What happens when love is not enough?
We all want to love and be loved…but sometimes love leaves us hungry, sometimes it is dangerous, sometimes it has a happy ending and sometimes it does not.
At first sight Eleanor is a successful woman, powerful, driven, magnetic. She likes being in control but loving and being loved robs her of control.
Following a tragic affair with a married man Eleanor sets about putting her life back together. Then, via her best friend Jess, she meets Adam. Adam is a restraunteur and he is safe, kind, and he loves her. But it’s not enough.
Simon is not safe. He is a raw, unsophisticated artist with a massive chip on shoulder and he taps into a deep, violent side of Eleanor’s nature. She brings Simon and Adam together, contracting Simon to paint a mural for Adam’s restaurant. But Simon and Adam will always be in conflict, always competing for Eleanor’s attention.
What of Jess?
Jess also loves Adam. Adam, who she knows to be Eleanor’s salvation.
Eleanor, Adam, Jess and Simon – four people and an emotional time bomb waiting to explode…
In Praise of Arrogance of Women
‘The success of Teresa Benison’s first novel, A Rational Man, should have made it a hard act to follow, but the author has successfully manoeuvred the hurdle of the second novel with The Arrogance of Women…an illuminating and thought-provoking exploration of the darker side of human nature by a skilled and original novelist’ Woman
‘The portrait of someone torn between sado-masochism and normal love is intriguing, the denouement surprisingly life-enhancing’ Sunday Times
Quick as a fish in the shallows, the knife darts. The flesh parts and the blood wells and Adam looks down to see his disembodied hands, one grasping her wrist, the other twisting the tap.
The water gushes. It is streaked with blood – Tabasco, cochineal, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Images such as this proliferate like cancer. He might take a filleting knife to his memory, except he lacks the expertise to work on living flesh. He is a chef, not a surgeon.
There must be other cures. Fresh air and exercise.
Up on the headland, looking out to sea, he clenches his hands as the memories cascade: a caress, a threat, her nails scraping his scrotum.
Moonlight strikes the water like a blade, and the air is sharp with the cold. He turns up his collar and hunches his shoulders. Curiosity tugs at him, overriding caution. He steps closer to the edge. He has always been scared of heights. She also suffered an irrational fear – not of heights, but of the dark.
Face the fear.
Time and place, a Sunday morning in her abandoned church, a finger of sunlight struggling through a crack in the shuttered clerestory. The light from the stubby candles lined up along the broken altar rail, puddles the chancel steps. ‘You’re cheating.’ His face is close to hers. Their breath mingles with the tang of hot wax. ‘I don’t call this dark.’
Face the fear.
He smells salt on the air and beneath his feet, the grass is stiff with frost. He takes another step forward. He has a dizzying sense of the landmass splitting away into the sea. Despite the cold, he has begun to perspire. His fear drags him forward. So easy to take just one more step. A single stride, the body of a man shattered on the rocks, bones eroded by salt, bleached by the sun, winking like cockleshells against the black boulders. And hair – strands like weed clinging to the cracks and crevices, rising and sinking with the tide.
He rocks forward, but holds his ground. The landscape is secure. Behind him, the houses of Polruan scramble back along the hillside. The press of their presence is reassuring. He begins to relax.
Too soon. The pressure increases, but no longer reassures. Push me, pull me. He is compelled closer to the edge. He must concentrate. Polruan on this side of the river, Fowey on the other. The river widens and the estuary spreads its arms to embrace the sea.
The river spills into the sea.
When the tide turns, the sea will spill into the river. Nothing is forever. Nothing is what it seems.
Lifting his chin to the wind, he feels the slice of cold air on raw skin. This morning he shaved off his beard and he looks much younger. He’s not yet forty, but the strain of the past year has put grey in his beard. The snip of the scissors and scratch of the razor and a new man emerges. If only it were that simple. He nicks himself along the jawline. First blood, a new beginning. He smiles, and takes it as a sign.
It had taken him nine hours to drive from Suffolk to Cornwall. He stopped once for coffee, again for a sandwich. He took a wrong turning at Liskeard and ended up on the road to Bodmin. It’s late now and he’s deadly tired. His eyes prickle from prolonged concentration, his shoulders ache and there is a persistent throb of cramp in his calf. For this reason, despite the hour, he walked to the headland before setting foot in the cottage.
