After procrastination, comes the production.
Here is a short excerpt from my novel – draft four, and hopefully the last draft but one. The excerpt comes from the second half of the story. Roy, the narrator, has come to the small fishing village of Paternoster, up the West Coast from Cape Town, following a memorial service for his friend David, who had drowned in False Bay just a week earlier, under mysterious circumstances. In the morning David’s ex-lover, Suzanne, will drive out from Stellenbosch to spend the day with him.
I drove the next morning to Paternoster, an hour-and-a-half north of Cape Town, up the West Coast, past the turnoff to the Nature Reserve and the iron-ore terminal at Saldanha Bay, checking out from my hotel after an early breakfast. It must have been twenty years since I had visited last, and in that time the once-remote fishing village had been swallowed whole, like Jonah, by the whale of ‘development’. Still, the row of whitewashed cottages fronting the sea in the old part of the village retained a certain charm and simplicity, and the brightly-crayoned crayfish boats still headed out from the beach in the morning, as they had always done, except that now they had powerful outboard motors, and you could see the bow wave and the long white line of the wake as they raced to shore from over the horizon, long before you could make out the boats themselves.
I arrived in time for lunch, and trudged the hundred yards or so across the hot sand to the nearby restaurant, first dropping off my bags at my rented accommodation. I sat outside, on the open deck, under the shade of a beach umbrella, and ordered fish and chips and a salad, and a pint of lager. I lingered, after I had eaten, over a second beer, letting the afternoon sun and the plain, spare light leach into the bone, and then I went back to the cottage and threw myself down on the bed. In a second I was gone, and when I woke the tide was out and the vast sweep of the beach, disappearing northwards up the coast of Africa, was veiled in changeable forms of mist and light. I pulled on a sweater and stepped down from the veranda and crossed the soft sand to the shore, where the beach was firmer, and stood for a while with the cold Atlantic lapping my ankles and the foraging gulls following the last boat in. I went over to take a look, stepping between curious onlookers, and watched as a much-abused Land Rover reversed into the waves and laboured forward again, drawing the heavy boat up the wet sand behind it. There were a few good-sized specimens amongst the spiny crustaceans crawling and colliding in the boat’s wooden belly and I chose one of the larger ones for my dinner. The skipper pocketed the note I gave him with surly inattention, calling over his shoulder to his crew to get a fucking move on, in colourful vernacular. I trekked back up the beach, to my cottage, with the thorny prize flapping in my hand, feeling, for no particular reason, if not happy exactly then at least in some kind of equilibrium. It seemed, for now at any rate, that the gods had relaxed their watchful attention, and granted me respite in my anonymity.
I had a gin and tonic for David, sitting out on my veranda as the late sun burned through the haze and slipped, bright as a child’s coloured drawing, below the horizon. In another hour, a summer moon would rise into the heavens, and roll like spilled mercury on the dark silk of the ocean.
Later in the week I would see Alice. “We should have lunch,” I’d suggested, “I’ll book a table for us, at Tokara.” I would drop in on Sarah, also, and Jasper, to say my goodbyes before flying home, or back to London anyhow, and then on to Kent in winter, and the house that David would never again visit, on the weekend.
It all seemed a long way away off, almost improbable, this departure, though it would be here soon enough. But for now there was only the present: this hour, this place, this commingled air of iodine and fynbos. In the morning Suzanne would drive up from Stellenbosch, and we would spend the day together. We would walk in step along the beach, and have crayfish for lunch, we would pour ourselves a glass of cool sauvignon blanc and sit outside talking. We would talk about David, of course, and, I imagined, we might talk about the future, as people do when the past is exhausted.
I sat on the veranda until long after it was dark, a glass of wine in one hand and a lighted cigar in the other, while the moon rose and the salt air carried inland the sound of the ocean, and it was not hard to imagine what David had intended.