The Lady Vanishes
You can’t see it in the shot, but just behind her was an empty bottle of champagne we’d been swigging from while we sat on towels, our feet dipping into the sea. We’d had a slight row, both of us a bit squiffy, and she wandered off to a short distance in a huff. I took the picture of her sulking to show her later back at the apartment, to laugh over while we drank a nightcap on the balcony.
I didn’t realise that would be the last picture. The thing is, they never found her. Just her red skirt floating next to one of the little yachts in the harbour. That didn’t mean much, as I said at the time. She wore that skirt as a cover-up over her bikini. She might have left it on the beach before she swam and it got swept away. It doesn’t really matter though, all this conjecture – wherever she is, she’s not coming back now.
In the weeks that followed, they made me out to be a monster. I’d gone shopping straight afterwards, apparently. Visited the local bars to down Ouzo and dance with abandon in the warm night air. Headed to a trattoria to gorge myself on a 3 course meal, alone, like some modern-day Vlad the Impaler, feasting while she sank.
“Prove it! Call the witnesses! Scour my bank statements for ghoulish extravagances!” I had boomed to my lawyer when I was still terribly self-righteous and convinced it was all simply a dreadful mistake or that she’d taken her tantrum too far and merely hidden to punish me. In the early days.
It could have been worse, my sour-voiced solicitor had told me during one of our first meetings. There could be evidence or an obvious motive. Here, at least, there was neither – something that would count in my favour. If anything had placed me at the scene, I would be in real trouble, he’d remarked. I’d told him I’d bear that in mind for next time but he didn’t laugh.
I like the photo of her anyway. Love the way she’s looking down into the water as though she’s seeking comfort there. And with her feet in the water like that, she looks like she’s already slipping under the waves, just about to vanish, never to breathe again.
It’s been two decades since I’ve been on a beach, paddling about in the seaweed or feeling that tightness on my skin from a day in the sun. Nothing beats perching cross-legged on the sand being whipped by a sea breeze, eating salty chips and fresh fish. It’s the first thing I’m going to do when I get out.