‘Pain defines.’ Her voice rouses him. It is the distant knell of a church that has long since slithered into the sea. He struggles to focus and the words, though still remote, become clear. He hears the eagerness of her tone. She needs him to understand; it is important to her that he grasp her meaning. ‘Pain sharpens the world, gives it back its edge. Listen Adam, please. It marks the line between here and now, you and me.’ She moves closer and her breath stirs the hair on his nape. ‘Like a paper shape,’ her phantom fingers reach past him, snipping at the air. ‘A paper dolly cut from a picture book.’ Her fingers continue to scissor between him and the mercury sea.
He shakes his head; he must jiggle it loose, dislodge the memory.
He turns away from the sea and starts back to the village. The path is dark and he trips on hard tussocks of frosted grass. He turns his ankle on a rock. He is a city boy – Northampton, London, Bury St Edmunds. For a moment he cannot imagine what he’s doing here, at the end of the world.
His decision to come to Cornwall had bewildered Babs. ‘It’s so far from everywhere. I’ll never get to see you.’
‘You can visit. We’ll want you to visit; you could stay the whole summer . . .’
‘We’ll see,’ she gave a watery smile and patted his arm. ‘You haven’t moved in yet. Besides, I’m not at all sure it’s such a good idea. It isn’t that I don’t understand, don’t think that. It’s high time you made a fresh start – I would too, if I could – but why there, Adam? Of all places, how can you bear to live there?’
They have all lost so much, but though his own pain is a dead weight, a rock in the belly that shows no sign of passing, it is Babs who has lost the most.
The anguish remains, but the memories fade. Last November he’d woken suddenly from a bad dream. The details fled on waking, but the sense remained. He had dreamt of her. He recognized her voice, the shadow-puppet play of her body on the screen of his sleep. That much was vivid and intimate, but the puppet had no face. At first, panic paralysed him. It was as if he’d forgotten his own features. It wasn’t possible. In a healthy individual the brain doesn’t lose information, it’s all in there somewhere – the line of her nose, the shade of her eyes, the jut of her chin. He has only to access that information. Lying in the dark he punches and pummels his memory. Recalling snippets of conversation, he tries to see her face as she speaks. He remembers their lovemaking-intense, terrifying, and faceless.
He has lost everything. He cannot even remember where it all began, let alone how it came to end the way it had.
The infection lingers. It bides its time, fermenting deep inside him. He must open the wound, let the salt air scour it clean. He needs to reconstruct the past, remember it all. Only then will he allow himself to forget.
To remember, and then forget. This is why he’s come to Fowey and Polruan and the river and the sea.
His cottage waits. It looks like a shipwreck in the silvery gleam of the moon, all broken spars and sagging timbers. His car is nudged against the front wall; there is hardly room to park in the narrow lane. As he approaches, he hears the whirr of the fan as it labours to cool the engine. He opens the boot and pulls out his sleeping bag, a box of supplies and a torch.
He came here last November. Because of the dream. She loved Fowey. ‘It’s like Venice,’ she’d said. ‘Too beautiful. Not part of our world. It shouldn’t exist.’ He’d taken a flat in a white stuccoed house high on the Esplanade. The long drive and the change of air gave him the best night’s sleep in a long time. He woke late. Opening the curtains on the sun-winking sea, he was immediately enraptured. She had experienced this on her first morning, he was sure of it. He felt her beside him, laughing, stretching her arms and splaying her long fingers to the sun. Light, not darkness, is her element. Coming here had been the right move. To rediscover a person one should visit the places that matter to them. It is working already. He feels it now, as he sits in the bay of the window sipping coffee and watching the shifting light. How she must have loved it, the constantly changing colours and textures of the river as it moved from grey to blue, to silver and green in a dazzling catwalk array.
But if light is her element, it is also Simon’s. As is colour.
A cloud shadows the estuary. He blinks and swallows the last of his coffee. How could it be otherwise? Find one and you find the other. That’s the whole point of the exercise. Remember it all.
On the second day he’d taken the little orange ferry boat to Polruan. The village was more intimate than the town of Fowey. ‘The best thing about Fowey,’ the ferryman confided as he secreted the fare in a battered wooden box, ‘is its view of Polruan.’
