hate eating alone.”
“I had to disappoint Anna; she was trying to haul me to Athens for some sort of bash.”
“High-powered dinner parties are one of Anna’s passions. Felicity hates them and refuses to go. Even I have to be in the mood, although Anna does do them very well.”
Luke asked what she’d like to drink. The waiter came over. He beamed, recognising Kate and acknowledging Luke. To Kate’s untutored ear, Luke’s Greek sounded fluent. He greeted the waiter by name.
They ordered fried kalamari, Greek salad, hot cheese pies and aubergine salad. Everything arrived at the same time.
Luke surveyed the laden table ruefully.
“I’ve never managed to crack this. I suppose if you order the dishes one at a time, you could have them served in succession.”
The taverna was full of local people and visitors, including a table of Australians drinking beer and apparently intent on working their way through the entire menu. The paper cloth was littered with fish bones, bread crusts and plates of discarded mountain greens. More and more dishes arrived, each one greeted with a boisterous cheer. The Aussies were unruly and good-humoured; when Kate and Luke left, quite late, they were roaring out Waltzing Matilda. The noise was considerable. Kate thought how much more fun it was than Anna’s elaborate do. Luke ordered a second bottle of wine.
“Pretty shirt. All that lace makes you look like a decadent choir boy”.
Kate was wearing her Mexican shirt again, this time with Mexican earrings the shape of white daisies.
“Conrad hates it. He thinks it’s vulgar. I must tell him that someone thought I looked like a choir boy.”
“A decadent choir boy.” Luke smiled.
“I think I’ll pass on the decadent.”
Luke asked no questions about Conrad, whether she missed him, or even “what does Conrad do?” – a question so often investigated by the English five minutes after introduction. Perhaps he already knew. He didn’t say “look at the moon on the water” either. It didn’t need comment. It was there, serene and aloof. Instead, in his staccato voice, Luke began to talk about himself. English public school days, and why he’d chosen archaeology as a career (partly encouraged by an uncle who had been an amateur archaeologist but who had been persuaded by his father, Luke’s grandfather, to become a banker and had always regretted it.)
School had been an ordeal until Luke had taken up boxing. He had been small in stature, only starting to shoot up when he was fifteen, and a rather pretty child. As a result, he had been bullied and at the receiving end of some embarrassing attention from older boys…until he had learned to box. He hadn’t been particularly good at any other sports, except swimming; he liked cricket but was only a moderate player and was hopeless at rugby. His father had been sympathetic to his problems at school, but not sufficiently so to remove him; instead he had recommended boxing. It had proved to be a stroke of genius and commanded respect from his peers.
“Why am I telling you all this?” Luke asked once, breaking off from a description of the school cadet force and how much he’d hated that too, with its ferocious sergeant major and ridiculous emphasis on military jargon. He certainly wasn’t sending Jamie to his old school.
“Because you want to,” Kate had replied. “And because I’m a good listener.” (This was not strictly true: usually, if people embarked on their life stories unasked, Kate would become restive and find an excuse to leave. Tonight, though, she had no wish to leave.
“I shall expect you to take your turn as story-teller as well.”
“Then I may have to disappoint.”
Luke lit her cigarette and took one from her packet for himself. Kate raised her eyebrows.
“Yes, Felicity really does hate smoking, but I’m one of those people who can take it or leave it.”
“More like luck.”
“Where did you meet Felicity?”
Kate was genuinely curious. But she also had an ambiguous feeling that by keeping Felicity’s name in the conversation all was still as it should be. Felicity hadn’t been forgotten or relegated to the wings while she and Luke moved into the limelight. Maybe it was silly, but it was a strong enough feeling to cause her keep Luke’s wife in the conversation.
Kate had been expecting a dinner party, an art gallery (although maybe not, with Felicity), but certainly not Glencoe. “What a gloomy place for a rendezvous.”
“It was indeed, extremely gloomy. It was sleeting and Glencoe was looking even more lugubrious than usual. Felicity’s car had broken down, and I could hardly drive straight past. Besides, there was all that glorious hair.”
“Not many people can say that romance first blossomed in that haunted place.”
“You know it?”
“Yes, quite well. I like Scotland. My daughter lives on Skye. But I must say I always scuttle in to and out of the Pass of Glencoe as fast as I possibly can. The spirit of the place is melancholy almost malign.”
“I think that’s what Felicity felt, but she didn’t put it quite so eloquently. Anyway, I got the car going again and took her out to tea. And we – went on from there.”
“We went on from there,” not “we fell in love” or even “we both liked what we saw.” I was right about the hair though, thought Kate.
“How long have you been married?”
“Don’t you know that men never know the answer to questions like that?”
Laughing, Kate said, “well, roughly, no need to be absolutely precise.”
“Let’s see. I was twenty-seven then; I’m forty-four now. About seventeen years.”
“And you have three children? ”
“Yes. Felicity had Priscilla within the year then Chloe four years later. Jamie’s the youngest. I’m surprised Felicity hasn’t filled you in with all this. She usually does.”
“I’m not that keen on talking about children. So men like talking about their children too?”
“This one doesn’t.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Luke glanced at her, almost speculatively, as if testing the water. If he pulls out some battered photographs, how shall I feel, Kate wondered. Bored? I usually am.
“They’re nice children. Felicity has brought them up very well. It’s what she does best”.
A model mother, Anna had said. “Do you have a favourite?”
No hesitation or concealment. They were both laughing now.
“How did you know?”
“It’s hardly difficult, he’s the only boy, and the youngest. Anna said he was an attractive child and looked like you. Perhaps it’s a narcissistic thing; you see yourself reflected in him.”
