They took a five week vacation in Cornwall- Miles, his wife Angela and their 19 year old daughter Ellie. It was meant to be a break for Angela who was newly wheel chair bound after a car accident and suffering extreme bouts of irritability and anger- for although the school where she taught had made all the arrangements so she could retain her job, she could not acclimatize herself to the loss of her legs below the knee and the loss of her sex life, which had ground to a halt. Until the accident Angela and Miles’ sex life was robust, they made love twice a week which Angela thought good going considering their hectic teaching schedules and extracurricular activities.. it was a big part of their emotional lives and without realising it, Angela depended on this physical connection much more than she liked to let on. But after the accident something had happened to Angela- it wasn’t Miles fault, he was still turned on, he assured her he didn’t mind her disabilities but it was no good- with the use of her legs had gone her drive and her attraction to Miles. She began to blame Miles for lusting after her, for reminding her of sex, for being so ready to accept her when she couldn’t accept herself.
At first when the idea of a holiday was proposed, Miles thought it best if mother and daughter went alone for some quality time together. Truth was Miles felt he was losing Angela to depression and her disability, he saw that he angered her- she couldn’t bear to see him naked and the merest hint that she might arouse him made her furious and sometimes she threw things. Miles suspected Angela thought him perverse for still finding her attractive and was aware that her behaviour really reflected on her own personal sexual tastes, but he said nothing. He felt time apart would be good but when he suggested as such Angela pooh poohed him- she begged his company and said the holiday would bring them closer together- she didn’t mention she was afraid that she might return and find him gone.
So here they were in the remotest part of Cornwall and Miles immediately sought out the nearest watering hole- The Trewith Arms- it was a pub he could dash to and hide in, a place he could escape Angela’s anger and Ellie’s accusatory looks if need be.. and it was here he first set eyes upon Pilar Treloggan.
Eyes upon eyes.
was now, some would say, way past her prime. Swarthy with thick lips, brown wide eyes already fogging a little with cataracts and a basin pudding haircut which did her glossy chestnut hair no favours, she was 42 and grim with it. A year has passed since her husband Jason ran off with a barmaid to Newquay, where, so she heard, he was working in a surf shop whilst training to be a life guard and she was a stewardess at the local golf club. Pilar laughed at this- the barmaid was Spanish and studying for her MA and Jason was all of 41 and slightly overweight- in the years between 35 and 40 he had grown inches of love handles around his waist and his normally thin angelic cheekbones, though still hard and angled and tanned in the sun, were beginning to go to flab and had become a bit jowly. At first everyone advised Pilar to be patient, Jason’s fling would hardly last (everyone assumed Pilar would automatically take him back), the Spanish girl would surely tire of him but that was 12 months ago and she only saw the partnership strengthening. Jason, who she thought had an aversion to water and God had magically converted into a Born Again Christian and a natural swimmer, the girlfriend all too happily splashing around with him. He had not yet filed for a divorce but when Pilar looked into the girl’s dark swelling eyes one day she saw no sign of the passion abating. At first Pilar fell to pondering why and meticulously examined her body in the mirror- it was the first place she looked- it was lean, sure, but it was also swollen somehow, swollen through a lack of sex and too much drinking-her body was swamped with drink in fact- but previously Jason had not seemed to mind, they both liked drinking and they both agreed that sex was not important. But perhaps Jason had been lying and was waiting for the right woman to come along, thought Pilar. Pilar shrugged her shoulders – she had a 50 acre farm to run, rape seed to harvest, cows to milk and sheep to shear and on top of that, a holiday home to maintain. Sure the farm belonged to Jason and she didn’t expect him to forget it entirely, but whilst she waited it would keep her busy.
But soon the loneliness began to bite. It was there in the barren ridges of the ploughed fields, in the vacant stare of the cleaning lady in the holiday let, in the steam blowing from the nostrils of the heifers as they regarded her with the whites of their eyes and it was there in the shower when her nimble fingers, yet again, picked out a lump the size of a pea in her left breast. It was especially there then, the tiny droplets of water from the shower head killing themselves in small smacks against the upside down transparent door fitted by an incompetent builder.