Leaving the ferry, he’d climbed a steep narrow street leading from the quay. He had no plan, he certainly wasn’t house-hunting. He was drifting. Go with the flow. Lost in thought, he continued to climb. After a while, the city boy paused for breath and looked around. The day was overcast. Below, the river was silver grey, its texture stippled. He turned. Behind him a house crouched on a bank. It barely had a roof, the windows were boarded up and the garden was overgrown. The front gate had been broken off and tossed into the hedge. Adam pulled it into view. The gate had a nameplate. The name of the cottage was Eden.
Twice she’d fled to Fowey. Juggling the keys, he opens the door.
His torch casts a pale beam across the dusty flags. The stone walls radiate cold.
He should have followed her. Had that been his first mistake, or was there an earlier point at which he might have changed the course of things?
The second time, he did follow her.
He piles the vanguard of his belongings in the centre of the room. He hasn’t thought ahead. He should have ordered fuel for the fire. At least he’s brought some candles. He lines them up along the edge of the slate hearth. At the rasp and flare of the match memories start like pheasants rising from a thicket. He sets match to wick, moving from right to left. Bunching up his sleeping bag to make a cushion, he pulls a blanket round his shoulders and sits cross-legged to watch the candles burn.
His eyes blur with tiredness. His skin is stretched and tight. He blinks and sees her hand reaching towards the candles. Like a gaunt bird it hovers, then settles. The pads of her fingers almost touch the flame. Her flesh glows orange and rose, sunlight through blossom. He grabs her wrist, pulling her hand away – and she laughs like a child as the blister forms.
He rocks forward. His hands grip his shins and his fingers dig into muscle and bone. I can do it, I can bring it back, I know I can. I will heal myself.
He sleeps hunched in front of the candles and wakes stiff with the cold. He beats his arms and stamps his feet, and a shower of pinpricks tickles the backs of his knees. The cottage is damp and musty. If he carries on like this he’ll die of exposure before winter is out.
He needs fresh air. He opens the door. The new morning is incandescent with sunlight. Standing at the top of his steps, he looks out across the river. It is a tall roost, but a safe one for a man who is scared of heights. He laughs out loud. The houses of Polruan tumble to the quay in a cascade of grey slate. The smart, white stuccoed houses of Fowey Esplanade march along the farther bank. He can see the house where he stayed last time and, a little below, the blockhouse from which a chain was once hung, spanning the estuary to keep the Spaniards at bay. Shading his eyes, he picks out the ruined castle on St Catherine’s Point. Beyond, where the line of the sea meets the line of the sky, a tanker the size of a toy crosses his line of sight.
‘Glutton for punishment, aren’t you? That’s a hell of a wreck you’ve got there. Are you doing it up?’
Adam starts and stares. The woman leaning on his wall is maybe fifty, fifty-five years old. She is dressed in jeans and a big green and black sweater, and wears her hair in an unflattering pudding-basin bob. Adam forces a smile. ‘That’s the general idea.’
‘You’ll have your work cut out.’ She smiles. ‘Still, never say die. I admire you. Welcome to Polruan. I’m Pam, by the way. Pam Fowler.’
‘I run the art shop down by the quay. Art supplies, that is. Canvases, paint. . . You’re not an artist, by any chance?’
‘Only we get a lot of those. And writers. Gets a bit much sometimes, always being on show, like living in a theme park.’
‘You get used to it. You know, I think I remember you when you looked round a while back. Have you come far?’
She laughs. ‘Flat, right?’ Adam nods. ‘Well, anything you need or want to know, pop over – only not this morning, I’m off to Lostwithiel.’
This is a small community. Pam may have seen her. She would have had to pass her door. She. No name, no face. It’s a way of keeping the pain at bay. A woman’s laughter and the knowing eyes of a child. Where does it come from, the myth of innocence?
He needs supplies. Milk, bread, meat. Last week he’d bought a stove from a camping shop in Bury St Edmunds. It has two rings and a grill. He may die of exposure, but he won’t starve. He’ll live by the seasons, anticipating each new crop and catch. As he strides down the hill, his palate fizzes at the thought of fresh mackerel grilled with lime, and scallops tossed in garlic butter.
He already loves this village. It is a good place to be, he can smell it and taste it. He will come through and build a future here. He’ll put a roof on his house and replace the windows, make it warm in winter and cool in summer.
He will heal this house and heal himself and day by day, stone by stone, make a home here for his family.