It was after ten when I got back to my hotel room. I ran a deep bath and called room service and ordered myself a large Lagavulin. It had been a difficult day, and the stress and emotion after David’s paddle-ski and life jacket were found had been difficult to endure.
The NSRI boat went out as soon as the discovery was radioed in and spent several hours criss-crossing the zone, two or three kilometres out to sea and further down the coast towards Simonstown, where the fishing vessel had lifted the paddle ski out of the water. David’s body was found as the light was beginning to fade, floating in his wetsuit face down, further out still, deeper into the choppy open water. It seemed strange that his body should be found seaward of the ski – common sense suggested he would have been trying to swim for the shore. It was possible of course that the wind and currents had carried him further away; there was another possibility, also, which I did not wish to contemplate.
When the body was brought in Jasper went down to the mortuary to identify it and I remained behind with Sarah and Daniel. Sarah did not want to talk about what might have happened with the child present and sat red-eyed for much of the time, staring into the garden, while I did my best to keep the boy distracted. When it grew dark Daniel began to complain that he was hungry and Sarah roused herself and went through to the kitchen to toast some bread and cheese and heat up some ready-made soup. I was not interested in food and neither was Sarah, but a drink seemed in order and we opened a bottle of red wine, I have no idea what it was, which we drank without tasting.
Sarah called her mother at her cottage in the Wilderness and then her sister Gillian, in London. Her mother expressed her regrets, rather formally, according to Sarah; there was no love lost between David and Elizabeth, and their divorce had been an ugly affair. Sarah’s call to Gillian took longer, and I could hear that they were discussing flights and funeral preparations. When Sarah came off the line I refilled her glass and proposed that I might I speak to Jane, in Australia; I knew her better than Sarah did, and it might be better if the news came from me. Sarah and I were still discussing these arrangements when Jasper returned from the mortuary and joined us in a drink. He was reticent about what he had seen, and it was obvious that Sarah did not want to know the detail, not right now, but Jasper did confirm at least that the body was David’s. There was no sign of injury, or anything untoward, he added, which seemed to comfort Sarah somewhat. There would be an autopsy on Monday, and then we might have some idea of what had happened.
Over all of this the unanswered question loomed, like the glittering peak of a rogue iceberg, why had David not been wearing his life-jacket, but none of us wished to discuss this now, and whatever it was that we might be thinking, we kept it to ourselves.
The conversation had moved on, and anyway I had been unsure about mentioning Miranda to them; I suspected they might not be aware of David’s relationship with her. He had been very discreet about it, and I myself had only got to know that he had had an affair with a married woman from Stellenbosch after it was all over – although, I have to say, I had wondered sometimes, seeing them together. David and I had had too much to drink, one night, coming home late by train to my house in Kent after a night in town at the theatre, and he had blurted it all out. We talked way into the small hours, and I remember him copiously weeping at one point; he did not try to hide the tears and I think it was a relief to him to let his feelings show.
I made up my mind that I would let Miranda know, in the morning; it would be up to her to decide whether to make contact with the family, although probably I would advise against it. She might have to bear her cross alone – as David had, I think. I soaked in the warm bath sipping my whiskey; my knees rose out of the steamy water and I saw myself as others must see me: the pale sagging flesh, the blue veins, the white bone pushing through the skin. Eliot’s lines came to mind, ‘Webster was much possessed by death/And saw the skull beneath the skin.’ I was restless, and although the whiskey calmed me, I needed somehow to make sense of things, to draw this all together, even though, I realised, there was not very much that I or anyone else for that matter could really claim to know. How does one know another man, anyhow? How do you get under his skin, inside his skull, and into the bone? Still, the look of devastation on David’s face, when he told me that night as we sat before the cold fireplace, that he had loved Miranda fiercely, that he loved her now, grew in my consciousness until I could see nothing else, and I had to do something, to shake myself free of it. There is something intensely disturbing when a man’s entire adult persona, the confidence and sense of self accumulated laboriously over a lifetime, cracks like a sheet of ice and falls from him, and you see the quivering nakedness beneath. I emptied the last of my whiskey and heaved myself up onto my haunches, the warm water draining off me as if I were some primitive animal rising from a swamp, and in another stiff movement rose to my feet and reached out blindly for the towel.
The thought of ordering up another whiskey was seductive – it might help me to sleep, or so I reasoned. I needed some kind of sedative or depressant, and the first whiskey had only slightly blunted the whirling blades that sliced and splintered in my head. In the morning when I woke I would feel better for having slept deeply, the heavy, sunken sleep, dreamless and still, that would follow. And tomorrow, I promised, I would restrict myself: one glass with dinner, and perhaps a nightcap when I came upstairs to bed.
Tomorrow, too, instead of meeting David for lunch, I would have time on my hands, and I would try to write some of this down. I sat in my bathrobe in the black high-backed leatherette chair and pulled myself up to the desk and turned on the light. For some moments I stared at the open folder, the blank squared double page of my notebook, with that sense one has sometimes, of being impelled almost against one’s will to begin something. I picked up my pen, and wrote at the top of the page, ‘David,’ and put the pen carefully down again, under the word.
I must have lost track of the time, thinking how strange it was, that I would never have lunch with David again. There may be something clichéd about death; all that stuff about loss and finality, but death, I knew in the bone, was real enough. It was the final reality.
There was a knock at the door, and I got up from my chair to sign for the whiskey.