She had known about it for a while, she had to get it seen to she knew, she could easily have told Jason in those early weeks when he cried down the phone that he was confused and that he still loved her. But she’d only replied, in her very droll like manner,
‘You know what Confucius says- a man will split his soul in half if he tries to love two women.’
She prided herself on her small amount of indifferent intellectualism. Perhaps it was this that had pushed Jason away, albeit into the arms of a long legged Spanish MA student. Many a time, but especially now, Pilar regretted throwing up her studies at the local university and running off with him- who wowed her by speeding around the cliff tops on his small red bike, his hair bleached by the sun, his body taut and rippling and his face ruddy, young and weathered. Whilst all the other women in her term were busy showing their knickers and growing hair under their armpits and plastering their surfboards with CND stickers she decided that the real act of rebellion was to become a farmer’s wife- a real hard working beer drinking meat eating feminist working the land and up there with the best of them.
Now she could not see why and there was nothing left. She took to the pub- she wore glasses upon her thin nose and cut her hair when Jason left and drove furiously around the lanes in her Land Rover. She didn’t see anything except the livestock, except the land, she shunned the half joking passes made at her by the young farm hands in The Trewith Arms, despising their conversations.
But that evening when her eyes fell upon Miles Duffer- at first with irritation as he had flung his posh city mac over the back of her chair by the fireplace and she was obliged, gritting her teeth, to ask him to remove it- there was a shift in her. She saw his sad eyes light up, there was a sparkle in those pupils which reminded her of her old dog, heaving itself to its feet for a final drink before facing the knacker’s yard and she saw Miles coolly appraise her body and the invisible lump in her breast before turning away and staring calmly out of the window. She was amazed and flattered she could provoke still. He sat with a girl who she presumed was his daughter, hard faced, distracted clicking her mobile but immediately alert to the sexual tension between this woman with cow shit on her boots and her father, dressed in inconsequential cords, a checked shirt and grey jacket- the garb of an old man desexualised- he’d aged in the 6 months he hadn’t had sex.
Pilar’s quick looks allowed her to sum him up- he had an edge in him, she could see by the way he constantly moved his hands in front of his genitals as if protecting them, he turned his wedding ring round and round on his finger but what’s more she got the sense that something had broken in him- he had a baby face that had lost some colour and was pallid, she realised he was no longer in love- perhaps with life, perhaps with his partner- that accounted for, she thought, the quickness in him, the eagerness in his little boy eyes when he saw her.
came to the pub to get out of the house. Angela was staying in bed feigning a migraine- Miles and Ellie both knew she couldn’t face the day, the slowness of getting up, washing, dressing, eating and getting into the car for an hour’s blow on the beach only to come back and do everything again, but in reverse. The house was heavy with the weight of unspent energy, there was no wifi and that meant no facebook or twitter, so the only option was to get drunk. She couldn’t stand the silence in the Cornish lanes, the miles of endless unbroken fields- no she yearned for the sea and only that and since it was denied her, her way of coping was to drink. Her mother disapproved, she knew the daughter was struggling with depression but Ellie could only drink more to counter the disapproval, that being at the heart of her depression anyhow. She knew really, no man would touch her. Indeed she believed that if she had lived in the early 1900s she would have been thrown into a mental asylum, no questions asked. In 2013 things were just worded differently but the impulse was the same- she knew she still lived in a culture where both men and women loved to victimise the fairer sex – artists, film makers, writers and theatres all loved it and she knew she had to be careful not to readily go along with it.
So she looked with jealousy at the two potential lovers now. She could see Pilar was interested- she kept flicking Miles little looks, and he, not ignorant of this, caught them at last and held her gaze a little. So it went and Ellie waited for one of them to speak but when it came it was as banal as,
‘You’re not from round here are you?’ asked Pilar.
‘No, no, holiday makers’, said Miles, adding quickly and unnecessarily, ‘for 5 weeks.’
