I remember what she was wearing, what she was drinking, what she was saying like she sketched it all on my mind with her rotten old pencil. She had that kind of power. It was a yellow dress, a summer’s dress even though the days were shortening and the sun was beginning to hide himself away. And she was drinking pink champagne from a plastic flute. Not being an expert, I couldn’t have said whether the drink was worth pennies or pounds, but when she shared it with me it was the sweetest thing I had ever tasted. A nectar in the way that it went to my head and made me a different person. A better person. A poison in the way that me being better didn’t last.
She talked about everything except herself. I talked about myself and nothing else. Neither of us minded and we talked and drank and watched the sun dip down over the sea and spread its cold evening colours across the sand.
When I first saw her she was sitting on the beach and staring out at the sea and drawing something on her pad with that chewed up old pencil, bits of the wood falling away, exposing the lead underneath. The graphite, I mean. You know what I mean. The insides, the guts, were showing and she still kept putting it in her mouth and biting down. I imagined the gritty sticks in her mouth, catching in her gums, sticking in her teeth, tearing at her throat as she swallowed.
That’s what made me approach her. Made me. I had to stop her from harming herself, wanted to rip that ragged pencil away from her beautiful lips and hurl it into the sea. I think I said, “Excuse me,” or perhaps it was, “Pardon me?” but whatever it was she looked at me and blinked once, twice, and smiled, the pencil lying limp in her hand.
“Hello,” she said, I’m sure of that. She held up the half empty champagne bottle. “Fancy a drink?”
And that’s how it started. I never did ask about the pencil, never did find out whether she was hurt or not. I don’t imagine it matters all that much now anyway. It didn’t matter all that much then. Did it?
Just as we had watched the sun set, we watched it rise. Begin to rise. And all that time we had been talking and still I knew nothing about her which is as it should be because then she would be real, far too real, and she wasn’t. Real. She was something else, something from another place, I think. I’m sure of that. If not that then how can you explain what you found and when you found it?
I wept as the sun rose because as it did so she said one last word; “Goodbye.” It came from nowhere, just suddenly in the middle of a discussion about the beauty of love, and it stopped my heart and I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t tell her to stay. I regret it. You ask me about remorse, and I tell you, I have never felt more remorse in my life than at that moment. But despite what I felt, and despite her knowing it, she stood and walked slowly and deliberately towards the sea as the sun began to warm it.
After a decade or so, or that’s how it seemed, I scrambled to my feet and chased after her, my arms reaching, clasping nothing, and I fell to my knees in the sodden sand. She was gone. Completely gone. Not into the sea as you keep saying. Just gone, vanished into the sunrise.
I can see that it doesn’t look good for me. I can see that you suspect me, and I admit I was most likely the last one to see her, but I’ve explained my fingerprints on the champagne bottle, on the plastic flute.
Why don’t you understand? I couldn’t have killed her. All this happened last night, she disappeared this morning. And you said she had been dead for days.