“And do I strike you as especially vain? In love with my own image? Narcissus died of love for himself, remember. ”
“We are talking about Jamie. How did we get into dying of love?”
“By your wild accusations.”
They were at ease, enjoying one another. It occurred to Kate that this was the first time she’d been alone with a man since she’d sat on the port with Robin Benedictus the night of her arrival on Hydra. The conversation drifted to mythology, to uncanny, inexplicable encounters. Haunted places like Glencoe, and houses with uncomfortable atmospheres. Luke told her of strange happenings during archaeological digs – odd smells, unaccountable gusts of wind, unexplained feelings of apprehension or suffocation. He described an occasion in Turkey, when he and fellow archaeologists had fled a particular valley because of the overwhelming feeling of sadness they had all experienced there. Some of their number had been in tears, unable to stop them. Luke hadn’t wept, but had felt an annihilating sadness that was beyond tears. He found it hard to describe and impossible to explain.
“What had happened there?” Kate was attentive, her interest caught.
“We were never able to discover. The people in the village where we were staying refused to talk about it. They just looked wild-eyed. So I imagine something must have happened. Another massacre, perhaps, like Glencoe. Something bloody, anyway, that wasn’t recorded in any history book that I could find.”
It was after midnight when they left the taverna. Luke had again mentioned his plans for a trip to the monastery, but didn’t ask Kate to accompany him. They parted at her gate.
“A lovely evening, Luke. Thank you.”
Since Kate had been hoping that plans for tomorrow night might be proposed, it seemed humbug to hesitate, so she didn’t.
“How about supper with me? If you’re not a stretcher case after your trek up the mountain.”
“I may be walking wounded, but I should be able to stagger as far as here. Are you sure? I don’t want to take over your life – there are plenty of places I can eat on the port.”
“But you don’t like eating alone.”
“Eight o’clock, then?”
On the rocks the next morning with Angela mentioned that Susanna and Yiorgo were having a barbecue the following weekend, and that she had been asked to bring Kate.
“They’re famous for their barbecues. Everyone drinks too much and all the men end up doing the sitaki – you know, the island dance.”
“Do the women just watch?”
“Most do, but Susanna joins in. So does Tilda.”
“What about you?”
“Robin would have me locked up. But you’re younger. You could try.”
Early that evening, as she was grilling plump red peppers, Kate thought about how her life had changed since coming to Hydra. She had no intellectual life now, not even the crossword. Her life was almost entirely physical. She lived alone, so the inevitable frictions of co-habiting were absent, and most of the time, was distracted from fretting about Conrad. She saw people, or not, as she felt inclined. She didn’t have her mobile; the telephone seldom rang, and no-one made demands. She was steeped in a peaceful, lazy life. Although the lack of work discipline concerned her, that too was receding. I mustn’t fall into the trap of worrying about not being worried, she reflected.
Just before Luke arrived, a germ of an idea occurred to her. Something she might enjoy writing. It was nothing to do with the unfinished novel gathering dust in London, picking up where she left off. A jeu d’esprit. Sam would probably be horrified.
“I couldn’t bring you flowers. Couldn’t find any.” Luke produced an elaborate box of truffles.
“There aren’t any flower shops on Hydra that I’ve discovered, just a tiny place that sells rather weedy plants. These look sumptuous. How was your tramp?”
“The only person I saw was an elderly nun strapped to a mule. She had the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen.”
“Nuns often do? How long did it take?”
“About three and a half hours up and rather less on the way back. There’s little to see when you get there. The place seems quite impenetrable. The only signs of life were a ferocious looking rooster and his harem, and a baby donkey.”
Kate laughed. “Oh dear”.
“So I petted the donkey, stayed well clear of the rooster, had my picnic, and came down.”
“Blisters opon blisters. I’m getting soft – I haven’t done any serious walking for far too long.”
“I rather wish I’d come.”
“I think you would have enjoyed it. Felicity wouldn’t, but you would.”
It was at that precise moment, watching him open a bottle, that Kate realised who Luke reminded her of. It had been round the corner of her mind all day, maddening and elusive. Now she had it – Charles Dance: he looked a lot like Charles Dance as Guy Perron in the televised version of The Raj Quartet. The relief of nailing his likeness was considerable.
They ate in the kitchen, side by side at the kitchen table. Grilled peppers and a fish soup of Kate’s own invention. This promised much and delivered very little: there was an acrid bitterness to it that wasn’t at all reassuring. Kate put her spoon down after one mouthful. Luke did his best until Kate removed his bowl.
“I hope you like bread and cheese.”
“Have you got any eggs? Mayonnaise is my culinary raison d’etre. My only one apart from opening oysters.”
“Felicity said you couldn’t boil a kettle.”
“Boiling a kettle is dull. Mayonnaise is an art form.”
Kate collected eggs, oil, salt and lemon and provided Luke with an apron and whisk. Twenty minutes later he had produced a bowl of rich yellow mayonnaise.
“There.” Luke dipped in a finger and tasted the magical emulsion.
“My father used to make it when I was a little girl”, Kate observed. “I used to think the pale pink of salmon and the pale green of cucumber and the yellow of mayonnaise were the colours of summer.”
“What a poetic child.”
“Just greedy. I was quite plump.”
Luke smiled and remained silent. Some men might have felt obliged to say “well, you certainly aren’t plump now” or “I can’t believe that” or “were you really?” with flattering emphasis on the really. They ate Luke’s masterpiece with tomatoes, the heart of a lettuce and coarse village bread. Kate offered the fish soup to Grubby, who walked away after one sniff.
“Maybe you got the liver of some of the fish in it,” Luke suggested, “that can turn the taste very rank.”
“Poor Grubby looks quite offended.”
“I’m sure he’ll forgive you.”