Pilar felt disappointment in her stomach tighten more than she would have liked. Already months ahead Ellie thought, ‘there’s Skype’, for Ellie was not thinking of Angela, as indeed Miles should have been. In her head Angela seemed to have lost sexual claim on him.
had walked into The Trewith Arms weary with his wife’s anguish but, as his hand lifted the latch, he felt the same excitement he always did upon entering a drinking house. Perhaps it was because Angela did not approve, perhaps because as a public school master it was not something he should be doing that often- but the sensation of doing it sometimes allowed him to think more clearly, he had his best ideas in a pub. He was grateful the cool drinking room with its grey Delabole slated seats was not busy, he did not wish for prying eyes and when he spread his coat unknowingly on the back of Pilar’s chair and sat in wordless companionship with Ellie he reflected on recent events- for two days ago Miles had felt sufficiently depressed to ring the Samaritans. At the time he believed he could not go through with 5 weeks spent totally in the presence of Angela, with no work or other company to give him relief. This realisation filled him with utter despair and desolation. Since the accident Angela had been engaged in a series of court battles claiming the other driver was entirely culpable- even though clearly- to him at least- the accident was both their faults and the compassion Miles was expecting from his usually generous and thoughtful wife for the 17 year old driver, uneducated and on his way for an interview with the housing benefit services, was not forthcoming. Instead, as if blinded by her own physical and emotional pain Angela was unable to have empathy for anyone except herself- the other driver had got away with minor cuts and bruises and not life changing injuries and that pissed her off.
In the six months after the accident Angela seemed to go through a complete personality change. He had been warned by the doctors this may happen, still Miles was unprepared- before his very eyes Angela seemed to metamorphise from a round warm circle into a hard thin rectangle with edges that cut. If was as if all the anger Angela ever had from the beginning of time was now let out against this boy- he was a ‘shit, a yob, a pillock, he should be locked up and the key should be thrown away’ and so forth. Miles worried for the state of his wife’s heart and sometimes wondered how he could fall asleep next to such hate at night time. He in his turn felt all his ideals smashed. He had nothing to fall back on. He picked up book after book seeking advice and solace- Aquinas, Augustine, Plato, Confucius, Mohamed, Gandhi, Osho, Nietzsche, even Alain de Botton but none had answers. None gave him solace. But when he finally turned to the Samaritans they only said, over and over like an automated machine-‘How do you feel, how does it make you feel?’ He wanted to say ‘I feel shit because I can’t articulate how I’m really feeling and you’re making me feel bad about that.’
Or the idiotic question about whether he was happy- Miles questioned the man on the other end of the phone, whom he imagined to be a spotty gangly youth filling in his gap year, with ‘Well what do you mean by happiness?’ and then, ‘Well are you happy? And by that I mean are you at peace with yourself?’ to which the reply was, slightly sneeringly, ‘We are here to talk about you. How are you feeling?’
He hung up. The Samaritans had helped some of his friends he knew, but he needed something more. How he got through the night before driving to Cornwall he did not know. He could not make himself sleep next Angela and she resented it anyway. That evening she had been particularly mawkish, her students had turned into little lying bags of evil who would not do their homework and trying to comfort her and throwing an arm around her hunched shoulders, he felt himself turned on. And she laughed. Staring at the growing bulge in his trousers she laughed at him and told him to imagine some little art student somewhere and to jack off by himself because be damned, she wasn’t going to help him. At that moment he struggled with hot acidic bile rising at the back of his throat and he kept his fists clenched tightly to his sides- for the first time in his life he wanted to slap her hard across the face.
So when Pilar walked into the pub that night he felt like someone had drawn back the curtains and let light shine into the darkness, ‘O light, O holy light’, the words came into his mind.
He had no eyes for anyone except Pilar, no time for anyone except Pilar- he remembers vaguely a throw away comment from his daughter but he does not reply and she leaves him alone, seeing the state he’s in. Of course he never analyses his feelings, he would not, even in thought words, acknowledge his attraction or even it being attaction. But he is bright once more, oblivious of his daughter, sticking out his chest, pouting and talking nonsense at the top of his voice, hoping she might hear.
They only uttered a few words about the emptiness of the pub and he quickly informed her how long he was staying for but in that smallest of conversations he found her voice entrancing, rich, deep and comforting, he would never have guessed at her alto tones just by looking at her and he wanted more, he wanted to carry on the conversation but she withdrew and sat alone and silent in the corner and he dare not approach her.
Once more after this and by accident they meet, alone this time and they talk to each other about each others partners- the revealment is not to warn each other off but to inform- and then Pilar finally strikes up the courage to ask Miles to meet her at another bar. He comes and this is the first of many meetings over the next 3 weeks and in time the bars became cliff walks and lazy saunters along sandy beaches.
Angela and Ellie were unsuspecting of the whole thing. It never occurred to Angela she could be losing Miles to a farmer- she’d seen them often enough from the window, driving their mud caked vehicles around narrow lanes and imagined their lives full of milking cows and Radio Cornwall or Country and Western, she could not imagine Miles being attracted to any one of them and Ellie hadn’t really thought about Pilar after that first meeting- she’d sat back and watched the whole thing through narrowed eyes but that was all.
But Miles and Pilar grew closer though it was never commented upon. In return for reigniting Pilar’s love for literature which until now had long since been abandoned in a dusty attic full of the modernists, Pilar revived Miles’ love for the land and entranced him with talk about farm made biofertilisers to replace energy intensive expensive artificial fertilisers and how she was a supporter of Regenerative Agriculture. He persuaded her to join the Fabian society and she showed him proudly around the land, even giving a quick lesson in tractor driving. When Miles described Pilar generously as a potential modern day Tolstoy, Pilar replied she was much more interested in the experiments conducted by Thoreau and even thought about doing something similar one day.
But little by little their talk died and the hours were spent in perfect quietness- a quietness where Pilar’s heart reached out and found nothing- her soul spoke of solitude and asked for comfort yet there was no answering reply from Miles, his soul was trapped in the time before the accident and where his love life with Angela ran as seamlessly and continuously as a little brook. Miles was merely concerned with raising his status with Pilar, he wanted to find fame once more in the eyes of a woman, though he himself could not put this into words.
was in the shower again. Of late, since meeting Miles, she’d stopped looking at her body or examining her left breast. She didn’t want to think about the tumor, which she knew was there, which indeed had always been there since she was 7 when she saw her own mother in and out of hospital with it before the mother wilted and died, she knew it was malignant, intuition and her dreams told her and she could not bear the lonely visits to hospitals, the tiredness and sickness just yet, no not just yet. She would look to it once this thing- because she saw it as a thing- with Miles had played out. She’d try and get something at last- something and someone worth thinking about, something and someone worth living for. She knew of course, all about Miles and Angela but she chose not to think of that- instead as she soaped the water over her aching body and ribs, she imagined it was Miles, it was his hands soothing her bones and he was there with her in the shower. She foresaw and lived through every conceivable fantasy with him, she imagined herself as Pilar in the Paul Auster novel Sunset Park Miles had lent her, fully believing he meant it as a sign and that she and him were meant to be the real life versions of those characters in the narrative. Her nights and days were filled with imaginary conversations about Quantum Physics or the new ‘bit’ currency introduced into London by a rebel group of men, which were followed by long exhausting love making sessions in her fields or by the sea. She could not help herself- whilst Miles was, through his relations with her, gaining a much needed emotional stability which helped him better cope with Angela, Pilar was growing into a yearning mass of desire.
On this particular day, Pilar is even more on edge because she has invited Miles over for dinner and he has accepted- but as she strides her fields edging the cliffs and stares into the Atlantic towards Constantine Bay her need for union- the final one- sweeps through her bones with such force she wants to throw herself there and then onto the consuming rocks below- such is her exultation.
came to Pilar’s house- not the farmhouse which was now the holiday let, but a new modern light 3 story affair, like the houses in an Edward Hopper painting, Miles thought, at 7pm sharp. He had little trouble getting away, he exhausted Angela at the Eden Project and Ellie, who had finally managed to get the Internet to work, would be shut away chatting on FB or Twitter until after midnight.
His time with Pilar was a welcome diversion. He slipped into companionship with her as if entering a dark warm cave, though he was careful not to stray too far from the entrance. Pilar had set up her gracious modern dining room over looking Middle Hendra, the steep fields and the sea; with one light, after dinner Miles found his voice taking shape and articulating his inner most worries about Angela, how she was choking in the mire of her own self pity and as he talked he became aware of Pilar’s fervent gazing, the close mouth gaping attention she was giving to his words accompanied by the eager nod of her head, his eyes fell on her moulding bosom pressing defiantly through the cotton blouse she’d persuaded herself to wear, when suddenly, spontaneously and without any self awareness, she reached forward and kissed him slowly and lingeringly on the lips, ending with a resounding smack.
At first Miles Duffer was genuinely surprised- he thought their relationship had clear boundaries. But then he was angry- he experienced an erection and was therefore vulnerable and he did not want to be vulnerable with Pilar, he wanted to be the hero, he wanted to reach an angelical stature with her, not anything that was based in the crude reality of sexual relations which after all, required trust and one could not trust a child, for that is how he thought of Pilar only- a poor broken hearted child in need of companionship and a guiding hand.
After this episode Miles left at once and did not visit for a nearly a week, keeping away from The Trewith Arms, ignoring her pleading texts and phone calls. Then he phoned her and arranged a meeting- he was feeling guilty and was angry with her for making him feel guilty and he wanted to break off.
They met in a little bar high above Polzeath beach and far from curious eyes or the influence of her house and the dark lounge and traversed up and down the rumps, soggy with fog, gazing at the deep swells of the waves as Miles explained why they must never see each other again.
‘Friendships between men and women are impossible because there must be sexual intercourse’, he stated sternly, ‘therefore we can’t be friends because we are not going to have sexual intercourse. Ever.’
Pilar, as so often, was unable to emit a response and she had nothing to counter this Nietzschean like statement. When they descended the rumps for the final time she shook so violently he was obliged to turn his back and walk away.
Two weeks later Miles and Angela made the journey home, Ellie having already left a week earlier. The time away had done Angela some good, she had regained some of her former sophisticated generous self and at home things went on almost in the same way as they had before the accident. Miles felt more contented, he slipped easily back into his routine- school, home, tea, marking, helping Angela in the bath and getting ready for bed, an attempt at sex sometimes, which was not unsatisfactory for both.
For a month or so afterwards, he received texts and phone calls from Pilar and when he did not respond, they became inevitably aggressive-
‘Why did you do this, why were you behaving like this towards me if it didn’t mean anything?’
Miles was repelled by what he saw as their self victimising nature and he decided that Pilar was very good at making herself the star of her own melodrama…
One evening he sat down in front of the TV, lasagna on his plate and a glass of red wine nearby, contentedly watching the news. At first he paid no attention, he was thinking about the day’s work and a student he thought was border line Oxford material, when he caught a few words from a news report that made him look up and then arrested his attention for the next 5 minutes.
Yes this a very sad case John, as I say the locals in the area have been pressing the council to take measures against this kind of occurrence for sometime now, it is a known suicide spot and of course a tourist attraction and although the death of Pilar Treloggan has not yet been confirmed as suicide, it is thought, due to the state of her health, living and employment conditions, that it probably was. A former friend of Prince Charles who supported her research into unorthodox farming methods…
The news report went on to detail Pilar’s state of affairs, how her husband had divorced her and forced her off the farm and into a small caravan perched on the cliffs, how she had been diagnosed with a rare untreatable and lethal form of breast cancer and how finally, in the last few weeks leading up to her death, she had spent all her hours visiting the local pubs. She hadn’t left a letter but her troubles were well known to the locals.
Miles’ heart pounded and a hot blush spread across his cheeks. He looked at Angela to see if she had noticed but she only muttered,
‘Poor woman, that’s near where we stayed isn’t it?’
Miles could not move except to switch off the TV. He must hear no more. Instead he concentrated hard on the end of his fork and the remnants of the yellow white sauce stuck between the prongs. He heard his breathing come out like rasps through his mouth.
The woman who thought she could have a sexual relationship with him had turned into a drunkard and committed suicide. He imagined her, her face even more tram lined and pasty, dark circles under her eyes, downing wine bottle after wine bottle whilst the Cytisus Scoparius with its hairy black pods and the White Willows rattled like bones against the caravan windows, her alone, perched atop a cliff above the Atlantic and sinking into this degradation and self abasement. He believed Angela had far more to contend with and he congratulated himself, not for the first time, on not reciprocating that prolonged adulterous kiss. Now his criticism of her became even harsher- had she considered his wife, his daughter or himself at least once when she pressed that breathing smelly smacker upon his lips? Had she wilfully planned it, counting on a natural erection to press him into sleeping with her? And what if he had slept with her and she had become pregnant? Would she have taken the baby with her, smashing its soft head on those sharp rocks? He shivered. He had to get out of the house. He rose abruptly, for once ignoring Angela’s enquiring look and slammed out into the quiet little suburban street. On his way his glance took in the cover of a book she had only a few months ago returned to him- Sunset Park by Paul Auster. His mind on the book, he remembered that two of the main characters were named Pilar and Miles and they were in love. He remembered Pilar- the once living and breathing real Pilar- possessed a strong and vibrant imagination, he had even warned her about it sometimes. Could she have thought he lending her that book was a signal, a secret message he was trying to give her? He walked through the lit streets thinking only of Cornwall and the mysterious rasping wind in the tree tops. The smell of the sea instantly filled his nostrils, the warm odd bees wax smell of her house almost took away his breath as he relived the feeling of the kiss she had given him- the kiss from red pulsating lips that moved no more but were, if they had not been torn on the rocks, lying open to investigation somewhere in a mortuary in Cornwall.
Inexplicably he found himself at the train station staring at the screen for train times to the Southwest. He fancied he could sense her presence at the other end of the GWR, he could hear her alto voice hum along the electricity lines. Had he done wrong he wondered? He had not given her any sign, he had not committed any indiscretion and put a stop to all her nonsense as soon as it had happened. He thought about the cancer. Had she smashed her breasts? Was that little lump bobbing on the waves somewhere in the Atlantic?
He had been away almost 2 hours and he knew he should go back home. But somehow he wanted to avoid Angela’s eyes. All that filled him now was that first gaze in The Trewith Arms- those burning dark eyes he knew were shining with love, blinking through muddy spectacles. He suddenly wondered if another woman would want him as desperately and as intensely again. He wanted to get on a train and go to the mortuary, to see her stinking rotten body and shout,
‘Why did you give me this life sentence? Why did you have to love me so much and so quickly?’
In a sudden moment of clarity, in the whistling scream of a goods train, he knew without a doubt that if she were alive now he would go to her, he would stand on the cliff tops in the thrashing Cornish rain remorseful and begging her not to drink and he would make violent and anguished love to her. But one cannot make love to a dead person.
And soon as these feelings came they left him just as suddenly. He could not explain this. He was cold, he had only the station lights and the Autumn rain, he was unsure of his emotions, there was nowhere they could go, they were useless now, useless to a dead woman.
He had to turn back. He had the city’s sirens, shouts and screams pounding in his ears now, the memory of her snuffed out by rain drops.
But he saw her body mangled and broken, sprawled across the rocks in the Atlantic sea.
Eyes upon eyes. Her eyes upon his, his eyes upon hers.
The rhythm of the sea chanted her name in warm gushes pounding in time with the beats of his heart. He wished the thudding in his ears would stop.
A loud voice, a shout and scream, dispelled his fantasies.
He could not feel Pilar anymore. He couldn’t have known that Pilar became a huge seething mass of guilt after he left. He could not have known she just sank into the swamp of her own misgivings, delusions, memories and lost the ability to decide what was real and what was not.
Around him as he looked into the darkness he saw bodies falling everywhere. He was alone, he stood still on that cold empty suburban street and stared into the darkness.